how religion teams are reviving England’s outdated cinemas

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On the nook of Powis Avenue and Woolwich Excessive Avenue in south-east London stands a big brick constructing. Its curved exterior and broad cover over the doorway instantly alerts that it’s a cinema.

Wanting up, nevertheless, passers-by could be stunned to see that in massive letters organized on the constructing’s tower is the phrase “Cathedral”. A decrease signal specifies it homes the Christ Religion Tabernacle, a Pentecostal church group based in Nigeria.

Instantly reverse is one other former artwork deco cinema with “New Wine Church” emblazoned throughout the façade. This historic constructing now additionally homes a Nigerian Pentecostal megachurch.

Throughout England there are at present 99 cinemas which have equally been reinvented. Some, just like the Nanaksar Gurdwara Sikh temple in Coventry, have been locations of worship for longer than they showcased movies.

The interior of a cinema converted into a gurdwara.
The Nanaksar Gurdwara in Coventry.
Sirj Images

Since 2022, I’ve been researching these websites, speaking to members of the congregations and their group leaders. The ensuing database attracts an interesting snapshot of diasporic religion practices.

Adaptive reuse

The rising quantity of empty church buildings throughout the nation would possibly counsel that religion is in decline. The 2021 UK census revealed that spiritual apply is, in reality, flourishing in lots of British cities. The numbers of Pentecostal Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have all risen over the previous decade.

These rising populations haven’t resulted, nevertheless, in commensurate numbers of purpose-built locations of worship. Most minority communities have as an alternative chosen to adapt secular buildings.

Repurposing current buildings is widespread amongst migrant religion teams. The decline of movie-going from the early Nineteen Eighties produced a prepared provide of huge buildings conveniently positioned in city centres. These provided auditoriums for big congregations; areas for group actions, soundproofing, parking and hyperlinks to public transport.

Former cinemas had been typically low-cost to purchase and, till the late Nineteen Eighties only a few buildings had been on the federal government’s statutory listing, which offers authorized safety from demolition and vital alteration. This meant that securing planning permission for change of use was usually easy.

The erstwhile Rex Cinema, on the nook of Chapel Avenue and Trinity Method in Salford, really began out as a nineteenth Scottish Presbyterian Church earlier than being transformed right into a cinema within the early 1900s. From 1967, it served as a bingo corridor till the Nineteen Eighties, when it was Grade-II listed and the New Harvest Christian Fellowship moved in.

Equally, the 1910 King’s Theatre in Thanet, Kent, served as a theatre, a cinema and a church till 2017, when the Kent Tamil Affiliation started changing it right into a Hindu temple. The historic inside has been stripped out to open up the house.

The interior of a cinema converted into a temple.
The Kent Sri Swarna Dhurgai Amman in Thanet.
Sirj Images

The Sri Swarna Dhurgai Amman now options freestanding golden shrines, with roof lights, white partitions and marble-effect ground tiles. The room feels mild and shiny.

Underfloor heating permits worshippers to attend in conventional costume and naked toes and the worship house is crammed with the scent of incense and spices: the kitchen in one of many ancillary rooms offering meals for all guests.

In the meantime, in Stoke Newington, north London, the Aziziye Mosque, which opened in 1983, occupies the 1913 Apollo Image Home. With funding from the UK Turkish Islamic Affiliation, the house has been progressively gutted and the façade lined in an intricate mosaic.

Two photographs of a historic cinema in London.
North London’s Apollo Image Home (left) is now the Aziziye Mosque (proper).
Dominic Alves/flickr, CC BY-SA

New life for outdated buildings

A major historic constructing being listed signifies that shopping for it and altering its use often comes with regulatory challenges and dear refurbishments.

Regardless of this, many religion communities have chosen to stay in transformed cinemas. Some organisations particularly search outdated cinemas out for brand spanking new locales.

The Brazilian Pentecostal church, the Common Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), counts 14 branches in London. Three are housed in former cinemas, two of that are listed and have been restored to the very best conservation requirements, at nice value. The group bought an extra cinema in London however didn’t safe planning permission.

A Zoroastrian fire temple.

The Rayners Lane hearth temple.
The wub/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

The listed former Ace Cinema on Rayners Lane in Harrow, north London, has been the Zoroastrian Centre since in 2000. The temple’s sacred hearth is housed inside what was the projection room.

Each the Freedom Centre Worldwide Church in Welling, Kent, and the Potters Home Church in Leyton, east London, have spent appreciable sums restoring the buildings wherein they meet. These usually are not listed buildings. As such, the occupants are underneath no authorized obligations to guard the historic options.

In contrast, the Granada Theatre in Woolwich was grade-II listed when the Christ Religion Tabernacle group purchased it in 2011 for £5 million. The constructing had been a bingo corridor for many years and fallen into disrepair. The overall quantity the congregation has spent on the acquisition and dear restorations (to, amongst different issues, reinstate the cinema-style fastened seating and set up a theatre organ) will surely have paid for a purpose-built church constructing.

A large cinema building used as a church.
The Christ Religion Tabernacle Cathedral in Woolwich.
Sirj Images

This means that cinema buildings present precisely what many religion teams want. The Cathedral is completely suited to Pentecostal worship. The stage is used to ship sermons and dwell music to worshippers numbering into the a whole bunch.

The benefits are greater than merely sensible, although. The supervisor tells me that, for the group, the gothic inside has a Christian flavour which offers the rationale for designating it as a cathedral.

This begs the query: why not repurpose one of many nation’s rising variety of redundant church buildings as an alternative of a cinema that appears like a church? One motive for this can be that former church buildings deliver the burden of a non secular custom that newer denominations are intentionally transferring away from.

Rules that restrict constructing reuse can deter religion communities from buying listed buildings. On the similar time, it’s important that itemizing continues to establish, file and map vital buildings in inclusive methods.

The King’s Theatre in Thanet has actually not been restored to its authentic Edwardian type. It might be laborious to argue, although, that it hasn’t been enriched by its reuse as a temple.

Celebrating all layers of a constructing’s historical past is essential. So too is making certain that it fulfils probably the most fundamental requirement of all – that it’s used.


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