Bright future for historic picture house

A DEAL with a local charity has been struck with the aim of ensuring the restoration and preservation of an historic picture house in Sheffield.

Abbeydale Picture House owner, Phil Robins, who purchased the iconic cinema on Abbeydale Road in 2012, approached Sheffield solicitors firm Wake Smith for advice about the unique lease for the 10,000 sq ft Art-Deco building.

The 25-year lease, which includes complex and unique provisions regarding the tenant actively seeking restoration funding, was devised by Paul Gibbon, director in the commercial property team at Wake Smith.

It will allow new tenants, CADS Trust (Creative Arts Development Space), to move into the building with the short-term aim of making initial improvements to secure a full premises licence to bring the venue back into full community use and longer term, attracting urgently needed funds for major restoration work.

Currently the building can only be used 15 times a year for events but a full premises licence would allow unlimited events and increased income opportunities for the venue.

The second aspect of the work involved Mr Gibbon making changes to an existing lease for the basement tenants, the bar, Picture House Social, so that both tenants can work together to avoid conflict with each of their planned events programmes.

Mr Gibbon said: “Our remit was to devise a structure that balanced certainty regarding the restoration with flexibility for CADS taking on the project. The lease also needed to be acceptable to grant funders.

“We have drawn up a very bespoke document. The key to it is that CADS has a very clear obligation to actively pursue funding for the complete restoration and preservation of the building but the requirement to carry out any such works is only triggered when funding is received.

“This is an iconic community building and this work will help to secure the future of this important landmark. We wish Phil and his tenants all the best with their ventures.”

Mr Robins and his small team have already completed a turnaround of the building, which is the only picture house remaining of this type in the city, opening it up to the community for screenings, live performances, exhibitions, antiques markets, meetings, talks and even weddings without a full premises licence. The new lease will allow this work to cover a wider remit with further opportunities for grant funding.

Mr Robins said: “I initially bought the picture house at auction with the intention to renovate the building and bring it back into public use as a climbing and sports centre but realised that was not suitable for the building.

“We’ve been down a long road of refurbishment and built up a programme of events run via temporary events notices but we’ve gone as far as I can take it.

“I first began speaking with CADS last July and saw a synergy between their work and my vision for the building. As a charitable cause they can access funding grants and will work towards improvements and gradually restoring the building. This is the scale of investment that is needed.

“This complex legal work on both leases will allow the tenants to make the most of their individual events in this iconic building.”

Abbeydale Picture House, later called Abbeydale Cinema, was opened by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield on 20 December 1920 and was the largest and most luxurious cinema in Sheffield with 1,560 seats.

In the mid-1950s the cinema was purchased by the Star Cinema Group but closed in 1975 and was then used as an office furniture showroom until 1991.

In 1989 the building was given a Grade II listing by English Heritage being a good example of an early 1920s mid-sized suburban cinema with both cinema and theatre facilities. In 1991 the sprung floor in the ballroom was removed, and local businesses “Abbey Snooker” and “Bar Abbey” occupied the site.

In 2003 the Friends of Abbeydale Picture House, boasting patrons including Michael Palin, Peter Stringfellow and the John Lewis Partnership, was formed to restore and manage the Picture Palace as a community centre for the performing arts and visual media.

The group took ownership of the building in 2005 and re-opened it in September 2008 following a restoration of the auditorium and installation of a new stage.

It hosted regular performances and fundraisers to raise money towards the on-going restoration of the building. The Friends of Abbeydale Picture House eventually went into administration and the building went into receivership.