Cinema restoration gets green light

The restoration of the UK’s first cinema, at the University of Westminster in Regent Street, has been given the go ahead

The Regent Street Cinema is celebrated as the ‘Birthplace of British Cinema’ as it was used by pioneering filmmakers, the Lumière brothers, to perform their first ever moving picture show in the UK on the 21 February, 1896. 

The project will see the preservation of the key architectural features of the Cinema from its 1920’s heyday, combining the restored fabric with up-to-date technology, bringing it into the 21st century.

Once completed, the iconic venue will house a 200-seat auditorium which will be open to the public and become a landmark destination for British film and a lively hub for University of Westminster students and external visitors including the local community and school children who will come to learn about the heritage and evolution of film and cinema.

The design scheme for the restoration has been created by Tim Ronalds Architects, a practice that has experience of working with landmark theatre spaces, such as the Hackney Empire redevelopment and plans for Wilton’s Music Hall. Building work will commence in April 2014 and the opening of the Cinema is expected in April 2015.

A major campaign to raise money for the restoration project was publicly launched in March 2012 and the University is seeking additional supporters to be involved in this nationally important project.  To date, the University of Westminster has secured two thirds of the £6m needed to complete the restoration and reopen the Cinema.  Generous major donors have so far included the Heritage Lottery Fund, Quintin Hogg Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation and Odeon.

As part of the wider campaign the University has also secured donations to name over a quarter of the seats in the new Cinema and is aiming to have all 200 named by its supporters well ahead of the Cinema opening. The University previously received a £1m donation from the MBI Al Jaber Foundation which was used to bring the Edwardian style Grand Entrance Hall at the Grade II listed campus back to life.

Professor Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Westminster, said: “The Cinema holds a unique place in the history of filmmaking and cinema, and it is wonderful to see that 175 years since the founding of our institution, a new and exciting phase in its history will begin. When it re-opens, the Cinema will offer an outstanding venue in which to nurture future talent as well as provide a place where our students, alumni, industry professionals, and our community can come together and enjoy film and our shared Cinema heritage.”

Film students from the University will also have the opportunity to showcase their work in the heart of London’s vibrant West-End, which is something that no other University can offer. The University currently offers three courses which cover contemporary media practice and film and television production and a post-graduate MA in Film and Television.

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