Whiteladies Picture House April 2014

The Whiteladies Picture House has the opportunity to be turned into a new cinema after 13 years of sitting empty.

Yet its future is currently the subject of an increasingly bitter dispute between two rival plans.

The first is a well-meaning yet ultimately futile scheme proposed by the Whitleladies Picture House Ltd, which includes the retention of the main auditorium space as a 580-seat theatre and cinema screen, a separate 60-seat cinema under the existing balcony and the reinstatement of the historic foyer and ballroom.

The second is from the Everyman chain of cinemas, who will invest in the region of £3 million fitting out the cinema and have already signed a legally binding contract with the building’s owner David Lewin, who is himself committing a further £1 million.

Subject to planning permission, a three-screen cinema could be open as early as next year, with restoration of the ornate ceiling in the auditorium, the marble columns in the foyer and the tower.

There are also plans for flats in the part of the building that was previously used as offices by Odeon and in the empty roof space above.

Regardless of the contentious issue of these flats, which should have no negative impact on the functioning of any new cinema, this second scheme is the one that Bristol desperately needs.

Everyman Maida Vale outside

In Maida Vale, west London, the Everyman cinema on Sutherland Avenue (above) gives some indication of what Bristol could have if Everyman are given the chance to take on the Whiteladies Road building.

Walking up a small flight of stairs lined with vintage film posters and the smell of popcorn means this can only be a cinema.

And yet it is also so much more – there is a well-stocked bar, books about filmmaking on the shelves and old cameras dotted about.

Everyman Maida Vale stairs

Maida Vale is one of Everyman’s newest cinemas. It was opened in November 2011 in what used to be a restaurant and nightclub and has two screens, the larger screen one with 109 seats, while screen two with only 40 seats has a similar feel in terms of space to the Orpheus.

The cinema seats are something recognisably Everyman. Most are double sofas, with a few singles and triples, all with cushions, footrests, even wine coolers positioned to one side.

Everyman area manager Eileen O'Shea

“I love to see how people react to our seats,” says Everyman area manager Eileen O’Shea (above) when I visited her in Maida Vale earlier this week.

“Taking their shoes off, stretching out. A big part of what we do is making people feel comfortable, as if they are at home, from a matinee with a cup of coffee to a big celebration night.”

Everyman Maida Vale seats

The Everyman story began in 2000 when entrepreneur David Broch bought his local cinema in Hampstead. In 2008 the ambitious group acquired the Screen chain of London venues.

Recent openings in Winchester and Leeds have spread their tentacles outside of London for the first time, with a Birmingham venue due to open later this year.

Everyman Maida Vale towards screen two

O’Shea started working behind the bar in Hampstead before managing that cinema. She is now in charge of all 10 Everyman cinemas and is hoping to be helping to open in Bristol before too long.

“You walk through Clifton and think we could offer a little bit more,” she said as we chatted over coffee in the Maida Vale bar.

“The Watershed is a great space and we won’t be competing with it. If you look at London, we sit nicely alongside other cinemas. It’s a different offering.

“We offer what we think the area would like. Everyman does not look at what other cinemas are doing. It looks at how we can fit in.

“There’s a sense of ownership at an Everyman. I see people taking their friends and families on tours. That’s quintessentially Everyman.”

Everyman Maida Vale tables and chairs

Films currently on show in Maida Vale are The Grand Budapest Hotel, Labor Day and Yves Saint Laurent.

“I think we’re at our best when we open to the public before a film,” O’Shea said.

“There’s always a great atmosphere as people have a drink, maybe a pizza, catch up with friends, then stay on afterwards to discuss the movie.”

Everyman Maida Vale bar

Everyman has the money. It has the experience. And it will bring back to life the Whiteladies Picture House far better than any community group, however committed, who are relying on public fundraising for their own scheme.

With such an eminently sensible plan from Everyman in place, it would be inconceivable if it becomes derailed by a rival scheme with admirably good intentions but nothing else, and who in essence only want the same thing – the return of a cinema to Whiteladies Road.

