Cinema fans take on church plans

There’s not much cinema heritage left in this part of south-east London – the great Odeons of Deptford and Lewisham became rubble decades ago, their sister cinema in Eltham lies derelict and unloved, and while Woolwich’s picture house gleams, it is only as a tribute to the money-making abilities of the religious group which now runs it.

In other parts of the capital, though, the battle is still on to preserve and protect old movie theatres – and in both cases, actually give locals a place to go and see a film instead of trekking to some soulless multiplex. Time is running out for both venues, which face redevelopment into places of worship.

Not a million miles from here, down in Crystal Palace, the Picture Palace Campaign wants to see the old Rialto (more recently a bingo hall) returned to cinema use after City Screen – which runs the Greenwich Picturehouse – was outbid by the Kingsway International Christian Centre. Objectors have until Thursday to get their observations in to Bromley Council.

Up in Walthamstow, Waltham Forest Council is accepting late objections to plans to convert the old EMD cinema on Hoe Street into a church by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, who bought the old Catford ABC some years back. (Lewisham and Waltham Forest are the only London boroughs without open cinemas within their borders.) Campaigners say a number of operators would like to get their hands on the cinema, which has a glorious past as a music venue as well as a cinema.

It’s pretty much fair to say that independently-run cinemas can be jewels in their community – the presence of the Picturehouse has lifted Greenwich over the past few years while Brixton’s Ritzy is a local landmark. It’s also fair to say that Catford looks drabber than before without its cinema, and a gleaming evangelical church is in no way going to help Woolwich back on its feet again. So I hope these two campaigns succeed – because if these areas get their cinemas back, then maybe it might inspire other parts of London too.


  1. A great campaign. I’ve just submitted my objection to the planning proposal on the Bromley council website.

    The deadline to do so is tomorrow so everyone do it now. All the details are on the Picture Palace Campaign site as linked in the above piece.

  2. I can’t believe this country sometimes.

    So another GRADE II LISTED building (not that listed buildings seem to mean anything in the country these days) is up for the chop, this time to be turned into a CHURCH. Whilst I don’t mind religion or places of worship, there are already HUNDREDS, if not THOUSANDS of places of worship dotted around London and the UK. It seems nobody, not even the church, has respect for a country’s heritage and the community that surrounds it and the history. What is the point of having a building listed and then letting some organisation buy it when they have absolutely no respect for the heritage status of the property they have acquired?

  3. Hi – Great piece. There’s also the campaign to save the 1913 art deco landmark building at 232 Hither Green Lane, orginally built as the Park Cinema. Developers want to get their hands on it. But I’ve written about a ‘cinema event’ coming up there this Sunday 18 October, in a bid to save this building.

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