Sheffield’s love of cinema began in 1920, with The Call of the Road being the first movie shown in Abbeydale Picture House, then the largest and most luxurious movie theatre in the city. This lasted for 55 more years,before it was forced into closure, but upon recent renovation from a handful of dedicated volunteers, the Grade II-listed building is being brought back to life.
We spoke to Louise from the team behind the Abbeydale Picture House restoration for a greater insight into the renovation project.
What is Abbeydale Picture House?
Abbeydale Picture House is one of Sheffield’s oldest cinemas, and certainly Sheffield’s oldest working cinema. As well as boasting one of the city’s biggest auditoriums of film and variety theatre, the building contains a ballroom and billiard room, which made it a location for all members of the family to enjoy. Now we’re bringing it back into use as a cultural hub for Sheffield, the North and beyond.
What has sparked the revival of the cinema?
Myself and my colleague Rob had been running arts events in Sheffield over the last five years, so we were already active in that area.
Our colleague Ismar came up with the bright idea to use the building for what it was originally intended – as a cinema! This sparked the Revival Festival of Film, and after that, the on-going renovation work currently happening.
What are the key challenges to getting the venue back into a serviceable state?
For the festival we had to build the screen in a week, as well as putting all the chairs in. This involved building a huge scaffold structure behind the screen in a grid-system, and then installing individual MDF sheets onto it.
Since then we’ve done a lot of work – creating a space for the café/ bar area at the back of the cinema, making the facade and foyer presentable and getting the projection room back up and running. It’s a massive task but since we started we can definitely see that the project as a whole is viable.
What is the overall goal for the future of the Picture House?
In a creative sense we want this venue to be used for a diverse range of arts events, with a focus on contemporary and classic cinema, live soundtracks and concerts. In the long term we’re aiming to keep the auditorium as it is, reopen the balcony and make the whole building with all its various spaces, usable. There is also a space behind the screen, the fly tower, which we’ll develop into a space suitable for concerts and gigs, as well as a function room.
From a programming perspective, we want to make sure we keep everything as diverse as possible. For film-related events we want to reach from classic silents with live soundtracks right through to art house, Sheffield-made films and blockbusters. We’ll also use it as a space for music, with popular but diverse concerts, gigs, projects and collaborations being hosted. We hope to make a valuable contribution towards making Sheffield a more recognised touring stop for mid-large scale artists.
What has the Picture House got planned for this year?
In March we’ll be kicking off our year’s programme with the classic Harold Lloyd silent picture ‘Safety Last!’, complete with live piano accompaniment. We’ll be releasing the rest of the Spring/Summer programme very soon, so you’ll be able to come and see film screenings and concerts, drink coffee in our café and take tours of the Picture House all year long.
What do you think draws the community to such a revival project?
I think the community is drawn to it because so many people remember it with strong positive memories. We’ve heard so many stories about people getting engaged here, having first dates here, and hanging out with their childhood friends here. It’s really embedded in the history of the area.
When you see a building as enormous and imposing as this, there’s a question mark that rises when you walk past it, which is certainly what I thought in the years I was studying here. When people do come in and see the interior – that’s the selling point. That’s the moment when people want to come and see films and gigs here, the moment people decide they want to get involved and help out.
How can people get involved in the cinema’s revival?
As of the end of March we’ve got a beautiful new website launching, where you can find out about our latest events, how to contact us, donate, volunteer, hire and much more. Otherwise, you can talk to us via Facebook or Twitter, and we often post out sign-up forms for our monthly volunteering days. Everyone is welcome to get in contact. We have a lot of fun and you definitely feel like you’re bringing something to life, which feels very special.
Words: Alex Townsend
Pictures: Scott Hukins