A campaign to save the art deco Redfield Cinema on Church Road in Redfield is calling out for more support after a new planning application looks set to change the direction of the venue from a community hub to a property-focused endeavour.
Having been a cinema for over 100 years, more recently a bingo hall and then a Wetherspoon, the former St. George’s Hall pub on Church Road in Redfield closed in September 2021, after being bought by Lawrence Hill-based property developers Landrose.
Despite a successful local campaign being set up in September 2021 called Save Redfield Cinema, a planning application has been submitted by Landrose to Bristol City Council for a scheme that centres around 44 bedsits.
The local campaign, run by volunteers passionate about saving the art deco cinema and community hub, resulted in over 9,000 signatures on a petition and over 2,000 followers on Facebook. In December, the campaign was taken to full council and resulted in cross-party support from the councillors, meaning all four councillors from all parties felt it was an important proposal.
“In the midst of this, we were trying to get Asset of Community Value, and that was granted too. Then we got cross-party support where all four parties absolutely wanted to see the cinema saved. We put together a business plan on how this could work, but it was based on Wetherspoons selling it to us,” campaign supporter Rachel Groom said.
“When you get an Asset of Community Value, it gives you the opportunity to buy it as a community group. We found out just after getting this, though, that it had already been sold to Landrose. They’ve also appealed against our Asset of Community Value status and we’ve had it removed, but we are told it is a technicality and we are appealing to have it reinstated.”
The campaign group has reached out to Landrose to buy the property with their proposal of use, but the company is reportedly not interested in selling. Ms Groom said the campaign’s viable business plan had social impact investors interested in community kitchens, and it focused on making it an affordable community hub for BS5.
The housing crisis in Bristol
The people behind Landrose have expressed to the campaign organisers that there is a need to solve the housing crisis across the city.
“Obviously we have a housing crisis, we need homes, but not these homes. Round here we need family homes, and we need community facilities,” explains Green Party councillor and campaigner Barry Parsons.
“We need places where people can come together, socialise, eat and drink together, and we need cultural facilities as well. A cinema is an amazing place to come together and dream together as a community. That’s what we need, especially after the pandemic. In East Bristol, we’re so lacking in cultural and community facilities and this could be a massive asset for Church Road.”
The current plans from Landrose suggest that there could still be a small cinema on-site, but its description of a “boutique” 20-seat cinema, squeezed amongst the 44-bedsit building, a shop and a gym, is not enough for the campaigners.
“They’ve capitulated a bit and said we could have a small cinema club in the front, but we could do that anywhere and we don’t need to do it in a building with bedsits,’ explains Ms Groom.
“We’re not interested in a little pop-up cinema, we want to save the existing one - it’s one of only four cinemas that are as old as 1912 in the entire country. A 20-capacity cinema isn’t the same as making use of the existing, historic 130-capacity cinema.”
All that is left for the campaigners to be able to do is encourage people to object to the plans and hope that Bristol City Council rejects the plans. “The building is worthless to them if they can’t get what they want. Maybe if we really wear them down, they’ll eventually sell it to us,” continues Ms. Groom.
Clearly, alongside the councillors, there is plenty of support out there for the cause, and yesterday, after a short-notice announcement about getting a photograph of the campaign on the Save Redfield Cinema Facebook page, lots of people turned up to show their support.
High level of community support
One of those people, Lindsey Garwood, thinks the campaign is an incredible thing and that everyone should get involved in the campaign, not only for the history but for keeping the community at the heart of the area. “Besides the history, it’s an opportunity to have something for the community that could really enliven and bring together people of this area,” she says.
“I know homes are important, of course, but there is no saying that the homes are going to be affordable. There are lots of buildings on this road that have been turned into flats and you can’t just stuff people in with no culture, no infrastructure, rip out the heart of a place - it’s a necessary part of living here and what makes it good for people to live in a city.”
Although the support seems strong for the local campaign, what do they really need from the people of Bristol? “If you haven’t got involved, signed the petition, or put an objection to the planning, then please do it. Let’s show that this community deserves a good thing,” says Ms. Garwood.
Ms Groom agrees and stresses that they really need people to object to the planning application: “We need support. We need people to do a website, flyers, posters, and to get the word out there. It’s been a really tiny team trying to drive this forward - we’ve all got jobs, kids and are trying to do it in our spare time.
“If we’re going to pull it out the bag and fundraise, it’s going to take a lot of work. We’re going to keep pushing for historical status, listed status as it’s a cultural asset and we need an arts and culture venue in this area to bring the community together. Saving the cinema is our end goal and, if the only way of doing that is buying the building because the developers won’t work with us, then that’s what we’ve got to do.”
For details of the planning application, please look here.