Knowle West residents react to approval of demolition plans for 84-year-old cinema

The site is earmarked for ‘affordable’ new homes but local residents aren’t convinced

The demolition of an 84-year-old cinema and bingo hall that was once at the heart of the community in Knowle West has been approved.

Originally opened in 1938, the old picture house on Filwood Broadway has been empty for the past 30 years.

In that time, there have been local campaigns to keep the council-owned art deco building open, with various ideas for its potential use including a community centre or supermarket.

But now recommendations to demolish the building have been approved as contractor Wring Group Ltd has been appointed to complete the demolition of the empty structure.

The demolition works will include structural support steels due to party wall issues which delayed the demolition.

Since it closed as a bingo hall in the 1990s, the building has deteriorated and had asbestos removal work in 2019.

Water has got into the building due to the unsafe roof structure and timber balcony, and there have been several attempts to break in.

Sue Derrick, left, with other Knowle West residents outside the old Filwood Broadway cinema

The former cinema is connected to a row of shops and flats, which have become uninhabitable due to damp from the party wall.

In its heyday, the cinema was the main attraction in Filwood Broadway, which also had a swimming pool, butchers, bakers and pub - all now gone.

Many of the shops are now shuttered, although there is still a community centre and library for local residents.

The council-owned site of the cinema has now been earmarked for 30 ‘social rent units’, although the local residents Bristol World spoke to were sceptical about the proposals.

Pat Doherty has lived in Knowle West all his life and used to visit the cinema in the 1960s.

He said: “It was always busy and we even used to get pop stars doing concerts there - I remember seeing PJ Proby there in 1964. That’s when he split his trousers on stage!

“But to be honest, I think most people around here will be glad it’s being knocked down as it’s been an eyesore for so long.

“The worry is that the homes they claim to be building on the land are for private not council use and they won’t be affordable to people in Knowle West.”

Local resident Sue Derrick used to visit the cinema as a teenager and has fond memories of playing bingo there in the 1970s.

She said: “I don’t believe it will be council housing, it’s bound to be private. What we need here is a big supermarket, that’s what we need.

“All we want is a nice shopping area where you can get fresh vegetables - we lost our butchers, bakers and we had a small supermarket once.

“At the moment, we have to go to the Asda in Whitchurch or the one in Bedminster, but we can’t even get a bus now as they’ve cut all the services.”

Suzy Miezavs of the Re:Work, the young persons’ charity in Filwood Broadway, Knowle West

Suzy Miezavs runs Re:Work, a charity that provides support, training and work experience for young people in Knowle West. Her office is next door to the old cinema.

She says: “The window of opportunity to turn the old cinema into something else passed a long time ago. Over the years we fantasised about what we wanted to do with the building, with classes and markets and basically an extension of the community centre.

“The particularly annoying thing for us has been the fact the decaying cinema has been used by the media as an illustration of urban deprivation.

“We would often see camera crews outside pointing at the crumbling building but not pointing the other way towards the trees, sunflowers and community centre, or in the other direction with the church, the library that’s still open and the views of the Dundry countryside.

“It’s always the front of that derelict cinema and it has become almost like the shop window for Filwood Broadway and Knowle West.

“At the very least, whatever they were going to do with the building, the council should have kept it looking nice from the street.

“The council own all these units but one of the issues they now have is that when they knock the cinema down, will the rest of these buildings fall down too!”