Take me to the balcony!

Built in 1912 by sculptor and monumental mason Victor Cox, The Picture House, as it was then, opened with a matinee screening, to raise funds for the  Lord Mayor of London’s Appeal for survivors and relatives of those lost in the Titanic disaster.

Until the pandemic struck, the doors to the Curzon had never closed,  surviving  two World Wars, the Spanish flu, the rise of television and the age of streaming services. Saved by the community from closure in 1996, it is now run as a charity, with the support of nearly 150 volunteers. It is one of the UK’s few traditional, independent cinemas showing mainstream and art house films.

Very sadly, the cinema has been open for just four weeks in the last twelve months, having a devastating financial impact on the charity and leaving the future uncertain.

Susannah Shaw, CEO, said:

“Closure has led to a loss of £40-50k in income each month. The job retention scheme and emergency funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and smaller Government grants meant we have been able to retain staff and maintain the building – but we face a huge challenge to recover from this crisis and the next few years will be precarious for the Curzon.”

I’m sure that you’d agree with me that closure of this beautiful building which has made such a valuable contribution to social and cinematic history would be unthinkable, and I’m confident that it will never happen – a confidence that stems from the many examples of community support that the Curzon has enjoyed, the most recent being a sum in excess of £120,000 for the roof appeal.

The importance of this unique Grade II building with its neoclassical stonework and ornate tin panelling, as well as its historical archive and collection of cinema technology was recognised recently by the British Film Institute Culture Recovery Fund who awarded a grant of £83,342 and an extra £9,847 from the British Film Institute  Safety Grant! A great source of relief for all of us but especially the amazing individuals, many of whom are volunteers, who work so tirelessly to keep it all going.

Susannah explained:

“The £83,342 grant from the Culture Recovery Fund from the BFI has allowed us to plan ahead with a new sense of ambition to diversify our programming and activities to sustain recovery and reach out to new and younger audiences.”

The Curzon hopes to reopen on 17 May, but with Covid-19 social distancing and cleaning measures reducing audience capacity from 330 to just 90 people and the number of possible screenings to just two, there remains a very real risk to the charity as outgoings remain the same.

The 109 year old cinema has launched a fundraising campaign to urgently raise £70,000 to “bring back the balcony” which was revealed during the roof restoration when the false ceiling was removed for ventilation purposes. Revamping this beautiful space, which has been hidden from view since 1972, will increase its socially distanced capacity by 30% putting the charity in a stronger position to survive and recover. The recently awarded grant is ringfenced and is not able to be spent on general operating costs or the development of the balcony.

Susannah continued:

“The community has long called for the balcony to be reopened and, whilst a full restoration is simply not possible right now, the view of the balcony has whetted appetites. Ultimately, when life becomes more normal, the balcony will seat 90 people”.

The work on the balcony will be completed within four weeks as soon as £70,000 is raised. New platforms will be built for 25 luxurious armchairs, sofas and tables. Improvements include speakers, lighting and safety rails, as well as a new bar, kiosk and additional toilets. The additional capacity will mitigate some of the losses that Covid-19 brings and help safeguard the future of the Curzon. This artist’s impression has been created by Tim Stephens, self-employed artist, illustrator and graphic designer. Check out his work here: https://www.clevedonrocks.com

Tim was one of the many creatives involved in the Art on the Tiles auction in support of the roof restoration, another example of local, national and international support. This was his very clever, very striking King Kong inspired design featuring the Curzon. If you’d like to know more about this the check out my blogpost which features all of the tiles painted by many famous artists including Aardman’s Nick Park, Peter Lord and David Sproxton; film critic Mark Kermode; actors Sarah Parish and James Murray; DC Comic’s Mark Buckingham; Tolkien illustrator and Lord of the Rings movie concept artist Alan Lee; classically trained fine artist Clarissa James, alongside some of North Somerset and Bristol’s most respected artists including the RWA’s Stephen Jacobson and Alfred Stockham. https://facesofclevedon.com/2019/12/01/art-on-the-tiles-2/

Cinema has been proven to increase emotional wellbeing and social cohesion and, with the pandemic having a significant impact on mental health and loneliness, access to cultural and social activities in the community will play an important role. The additional space created in the balcony will also help those people who feel more concerned about returning, to feel more comfortable.

The Curzon is more than just a cinema – it is a central hub for the arts and entertainment in Clevedon and North Somerset. With the support of their loyal audience, local community and donors, the Curzon staff and volunteers feel hopeful they can “bring back the balcony” and that this important historical and cultural charity will come back stronger and survive for future generations.

Susannah finished by saying:

“We were hugely grateful to the community for their incredible support for our roof appeal in 2019 which saved the Curzon from closure. I hope they will support us once again to give us the best chance to get through this crisis – reopening the balcony is something which the community has wanted to for many years so this project will give us something special to celebrate too!”

I remain confident that the community, who have played such an integral part in the life of the Curzon will once again rise to the occasion and the balcony will reopen.

Donations can be made online at www.curzon.org.uk/fundraisingor by cheque payable to “Curzon Clevedon Community Centre for the Arts” and sent to Curzon Cinema & Arts, 46 Old Church Road, Clevedon BS216NN Ends

For more information please contact: Karen Edgington, Fundraising Campaign Manager karen.edgington@curzon.org.uk / Tel: 07793 748350 or…

Susannah Shaw, CEO Email: susannah.shaw@curzon.org.uk / Tel: 07918 904040

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