Nearly a third of the funds awarded by the Architectural Heritage Fund in May will go toward the revitalization of three historic cinemas and theatres in England and Scotland.
Receiving the funds are three trusts located in Paignton, Plymouth and Prestwick. With the goal of breathing life onto the stage, The Paignton Picture House Trust, the Underground Theatre Trust, and the Friends of the Broadway Prestwick are seeking to bring mixed art programmes, heritage activities, retail and offices, community gardens and revitalised venues to their communities. The mix of proposed uses within these projects helps demonstrate how cinemas and theatres are evolving from their traditional mix of activities, whilst still keeping film and performance as central parts of the offer.
The Paignton Picture House, built 1913-14, is one of five surviving grade II* listed cinemas in the (area). Closing in 1999, the Picture House retains a grand history including connection to Agatha Christie as her cinema of choice when residing in her nearby Greenway residence. Its significance is further enhanced through the associated archive of material, dating from prior to the construction of the building until circa 1960. Much of the archive was salvaged from within the cinema by the Trust post-acquisition.
Lacking small adaptable and affordable theatre space, The Underground Theatre Trust in Plymouth hopes a former chapel, built in 1797, will become an outlet for the local art community as well as the new waterside developments and the Plymouth School of Creative Arts. Its ethos as a theatre and performance space will be to provide a low cost, easy in-easy out venue for amateurs and emerging professionals as well as access to affordable performances for the public.
In Scotland, the rehabilitation of a 1935 Art Deco theatre, The Broadway, is envisioned as a community-led enterprise providing accessible space responsive to the needs of local people. The architect, Alister G. MacDonald, son of the first Labour Prime Minister, specialized in cinema design, and built a number of innovative cinemas in Scotland and London. The interior retains some unusual and important decorative features, with timber paneling to many areas, including stairwells and former café area, dado-height decorative stepped paneling to auditorium, and a unique camel design on air vents.
Commenting on the large interest in revitalizing community cinemas, Adam Hitchings, Support Officer for AHF assisting the Paignton Picture House Trust said: “Over a number of generations cinemas and theatres have become the focal point of a community. They make up a large number of the types of buildings we support and we have supported 37 different theatre/cinema projects in the past 30 years. It is a trend that is showing no signs of slowing.”
Matthew Mckeague, CEO of the Architectural Heritage Fund, added: “Cinemas and theatres are typically the cultural lifeblood of a place. These projects show the great support cinemas and theatres, new and old, have within communities and we hope that these grants help to revitalize these buildings for a range of new audiences. We are grateful to the continued support of the Department of Culture Media and Sport and Historic Environment Scotland for helping to fund these projects."