Cinema in focus for community takeover
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published by the Local Government Chronicle, 2011
One of the country's few municipally run cinemas may be about to be transferred into community ownership. The Picture House in the Pennine town of Hebden Bridge in Calderdale is a popular local facility, with a programming policy which combines Hollywood blockbusters and art house films with occasional live events.
Saved in the late 1960s from becoming a carpet warehouse when the then Urban District Council bought the building for about £6000, the Picture House attracts strong support in the town. Two hundred people packed into a local school hall in early March this year to discuss future plans for the cinema. Hebden Bridge is already one of the first towns in the country to have its Town Hall in community hands, following a pioneering asset transfer between Calderdale council and the newly established charitable trust Hebden Bridge Community Association a year ago.
Calderdale's leader Cllr Janet Battye who was at the recent meeting made it clear that the cinema was not under immediate threat. However, the council has been frank in stating that it is very unlikely to have funds available for the £400,000 of capital works deemed necessary in the next few years.
The proposal for asset transfer of the Picture House has been developed jointly by Hebden Royd Town Council and the Community Association, backed by four local parish councils and several community groups. Both lead partners see the potential of tapping into the creativity and energy of local people. Already, for example, some ideas for long-term improvements have been put forward.
There are also, at least potentially, opportunities to find new sources of funding. This has certainly been the experience at the Town Hall, where Hebden Bridge Community Association this week had confirmation that it had successfully obtained £3.2m of funding, including nearly £2m grants. The funding, from Communitybuilders and ERDF, will enable the construction of new community and small enterprise facilities.
However, the community partners know that they also have to ensure the successful management of the cinema, a £200,000 commercial operation. Any asset transfer is also likely to include TUPEing of several council employees.
For Peter Hirst, chair of the Association, the Town Hall experience has been encouraging. “The community has worked hard to breathe new life into our landmark Town Hall, and to attract substantial new funds. We'd probably rather that our public buildings remained in the stewardship of our council, but if asset transfer is necessary to save them that's what we'll have to do,” he says.
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