The London Film Festival kicks-off this week and to mark the BFI’s flagship event in our own unique way, we’ve scoured the city to bring you London’s finest social enterprises cinemas. Below, you’ll find seven socially-conscious screens where you can catch the latest release or a cherished classic, safe in the knowledge that your hard-earned dough is going back to a good cause.
This little gem in leafy Finchley is truly a London institution, but one that gets surprisingly little attention. Built in 1910 and finally opening two years later, The Phoenix is Britain’s oldest purpose-built cinema and its fascinating history is well worth a quick read. It’s now under the stewardship of a charitable trust dedicated to not only keeping grubby-handed property developers’ away from the historic venue, but also to improving access to film for the local community. The profits from running the Phoenix go towards funding all kinds of educational activities for residents, including £1 educational screenings for school pupils and a very generous under-26 discounted membership. There’s also a gallery and a great little café, which opens every day and sources its produce from independent stores.
Find it: 52 High Rd, East Finchley, London N2 9PJ
Lewisham used to be the only London boroughs without a cinema. That was until a group of volunteers in Deptford decided to take matters into their own hands, transforming an old garage into a 40-seat cinema… and the best bit is that it’s a volunteer-run social enterprise. Their refreshingly radical, non-hierarchical structure means that all decisions about the cinema are made by consensus in weekly meetings. You can also pick up a full price ticket for just a fiver (and less for concessions).
Deptford Cinema carefully curates its film selection and has quickly become one of London’s best venues for socially-minded independent films. That being said, it’s not all serious stuff… after all, they did run a 24-hour Peep Show marathon in the summer. The volunteers are also in the process of completing a darkroom, gallery space and a fully licensed cafe/bar… so expect even more to come.
Find it: 39 Deptford Broadway, London SE8 4PQ
Kensal Green doesn’t quite have the same artsy reputation as some of its West London neighbours, but a night at the Lexi provides a reason to visit this quiet suburb all on its own. And that’s speaking from personal experience; I confess to being a member, even though catching a film means a two-hour round trip from East London.
The Lexi’s slogan is “more than just great cinema”… a bold claim, but one on which it definitely delivers. The cinema is a friendly, one-screen affair with an excellent atmosphere and very accommodating volunteer staff. There’s even a cute little bar at the back, which makes a great spot for a pre-film tipple and a chat with a friend or date. The best thing about The Lexi, though, is that 100% of the proceeds go to The Sustainability Institute – a pioneering sustainable living and learning charity supporting families in rural South Africa. Projects supported to date include a crèche for local infants; school meals, schoolbags and tracksuits; sustainable gardens, solar power and water management systems; and after school activities for young people. The Lexi’s also has a sister social enterprise pop-up cinema called the Nomad… read about it here.
Find it: 194B Chamberlayne Rd, Kensal Green, London NW10 3JU
Dalston’s Rio just misses out to the Phoenix on being the oldest purpose-built cinema by a few years, although it did start screening films out of a converted shop even earlier. It’s housed in a stunning grade-II listed Art Deco building, giving a night at the movies a quirky 30s feel. There’s usually one or two features each week, which are a mix of latest releases with great arthouse classics. As a community-run cinema, the Rio does a lot of giving back to those who are typically excluded by London’s extortionate cinema prices. We’re talking affordable screenings for children and the over 50s, a regular educational programme and a host of fundraising events for local charities. It also partners with grassroots community groups to host some great live events and festivals that you just wouldn’t get at big chains like Cineworld – the Feminist Film Festival, for instance.
Having struggled financially for years, the Rio did recently suffer industrial action from staff over low pay. But after successfully raising £125k for a second screen, we hope the future revenues will enable this great community organisation to do right by its staff in the long-term.
Find it: 107 Kingsland High St, London E8 2PB
Get involved: support the Rio and save money by becoming a member.
Regular readers of GOtilo will know Rich Mix pretty well by now. This not-for-profit cultural centre in Shoreditch regularly features in our events newsletter for showcasing some of our city’s most ground-breaking, socially-conscious live performances. It also has a great three-screen cinema and is a partner to London Film Festival this year, offering up an inspiring list of documentaries and shorts. Rich Mix’s mission is all about making culture accessible to all and, among many other things, provides free rehearsal space for young people and hosts 20 creative businesses. There’s also an incredible 16-25 Mixer membership with £5 cinema tickets all year plus discounted food and free tickets to other performances… well worth signing up for.
Find it: 35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA
You’ll almost certainly have heard of – and probably been to – this iconic arts centre. But the Barbican’s cinema is probably the unsung hero of a venue far better known for its theatre and music performances. There are now three stunning screens showing the usual international blockbusters, as well as showcasing the work of young and independent filmmakers through collaborations with festivals and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Like the other picture houses on our list, The Barbican prides itself on making screenings inclusive – there’s a Saturday morning film club for young people and Parent & Baby screenings of the best new releases. The cinema’s worst kept secret is the ridiculously cheap (for London standards) £6 tickets on a Monday… especially as it typically grants access to the Barbican’s spectacular 280-seat auditorium.
Above all, what we love about supporting the Barbican is that it’s one of central London’s remaining truly public spaces. In a city where such spaces are endangered, The Barbican’s huge atrium is somewhere tranquil, warm and welcoming at the heart of the city open to anyone.
Find it: Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS
A true film buff’s paradise, the BFI’s flagship four-screen Southbank cinema shows a huge range of blockbusters and arthouse classics alike. And if you’re the impatient type, it’s a great (and relatively affordable) place to catch preview screenings of top films before they hit the big screen elsewhere. The building also houses the BFI library with its incredible collection all about the world of film, TV and the moving image.
BFI Southbank is a charity governed by Royal Charter, dedicated to promoting film culture and making it accessible to as many people as possible. In addition to hosting the London Film Festival, it also runs Flare – the biggest LGBT film festival in Europe.
Find it: Belvedere Rd, South Bank, London SE1 8XT
Have you been to any of these? Did we miss one in your area? Why not join in the conversation over on our Facebook community group: London’s ethical city explorers.