An Update on The Picture House Project

Last Saturday there was a session to bring people up to date with the latest developments on The Picture House Project. Bill Walton went along to find out what’s been happening so far…

About forty people turned up to hear the exciting, latest refurbishment plans and to contribute their ideas.

Wendy Cook (the cinema’s general manager) set out the complexity of bringing together so many interests such as our current audiences, the wider community, film makers, funders and partner organisations, plus paid staff and volunteers. Further the project has to be achieved within a strict budget, while respecting the fabric and design of our historic building. And it has to provide a sound financial basis for the Picture House to prosper over the next ten decades!! Discussion on cinema activities will take place at a future meeting.

Eilidh Henderson (the Project’s lead architect) gave a detailed slide presentation of progress. She clearly likes developing the potential of existing buildings and gives a very high priority to maintaining the warm, friendly atmosphere of the Picture House. I can only give a flavour of the progress without showing the presentation. Eilidh pointed out that with such a complex project the result won’t be completely right for everyone!

More detailed drawings and plans will be available shortly on the project website, thepicturehouseproject.com.

Clearly. a huge amount of expertise and imagination has gone into relating design to accessibility, safety, conservation, maintenance and running costs, film screening and acoustics, community use, and the fabric of the building. The architects also aim to allow different approaches to be tried out over time with scope for adaptations in future years.

There was a lot of discussion about how the refurbished Picture House will fit into the local area. The cinema is a civic building which needs to be distinctive (hence the potential use of glass and some white brick in the extension) while blending in with the redbrick surrounding terraces. The architects have taken into account the appearance both in the daytime and at night, the outward views on to the neighbourhood from inside the new windows, the colours and architectural lines of nearby buildings, and how to best link the extension to the historic entrance.

There will be a ramped entrance, with a larger foyer extending out to the pillars. This will allow several points of sale for tickets and refreshments. It is hoped that audience habits will change over time with more people arriving early or staying on in the cafe, reducing queues. The second screen in the basement will allow improvements to programming. There will be cafe and meeting space (which is not a through route), and improved facilities for staff. The interior design will have a cinematic theme, and use a colour scheme based on the building’s history. There was some discussion about the pros and cons of unisex toilets.

The design will soon be going to the (sympathetic) Leeds Council planners for approval. It is hope that the final plans as part of a full project plan will go to the Heritage Lottery Fund in June, and that construction work will start in Spring/Summer 2019. The building work will take about a year, largely because of deepening the basement, and will give the opportunity to develop additional audiences while using other venues.

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