Multimillion-pound truth about cinema company given prime site by Hackney council

Suki Waterhouse @ Hackney Picturehouse for premiere of film Pusher 041012 © David Altheer
Hackney Picturehouse © David Altheer
Above, Hackney Picturehouse and, top, model-actress Suki Waterhouse poses at a movie promotion in the Mare Street cinema


* UPDATE June 2021: Picturehouse parent company Cineworld is worrying its shareholders. Some are alarmed by the huge amount of interest-costly loans the company has had to take out since the pandemic hit its 767 cinemas, which have only recently been able to reopen in England. Investors hope, however, that the group can, in the words of German bank Berenberg, “muddle through”

* UPDATE November 2017: Cineworld is about to close all its 128 movie theatres after release of the new James Bond film, a much-anticipated industry lifeline, was again postponed, until next spring 2021, reports The Sunday Times.

* UPDATE November 2017: While Picturehouse workers fight for their right to a reasonable wage, the two billionaires who own Cineworld are trying to become even richer by breaking into America, the world’s biggest cinemas market. Unfortunately for Mooky and Israel Greidinger, their shareholders have turned down the proposal to buy the US group Regal Cinema. 


ON ITS WEBSITE Picturehouse Cinemas says it was formed “to challenge the multiplex model and provide cinemas that serve their communities in city-centre locations”.

Can this be the same company that less than two years ago sold out to Cineworld, a multinational that runs more than 200 movie theatres?

It certainly can. The £47 million December 2012 deal would make the chain’s co-founder, Lyn Goleby, a multimillionaire, The Guardian and other news outlets agreed.

The deal had was important locally because the council gave Picturehouse the lease to a prime site in Mare Street for the sum of £1 – after about £35 million of public money was spent on the buildings as Hackney council, with Arts Council help, busied itself turning the former library into Ocean.

The arts centre’s name proved ominously predictive: the council venture into pop and other modern culture sank.

So the council was relieved when Picturehouse, giving members a load of guff about local involvement, said it could use the site for a cinema.

The guff after the sale of the Picturehouse company was no more convincing.

Picturehouse was also slow to tell its supporters about how its challenge “to the multiplex model” was going: not until months later did director Goleby write to members (of whom my editor is one), mentioning the deal almost incidentally by saying “A number of you have expressed concerns…”.

Hackney homeless men at ex lib: former Hackney library now part of Picturehouse 020813 ©
Homeless: the men on the steps were not allowed to stay long at the former library

Goleby said it was simply “a timely way” to get the company a public listing. Nothing to do with making her and her co-founders rich, then.

And how goes the intention of Picturehouse Cinemas to “serve their communities”?

A community group calling itself Hackney Citizens has been campaigning at the cinema for the staff to be paid the living wage.

The trade union Bectu has also been busy in Hackney since it won the wage rise for Ritzy Picturehouse staff. The popcorn-munchers of Mare Street seem barely bothered by the low-pay issue, apparently persuaded by marketing that portrays the theatre as a community venue.

The London Kurdish Film Festival, once a staple of the original Hackney community cinema, moved from the financially pushed Rio to the Picturehouse.

What chance has the under-resourced Dalston single-screen cinema against such competition?

Hamish Scott 040515

* Backstory: Rio’s new boss promises changes; Rio boss quitsRio begs for funds; Picturehouse scores community festival and Millions spent on site given away by Hackney 

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One thought on “Multimillion-pound truth about cinema company given prime site by Hackney council

  1. And why does an adult evening ticket cost a lot less at other Picturehouses, like Stratford? Tonight, an adult seat at Far from the Madding Crowd, is £11.60 in Hackney and £9.50 at the Statford Picturehouse.

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