Lincoln Film Society have shared with Film Hub Midlands their success story, overcoming venue closures and bouncing back to pre-pandemic audience attendance. We hope this inspires you, provides a sense of direction and gives you hope for your community cinema's.
- After 67 years of operations The Venue cinema closed during the pandemic and Lincoln Film Society worked with Bishop Grosseteste University to bring it back to life.
- A dramatic increase in membership sign ups upon revival
- Three film screenings with a combined audience of 530 since September 15th, 2023
Article written by Richard Hall:
Lincoln Film Society was founded in 1953 and has been screening world and independent films to its members since then. It’s one of the few organisations to prioritise such films. Since 1987, we have been based at The Venue, a 230-seat multi-purpose arts space with digital cinema projection facilities, on the campus of Bishop Grosseteste University. We have built up a considerable reputation and loyal support, regularly attracting over 300 members, average audiences of 150 plus and curating a programme of 26 films for our seasons.
In 2020 though, and like so many other public spaces, The Venue was also forced to close because of Covid. After 67 years of continuous operation, we had to suspend our activities too; and for a while, there were concerns we might be forced to shut down for good.
During early 2022 though, we learned that the authorities at Bishop Grosseteste were wondering about reviving The Venue as a community resource with the cinema, and the Society, playing a substantial role. There were challenges to be overcome however.
Previously, The Venue had been run as a self-contained cinema with its own team of staff. But post-Covid, all of them had been made redundant and no one at Bishop Grosseteste knew what to do.
During 2022, meetings took place between us and the university where we shared our experience of the previous relationship we had had with The Venue, how films were booked, delivered and projected and of the powerful social function the Society played.
The university was impressed and as the year progressed, they began the process of bringing The Venue back to life. Meanwhile the Society had to work out whether there was any appetite for a return amongst its former members and if so, where we could operate.
An Extraordinary General Meeting was called in early 2022 for those people who had previously been members. We found they were very excited about the possibility of our return. That encouraged us to take the next step - to find somewhere to show films. Two spaces with projection equipment were agreeable to us hiring them and in the summer of 2022, we ran a short summer season of four films to test the mood.
The setting at the first location wasn’t great but the audience response was encouraging. This gave us the confidence to try something more ambitious and during that autumn and the spring of this year, we organised a further eight screenings in another arts space we had discovered. These were also very well attended and received.
We now felt we had evidence that a return to The Venue would be possible. We decided on a programme of 12 films, starting in September 2023 and running though till March 2024. We set a target of recruiting 200 members, which we thought would be enough to cover our costs, and picked the first tranche of 6 films to show, before launching a membership recruitment drive in June.
Meanwhile, Bishop Grosseteste had continued to restore facilities. Engineers, whose knowledge and expertise were essential to ensuring the projection equipment was in good working order after a long time out of use, were engaged. Improvements were made to the building, to ensure audiences could enter and leave safely. Test screenings were organised.
While this was happening, discussions turned towards the terms and conditions under which the Society would be able to return. We developed a Partnership Working Agreement, which set out the roles and responsibilities that would apply to us both. We agreed the details of how screenings would be managed. We met the staff volunteers from the university who would be running the projector. It was clear they were as enthused about the whole initiative as we were ourselves.
That first film - The Blue Caftan (2022) - took place on September 15, 2023, three and a half years after the shut down. Astonishingly, we found 309 people had signed up for our return season, just 6 fewer than when Covid forced us to close. Equally astonishingly, 199 people were present. The atmosphere was exuberant and the whole evening passed off triumphantly.
Since that first film, we have shown two more, to a combined audience for all 3 of around 530 people. This compares very well with the pre-Covid years. After such a long time out of action, it is good to be back - but in truth, it feels as though we have never been away.
Lincoln Film Society are a Film Hub Midlands Member, membership is free to qualifying organisations. To find out more and sign up, take a look at our guidelines here