Support builds as Wolverhampton’s cultural hub faces fight for survival.
The Black Country’s only independent cinema, Light House in Wolverhampton, housed in the city’s former Chubb Lock Factory is facing closure following a series of cuts unless a partner or major sponsor can be found.
The venue, which contains two screens, two galleries, a cafe bar and indoor courtyard is cited as Wolverhampton’s cultural hub and one of it’s architectural treasures. Since losing its public funding it has drastically changed its business plan, cutting costs to a minimum and broadening its range of commercial films.
It is their concentration on older audiences and providing a personal service to audiences who refuse to go to a multiplex which has mainly kept the business going since 2015 when the council cuts took place. “We are told that we’re a lifeline to many people,” says CEO Kelly Jeffs. “Our customers don’t want to deal with a ticket machine, they want a proper box office. They don’t want hot dogs and popcorn, they want a cake and maybe a glass of wine to take in”.
So why would a cinema with an increase in sales of 12% in the past year alone be in danger of closing?
“The funding cuts have hit us very hard,” said Kelly. “As a cinema, we’re growing quickly, but as a charity we just haven’t climbed far enough out of the huge hole the grant loss gave us, after being partly funded for 25 years. We run so differently to a chain cinema and our costs are completely different. European grants aren’t there any more and as a cinema we just don’t fit the criteria for many of the heritage and museum grants available.”
Light House, which this month won the prize for Community Contributor in the city’s WIRE Awards, puts community, health and wellbeing at the heart of everything it does. A registered charity dedicated to promoting culture to Wolverhampton and beyond, it has excelled in bringing a mixed programme of film, documentaries, live screenings and art to The Black Country for decades.
However it is the extra activities – the free Language Cafes, where mother tongue and learners share knowledge of French, Portuguese, Japanese, English and more in the bar, through to Singing for Lung Health, where a group of twenty or more combat breathing difficulties through group singing which make it a true community hub. Jas Kapur, technical and cinema manager, last year was awarded a coveted 100 Masters title for his expertise in the film industry, much of the award being down to his commitment to improving facilities across the industry for deaf and visually impaired film fans.
“It’s so frustrating because we’re doing all the things the government and society want us to do – engaging with the lonely and socially isolated, working with youth, mental health and fostering groups and enabling community cohesion through free language cafes,” he said.
“People come here for a friendly face and a chat, then learn about the world through a film they might not see on general release. We actively reward customers who choose a British Film to help the British film industry. We work with other venues and the University to help build the Visitor Economy. We’d love to work with more businesses to become partners and sponsors but with so few staff and trying to run a cinema, there just isn’t space to network or have fundraising staff like bigger charities do.”
It is well documented that the future of Britain’s towns and cities will not be in retail but leisure. As customers turn more to online shopping, cities will depend on pop-up shops, experiences, festivals and cultural hubs like Light House to keep centres alive. Wolverhampton is cited in polls as being one of the most deprived areas in the country, but also one of the fastest growing.
With the city’s Civic Halls currently closed with no sign of reopening, there will be very few entertainment options left in the city if Light House closes. Social media responses over the weekend since the news hit have been promising, with customers pledging to #SaveLight House and sending donations. Cinema customers are higher than ever – so short term, the next month or so are secure. But to continue with their five year plan and climb out of the hole created by cuts, the cinema is looking for significant sponsorship for a chance at becoming sustainable and a future part of city life.