Everyman Maida Vale front door


View Everyman’s full proposals and register your support here

13 Responses so far.

  1. Anon says:

    For what it’s worth I think the space should copy Soho House’s Electric on Portobello Road and go for club/ lounge like their members bar. There is nothing like that in bristol and it badly needs a touch of that. A place for 30+ something’s to hang out and relax. Everyman ok but retro. Bristol needs an upmarket spot with long term thinking. No flats. Utilise that space more creatively.

  2. Anon says:

    At The Electric members not only do you get to relax and feel like you are in your outside office it’s where creative minds meet – do deals and bring fresh concepts to the table. You cannot underestimate the importance of a venue like that. Especially in a creative city like Bristol that is presently struggling to cater to that need.

  3. Zora says:

    This article would be a lot more persuasive if it read like an actual article, instead of like an advert for Everyman. Where’s the balance?

  4. stanley says:

    The reality is that without the flats the scheme isn’t financially viable. Surely the flats are a worthwhile compromise in order to bring this building back into cinema use. Looking at the plans on the Council’s website, the flats are in the part of the building that was never integral to the cinema – Odeon used the first floor as offices & the 2nd floor was originally a managers flat. The entire auditorium & entrance foyer are returned to cinema use.

  5. Anon says:

    I have to share Zora’s concerns, it reads like an Everyman press release.

    And as for the ‘View Everyman’s full proposals and register your support here’ – can we also register our opposition there?

  6. Conscious Objector says:

    Wow! what an unbiased article. Did you mean to miss out the small print? “This article was written, supported and funded by EVERYMAN. We luuuuuv them <3"

    You gave three token lines to 'the rival scheme' and droned out of your rear end about how wonderful Everyman is. I'm not saying the scheme is not a good idea but this article is just too biased to be respectable.

  7. Bob says:

    Clearly biased yes but all the better for it. What’s the point sitting on the fence? Life would be boring otherwise. Personally, I’m in favour of Everyman taking the building in but would prefer if there were no flats.

  8. Simon Baker says:

    This article absolutely and succinctly hits the issue over the head. “Everyman has the money. It has the experience. And it will bring back to life the Whiteladies Picture House far better than any community group, however committed, who are relying on public fundraising for their own scheme.”

    The rival plan of Whiteladies Picture House Ltd charity “is a well-meaning yet ultimately futile scheme”.

  9. phil says:

    As a local resident (I live round the corner) I do welcome this scheme as it seems like the most viable option. However, from having vitied a couple of cinemas that Everyman operate in London their tickets are quite expensive-I do hope they realise that there is a massive student population living in the area and that clifton isnt all people who live in million pound homes.

  10. Dave says:

    You’re just absolute cheerleaders for gentrification and mediocrity aren’t you? There’s hundreds of places where someone can go and get a coffee, pizza and have a chat in Bristol, most of them with the same bland surroundings as you’ve pictured here. Oh but this is different though right? It’s got a cinema screen. Pah! More yuppy flats and more bland, over priced toss that only middle class hipsters can afford. Not everyone who lives in Clifton is wealthy.

    I’m all for a cinema in whiteladies road but I’ll take the community effort over a company from outside the area looking to make a quick buck through a cinema that looks exactly the same as all its other ones.

  11. Lisa Moses says:

    I’m afraid I agree with many of the above posts. I personally think the Everyman plan is the most sustainable, but I’m surprised at the way this article has been written, which unfortunately does in my mind make it ‘too bias to be respectable’. It’s a shame because I usually LOVE this site, and pass on a lot of articles that are well written and informative – this isn’t one of them!

  12. Josh says:

    It’s not balanced but it doesn’t need to be, one option has the cash and experience and the other is an optimistic bunch of mates. One will likely work, the other will be lucky to raise any cash and remain interested.

    As for the guy that said it should be an adult entertainment area like some place in London…that’s all very well but it only works in places with loads of singles and childless couples…like London. Invite everyone, serve food and make it welcoming and you’ll be sustainable. Exclude kids and your only hope is a dwindling bunch of aging arrogant yuppies and a bust dave and busters. If you’re old enough to remember that is.

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