In 2014, after 10 years of offering an eclectic and internationally renown programme of films curated by local people, the Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle closed as their rented building was put up for development. But rather than seeing this as a set-back, the 3,000 volunteers who all have a say in the running of the business, decided to find their community cinema a permanent home. They raised over £40,000 through crowdfunding and were awarded grant funding from several foundations and trusts. With this, they secured a mortgage from Newcastle County Council, and purchased a building in Sandyford, an area with few community spaces, facilities or events.
As a business run by local people for local people, the rebuild of the Star and Shadow cinema is also being done by local people. Power to Change awarded Star and Shadow a £100,000 grant towards the building materials needed for the self-build refurbishment. The grant will also cover the cost of a digital projector, public address system and speakers to improve the quality of facilities. Opening in the autumn of 2017, the new Star and Shadow will become a community multi-arts venue, including an 89-seat cinema, gig venue, recording studios, a café/library, and a community garden serving 6,000 local people between the student areas of Sandyford and Heaton, where it’s set to become one of Newcastle city centre’s largest community spaces.
The new and improved Star and Shadow Cinema will be open during the day to provide simultaneous screenings, workspace and community events thanks to improved sound-proofing, music recording studios, space hire and both 16mm projector and digital screenings. The building will be fully accessible with ramps, a hearing loop and toilets to accommodate people with disabilities and make sure it is welcoming the whole community.
Built and run by local people
Anyone can become a volunteer of Star and Shadow cinema. Volunteers have an induction, a handbook and can become a member after three months. A life membership costs £1 and gives you the right to take part in monthly general meetings and make decisions by consensus.
During the refurbishment works, volunteers on site are doing everything from plasterboarding to pouring concrete. When the building opens, they could be working in the cafe, organising gigs, programming films or hosting workshops.
“It’s a kaleidoscope of community experiences; we have refugees, unemployed people looking for work experience, there’s such a variety – it really does tackle the misconceptions that you see in the media,” said Nyree Denney, Star and Shadow volunteer since 2007. In this non-hierarchical structure, every volunteer’s input and voice is equally important.
For local people
Serving three heavily deprived neighbourhoods, the Star and Shadow will again become a stepping stone for socially vulnerable and marginalised groups to access Newcastle’s wider cultural offer. Many of the other cultural organisations in the area can be intimidating or inaccessible – the Star and Shadow’s volunteer-led programme will be a point of entry to the region’s rich arts scene for people who might otherwise never access it.
“The Star and Shadow is whatever anyone wants to make of it. We allow the space for that to happen. It’s a place to make as well as show,” said Stephen Turner, Star and Shadow volunteer since 2010.
Communities from the surrounding areas will be drawn in to both experience and direct the Star and Shadow artistic programme. There are few opportunities like it in the region for individuals, no matter their background, to get involved with artistic programming of high-quality art, music, and film events. Historically the S&S has been an incubator for emerging multi-disciplinary directors from socially marginalised backgrounds, and will resume being so again.