An urgent fund-raising campaign is being launched to save the iconic Tyneside Cinema from closure as it faces up to an unprecedented threat to its survival.
A combination of a post-Covid slump in audiences, the cost of living crisis, soaring energy bills and public sector funding cuts have left the 86-year-old Newcastle cultural institution facing a stark future.
Bosses warn that without additional funds and support from the public, Tyneside Cinema could face the same fate as other independent cinemas and venues around the country which have had to shut their doors for good.
Simon Drysdale, interim CEO at Tyneside Cinema, said: “This is potentially the worst funding crisis Tyneside Cinema has faced in its history.
“Whilst we made it through the pandemic and the enforced closures that brought, audiences have so far failed to return in pre-Covid numbers and, like many cultural venues around the country, we are also facing reductions in funding from public sector organisations who themselves are finding finances tight.
“There have already been closures of other long-standing cultural venues including leading independent cinema The Filmhouse in Edinburgh, the Oldham Coliseum theatre and, closer to home, The Exchange Theatre in North Shields.
“We are determined to do our utmost to ensure that Tyneside Cinema does not become another addition to that list and to preserve this iconic centre for independent film for current and future generations. “However, in order to do that, we really need your help – and we need it soon.”
Tyneside Cinema reopened successfully after the pandemic, with support from guests, friends of the cinema, donors, Arts Council England, DCMS, Heritage Lottery Fund and the British Film Institute.
But all cinemas across the UK, from multiplexes to independent cinemas, have struggled to deal with low ticket sales following the pandemic – down by 40% on pre-pandemic levels in the case of Tyneside Cinema. Rising utility costs have also hit hard with the cost of heating, cooling and lighting Tyneside Cinema trebling.
In addition, Tyneside Cinema building’s listed status presents its own unique challenges to maintain and adapt to the needs of modern audiences. It is in discussion with its landlord to achieve a rental that reflects the open market value of the premises rather than one that is linked to RPI.
In response to these various challenges, Tyneside Cinema is working closely with other UK independent cinemas to find new funding and operating models to protect the sector.
Simon Drysdale said: “As well as providing audiences with a genuine alternative to mainstream Hollywood movies, Tyneside Cinema and cinemas like it are a vital part of the UK film industry, championing the work of the new and up and coming film makers and supporting local talent.
“We are doing all we can to keep the cinema open and we are determined to save this vital and unique institution that people of Newcastle and the North East are so rightfully proud of.”
The trustees have already put in place a number of initiatives to help improve Tyneside Cinema’s financial picture, including changing operating hours and restructuring ticket pricing.
Following a review of staff costs, the cinema is also now considering restructuring its workforce and is entering into consultation with staff members about the potential for a small number of potential redundancies. Mr Drysdale explained: “Losing colleagues is the last thing we want to do, but the economic climate, combined with low visitor numbers means we have little choice.
Tyneside’s operations were comprehensively overhauled three years ago following an independent investigation which was prompted by issues raised by staff at that time. Following the review, a new chair, board of trustees and senior management team were appointed.
Mr Drysdale said: “We acknowledge the mistakes identified by the independent investigation three years ago, but this is very much a new era for Tyneside Cinema and it is a time when we need the support of the fantastic North East public more than ever before.”