Lights, Camera, Action: Local Heroes Band Together to Rescue Cinema
In a remarkable display of community spirit, residents of Oxford have rallied together to safeguard a cherished local gem, The Treasured Screen of Oxford. Through the issuance of community shares, a total of £366,585 was gathered, ensuring the cinema's survival and paving the way for future improvements to the facility.
Situated on Jeune Street, the cinema first threw open its doors in 1911, having been established by Frank Stuart, who had previously opened the Electric Theatre, the city's first cinema, a year earlier. The last proprietor, Becky Hallsmith, passed away in 2018, leaving the cinema's future uncertain.
In an attempt to prevent the treasured institution from being sold on the open market, a share offer was initiated in April. The local community responded with overwhelming support, demonstrating their affection and loyalty for the cinema, and ensuring that it would continue to be an integral part of the city's cultural fabric.
The triumphant campaign marked a new chapter in the cinema's long, beloved history, described by committee member Margaret Wolf as a "historic date in the cinema's long and hugely-loved life". Despite the challenges of the past four years, the outcome has been hailed as the best possible result for the cinema.
The Treasured Screen of Oxford holds a special place in the hearts of many. Notable figures such as Sam Mendes, Hugh Bonneville, Chris Morris, and BAFTA CEO Pippa Harris have all expressed their fondness for the venue.
The cinema has a rich and eventful history. After its initial opening, the cinema fell silent when its manager was conscripted during the First World War and turned into a furniture warehouse for many years. In 1976, the cinema was resurrected by Bill Heine and Pablo Butcher, who rebranded it as the Penultimate Picture Palace, introducing a unique selection of films that distinguished it from mainstream cinemas.
In 1994, the cinema briefly shut its doors again, before being bought and restored by the Marham brothers. It was at this time that it was renamed the Ultimate Picture Palace, opening its doors again in June 1996.
Over the years, the cinema faced financial hardship, changing hands again in 2009 to Philippa Farrow and Jane Derricott, who added a small refreshment bar to the auditorium. In 2011, Becky Hallsmith became the new owner, and with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, the cinema was refurbished with new seating.
With the passing of Hallsmith in 2018, the future of the cinema was once again in jeopardy. However, the 'Own the UPP' campaign in 2022 successfully sold sufficient shares to operate the cinema as a community asset, thus securing its future.
The story of the Treasured Screen of Oxford is one of resilience, love, and community spirit. It stands as a testament to the power of unity and a shared passion for preserving local culture and history. It is a story that will continue to inspire, as the cinema opens its doors to welcome old friends and new audiences in the years to come.