Sheffield’s old Picture House struggle

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THE future of Abbeydale Picture House - the old cinema that was revived six years ago as a theatre and community arts centre - is in doubt.

The 92-year-old listed building is on the market after being repossessed by the bank because the community trust running it has been unable to keep up with the mortgage payments.

Trustees, the Friends of Abbeydale Picture House, hope they can buy back the building themselves, or work with a buyer to fulfil ambitions of further restoring and developing the landmark building as a focalpoint for the performing arts, theatre, live music and cinema.

And they are appealing for the community to rally around by taking subscriptions, supporting activities and generating fundraising ideas.

But they admit that the future is uncertain.

“It’s an uphill battle because we have little or no funds,” said Friends chairman Clive Jacques. “Most of the work is being done by volunteers.”

In particular, Mr Jacques said he was concerned for the 80 members of the youth theatre that used the premises.

Since the Friends were formed ten years ago with the aim of restoring the old cinema to its former glory, it has secured patrons such as Peter Stringfellow, Michael Palin and Sir Derek Jacobi. A benefit concert was staged in 2008, and theatrical events, concerts and community events have been held there.

However, tensions became apparent a couple of years ago when some trustees said they were disillusioned and withdrew from the project.

Two trustees, Howard Greaves and Ken Ellis, were left with a bank debt of £130,000 when the separate business of the basement Bar Abbey and snooker hall was liquidated before being reformed.

The building has been put on the market by Yorkshire Bank.

Mr Jacques said: “We have been negotiating with Yorkshire Bank to refinance the building for a while. We want to be able to afford to pay the mortgage.

“The receivers have been very good to the charity. They have let us stay in occupation for the time being while we try to refinance. We are talking to four different lenders at the moment.”

Mr Jacques added: “I’m as a positive as can be. Many of the lenders have said they are interested and it’s something they are prepared to look at. We are doing everything we can to secure the future, but we are at the mercy of the banks, as are a lot of businesses.

“We have got a new team who want to volunteer to help. We have got fresh blood coming in for the future, provided we manage to secure the future. There is a fair bit of change going on.”

However, Howard Greaves said the momentum that had been built up by the initial trust had been lost. At one time, it was “all-singing, all-dancing and buzzing, but it has gone downhill from there.”.

There used to be people queueing up to put on shows, but now not all the 12 temporary licences that allowed events to be staged were being used, he said.

“I have still got a lot of affection for the building, even though it has messed me up financially. I hope somebody takes it over and runs it properly. Whether there are people who had the passion and the feeling we had, I think is doubtful, especially in these recessionary times.”

Bar Abbey and the snooker hall are unaffected by the sale.