The story of how a community cinema in Leigh has been responding to current circumstances, and how you can help too.
Current times have taught all of us about what it feels like to be isolated by circumstance. Yet, for many, this loneliness and isolation is just a part of day-to-day life. The importance of community groups is clear now more than ever, as we all begin to understand what it feels like to be detached from society. Community cinema is one of the best ways to engage with isolated members of society, and Leigh Film Society does just that.
Set up in 2013, Leigh Film Society is an independent community cinema charity based in Greater Manchester. The team is in the process of setting up their first independent cinema in the Spinners Mill in Leigh. Leigh Film is launching a ‘sponsor a seat’ campaign to help raise funds for their new community cinema. The campaign hopes to make their supporters “part of the furniture”.
Elizabeth Costello, the development director of Leigh Film, saw the opportunity to expand their Society through their fundraising campaign. In an interview with Film Stories, she said that “community cinema is definitely the poor relation in the arts culture world, and it’s very poorly funded. We knew this, but we wanted to just go for it and take on the challenge.”
With the help of volunteers and donations, the charity is in the process of creating its first permanent venue after receiving 140 seats from the London Science Museum. Leigh Film plans to sponsor the seats for £100 each in exchange for a commemorative placard attached to the back of the seat with the name of the donors. The cinema will also feature a board at the entrance, listing all the names of the people who donated a seat. Elizabeth Costello said that “the fact that the money is coming from our town and from the people in our community means more to us.” As the charity runs on a “zero-budget” basis, this is the biggest amount of funding it expects to receive. Having sold 50 seats, all in the first week, it’s hopeful that this will be the start of a great funding project to come.
By having its own venue, Leigh Film will be able to apply for higher levels of funding to help make an even bigger impact in its community. Leigh Film already plays an important role, though. The community cinema focuses on minority groups within Leigh, and frequently works with the elderly, people suffering from dementia, refugees, and those with autism. Twinning its work for the community and being film enthusiasts, the team focuses on bringing non-mainstream films into Leigh. As Elizabeth says, “film is a great way of bringing people together. When we put a film on we take that film and say ‘how can we use it to connect with people we’ve not connected with before?’ We will campaign on behalf of local good causes, or we’ll choose a film that’s celebrating or commemorating a national event.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Elizabeth, her husband Paul and a team of volunteers have been reaching out to members of the community and providing a DVD delivery service. As many of the locals who attend their events are minority groups, who already experience a level of isolation, the team was keen to reach out to them. In fact, just two days after lockdown was announced, Elizabeth was already ringing regulars, encouraging them not to feel alone and offering to bring over DVDs for them to watch. As she says, “two hours of taking your mind to another world? I think that’s what we all need a bit of during lockdown.”
Leigh Film became very busy very quickly as members of the community started to make contact. Refugee groups, people in care homes and shielding schoolchildren became some of the many people who the charity has been regularly delivering DVDs to. The local council and Age UK have also been in contact with the charity to arrange referrals for DVDs to be delivered. “It has grown beyond what we expected it to,” Elizabeth admits, “but we are happy for that to happen and we’ve got the volunteer force who can manage it.” She says that “the idea behind it was about staying connected with our audience, but it has highlighted something that’s really important in our town: the amount of people who are not online, who can’t afford the streaming channels, who do rely on DVDs – we feel as though we’ve been plugging that gap… Our house looks like a Blockbuster video store.”
In normal circumstances, the charity provides frequent film screenings, runs an afternoon classic cinema club as well as a film festival, which helps to showcase the work of young filmmakers. Also, the charity frequently works with students and helps them gain the experience they need to go into the film industry. The charity aims to fight against social isolation, create opportunities for young people, and support community cohesion.
As a post-industrial town, social mobility is very difficult in Leigh. Opportunities to get into the multi-billion pound film industry are vital for young people. This is what makes the work of community cinemas so important.
The Spinner Mill community cinema plans to open in October to show a variety of films for local Leighters to enjoy. To donate to the sponsor a seat campaign, visit leighfilmsociety.com
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