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January 30, 2003

The Care of Listed Buildings

Until a couple of weeks ago, we had a local cinema. A fine, large, listed building that had seen far better days. Amongst its many charms was one of the very few remaining cinema organs still in place and working. It was the only cinema in Walthamstow, or indeed anywhere in Waltham Forest.

Several months ago, it was sold to a church. And not just any church, but the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, linked to the Victoria Climbié case, and being investigated by the Charity Commission because of questions about child protection issues and fund-raising strategies.

A vigorous campaign began to save the cinema and prevent the change of use application from going through. Planning permission was refused, but the cinema closed anyway shortly after New Year. But the cinema could not be used for church activity pending a public inquiry, tentatively slated for the summer.

It is common, when planning permission is turned down for listed buildings, for accidents to happen to the original fixtures and fittings. Very sad. Then, when the person or organisation wanting the change of use appeals, they explain that there's no need to keep the original fittings, because they've been destroyed anyway; and hence no reason to refuse planning permission.

Over the weekend, only a couple of weeks after UCKG took over the building, there was an illegal rave at the cinema. It went on for thirty hours, with police refusing to intervene due to lack of manpower. From the news article:

A police officer contacted the UCKG on Tuesday to ask about damage, and was told to fax his questions, and then they might respond.

When the Guardian contacted the group, the press officer refused to take our calls and sent a fax claiming they were "responding" along with the police.

But the police said the UCKG, which bought the cinema for 2.8 million, had not been in contact to report the damage.

There's been extensive damage to the screens, seats, projection equipment, and that unique organ. All of which makes it far less likely that the cinema will ever be returned to its proper use.

Posted by Alison Scott at January 30, 2003 07:45 PM

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How weird. In Edinburgh, churches commonly close down, to get turned into Other Things, never the other way around. Not cinemas admittedly (we have far more of these it seems to me than the entire local population could ever need, even if nailed to a cinema seat permamently with a Venti Valencia Mocha for comapny). But most of our university exam halls these days seem to be ex churches - and some of our gambling saloons (is that the right word?) and lger, gothier clubs. (there isa truely grossly over the top one called Frankensteins I will take you to if you ever make it up here.) And, Of Course, our grander Starbucks. It's like the cosmic cycle, innit?

Posted by: Lilian at February 2, 2003 11:41 PM

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