e Campaign was launched in May 2011, quite soon after the cinema’s final screening, which was The Last Picture Show on 21st April 2011. It was apparent how deeply-felt the loss of the cinema was, in view of its distinctive setting, welcoming atmosphere and imaginative programming. We also felt that even in a climate in which savings were necessary, the closure had been far too hasty and had failed to take on board the enthusiasm of patrons and the potential to explore an alternative solution.
It was – and remains – a non-political group that welcomes the support of all who wish to see it reopen as a fully-functioning cinema in its original location. Early press coverage benefited from the support of Oscar-winning writer and director Julian Fellowes, who allowed us to quote from a letter he had sent to the council, criticising the closure. We could also quote Ronnie Corbett, who when introducingBrief Encounter on the penultimate evening of the final season, praised the cinema, saying, “We must start a campaign so that this darling place isn’t trashed.”
A petition was launched in mid-June 2011, calling upon the council to “engage with constructive proposals” that could enable the cinema to reopen. This was soon followed by a public meeting at the Green Dragon in Croydon on 22 June, attended by nearly 100 people. Volunteers at the meeting formed a committee and the first committee meeting took place on 6 July. In addition to the local newspapers, early publicity appeared on Inside Croydon and via supporters in Shirley (via the Shirley Life website) and South Norwood (People for Portland Road). An opportunity to speak at the first Purley Festival also widened the recruitment of members from different parts of the borough.
Our petition was presented at a council meeting by Cllr. Maggie Mansell on 18 July 2011; an occasion when supporters assembled on the Town Hall steps in good numbers and then filled most of the public gallery.
Following considerable research that included a FOI request and consultation with former staff members, we acquired a good overview of the David Lean’s equipment, expenditure and losses, although it had been operating well within its budget. We also consulted certain cinemas and arts venues that operated with community input. Such steps helped to make it a pragmatic campaign and we were willing to consider the possibility of eventually operating as a community-run cinema.
Towards the end of 2011, we made our first approach to the council in relation to our wish to present films in the David Lean, but the digital projector had been moved to the Fairfield Hall, so it wasn’t available. The Campaign instead held a first screening at Clyde Hall on 10th December. This was a Super 8 presentation of Great Expectations, which launched a season of David Lean films in the Spread Eagle pub in January and February 2012. These involved one afternoon and one evening screening of classics such as Hobson’s Choice.
Our complete petition was again presented – with nearly 1,500 signatures – by Cllr Mansell on 30 January 2012. Soon afterwards, we were invited to a meeting at the Clocktower which was expected to pave the way to a community asset transfer, with large areas of the complex, including the cinema, becoming available. At the time, we were aware of, and supported, a social enterprise group with visionary plans for the Clocktower, so we awaited developments regarding the transfer process. However, this never took place, because the move of the Croydon Adult Learning and Training (CALAT) headquarters to the Clocktower in September 2013 meant that substantial areas associated with the previously anticipated transfer were no longer available. It was therefore a frustrating period for the Campaign, but the growing success of our seasons at the Spread Eagle pub every second month meant that our membership was constantly growing, on its way to the current figure of over 900 people. We were also presenting occasional 16mm presentations at Shirley Community Centre, which attracted audiences of around 100 people.
By the start of 2013, we were screening the same number of films as the David Lean-branded screenings taking place at the Fairfield, and so were playing a prominent role in filling the gap that still remained. This added credibility to a February initiative in which we asked members to write to their councilors, in order to again reinforce the case for Campaign-presented screenings in the David Lean, By this time the digital projector had been returned, but some expenditure was needed to make it usable. The Campaign Chairman also had a meeting with Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, who expressed support for the Campaign’s objectives and offered to help.
At the end of April, the council contacted the Campaign to raise the possibility of Campaign screenings in the David Lean. Positive meetings took place in July and August and the recalibration of the projector and the refurbishment of the cinema followed. Summer 2013 also saw us present an innovative ‘Festivals Tour’, which included screenings that were part of Croydon Heritage Festival, Purley Festival and South Norwood Arts Festival
In October, the council announced that the cinema would be part of a ‘Community Space’ concept that also meant the Braithwaite Hall and meeting rooms in Bernard Weatherill House would be available to community groups. This caused media speculation regarding that the Campaign possibly making use of the cinema, but we were not able to confirm anything then.
However, a breakthrough was achieved in January 2014, via constructive meetings involving Facilities, Interserve and Community Partnerships staff. The Campaign was subsequently able to announce a programme of screenings at the David Lean that will commence with Basically, Johnny Moped on 27th March 2014. The Campaign’s January season was therefore the last at the Spread Eagle, and this concluded with a record-breaking 136 people seeing Winter Nomads, with an extra screening added to meet the demand.
With the ongoing support of our membership, we hope that regular Thursday volunteer-run screenings at the David Lean Auditorium will be a first step towards it once again becoming an fully-reopened arts cinema.