Council gives away prime Hackney site to business duo who want to open a Mare St Picturehouse

A FOUR-SCREEN movie house that will provide the first competition the single-screen Rio has had for decades will open in Mare Street next autumn. The Ocean is being turned into a Picturehouse by City Screen, the UK’S “leading independent cinema operator”, as it calls itself. One of its best-known venues is the Ritzy in Brixton. The company plans that as well as movies, Hackney Picturehouse will include:

  • three licensed café-bars with occasional live music;
  • opera live from the New York Met and Covent Garden, ballet from the Bolshoi and plays from the National Theatre;
  • question-and-answer screenings with film-makers, and themed seasons (mini festivals).

 A senior City Screen staffer told Loving Dalston:

“We want to build a cinema at the heart of the community. Independent, art-house and foreign-language films are important for our audiences, along with big blockbusters and quality crossover titles.

“The one exception has been the Picturehouse at Stratford, which shows mostly mainstream movies.”

This private company owns movie theatres around the country. It was founded almost 20 years ago by film-loving entrepreneurs Tony Jones and Lyn Goleby.

In 2005 they won an award from Europa Cinema, the EU body that recently halved its grant to the Rio. Jones and Goleby also programme screens at the Curzons in Mayfair and the Soho.

Questions are still being asked, however, about their acquisition of a 25-year lease of Ocean, which is on a prime site opposite the town hall.

Hackney spent more than £20 million to turn the former Methodist Hall and library premises into a music venue, and the Arts Council tossed in £15 million. But the council’s venture into the rock and pop business flopped.

Some income has been regained from occasional hirings of the premises and its once ultra-modern facilities; but not enough to compensate for the vast expenditure.

Hackney has been desperate to find a taker for the premises during recessionary times, so City Screen’s proposals, made early this year, were seized on eagerly. So eagerly, say critics within the council, that it failed to offer the lease for tender, or to consult with groups that would be affected, among them the Rio and the Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre, which thought it had council co-operation in its attempt to restore the cinema that opened there 100 years ago.

It tried to ban Loving Dalston from sniffing around the topic, but City Screen did not co-operate and  has not denied getting the Ocean from Hackney at no charge. The news will be a blow to the Rio, also a century old.

Charles Rubinstein, the Kingsland High Street theatre’s manager, admitted this month that he had little information on the proposed Hackney Picturehouse. He believed, however, that competition would be good for the much-loved cinema.

David Altheer 201210Projector©DA17: (vintage) in Hackney Picturehouse 110417 © DavidAltheer[at]

* Backstory: Rio boss quitsRio begs for funds; Picturehouse scores community festival 

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* Media point: Where Loving Dalston leads, mainstream newspapers follow, in the case of the Hackney Gazette on 231210, for the Evening Standard, on 070111. For exclusives, flick to Loving Dalston.

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4 thoughts on “Council gives away prime Hackney site to business duo who want to open a Mare St Picturehouse

  1. The venue was not huge, but the stage was a bit lower than the last section and, of course, all the tall people got to the concert venue first.

  2. Oh now this IS interesting!! Thank you for letting us know. I always wondered what would become of Ocean. It was a big fat waste of space just waiting for something to happen. About time!

  3. I for one think it’s a great idea. I live around the corner from the Clapham Picture House and love what it has to offer; you can get a drink and watch a quality film all in a non standard / commercial environment.

    My girlfriend lives in Hackney and this is exactly what she (and I) could do with there.

    Bring it on!

  4. You’re right; the council wasted huge amounts of money creating a music venue no one wanted. They should have known better, but we all ended up paying.

    I can’t comment on the deal done in this case as I wasn’t party to the negotiations. But, as a former resident of Brixton, I can vouch for the Ritzy cinema, which is EXCELLENT. If we get anything like another Ritzy in Hackney, all the communities in our area will have something to be proud of.

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