£2m bid to give Ulster's oldest standing cinema the Strand a whole new lease of life
Officials at Northern Ireland's oldest surviving cinema, the Strand, which played host to some of Van Morrison's earliest gigs, have announced ambitious plans to seek funding for a £2m renovation programme to keep it in business.
The eye-catching art deco building on the Holywood Road in the east of the city now houses a busy arts centre as well as multiple screens and an exciting blueprint for the future was unveiled at a special ceremony there last night.
Chief executive of the Arts Centre, Mimi Turtle, said: "We have achieved a lot in our first 24 months and as well as our movie offerings, we have also staged 30 theatre productions, 25 music events, 100 specialist film nights and 120 participatory arts events attracting over 90,000 people
"We also bring older audiences to what we call our Silver Screenings and we have ground-breaking classes in film production for younger folk. However, we need people here to come out and support all our future shows. We are here to serve the community and if they are not making the most of us there might be no Strand Arts Centre and no Strand building."
The cinema closed on a number of occasions in the 1960s and 1970s but reopened as a variety theatre in the 1980s when stars like The Drifters, Little and Large and The Nolans appeared.
In 1989 the Strand became a four-screen multiplex but it has faced competition from similar complexes in the centre of Belfast and more recently at Dundonald.
Of the future, Mimi said: "The Strand has served east Belfast well over the last 80 years and has survived as long as could reasonably be expected without considerable investment, but now requires extensive renovation and modernisation to meet customer expectations and play a transformative role in the area."
The refurbishment plans are in their infancy, but new screens and drama/dance studios are on the wish-list along with workshops, two theatre spaces and a cafe/bar fronting the Holywood Road.
Mimi added that the entire renovation could take £2m to complete.
"But it would significantly increase the amount and flexibility of space in the building and as well as bringing in new revenue streams, it would massively boost the footfall we are working with at the moment," he said.
DUP politicians Sammy Douglas and Nelson McCausland were among last night's audience, along with writer Glenn Patterson, who lives nearby.
Glenn, who co-wrote the screenplay for the award-winning movie Good Vibrations, which opened at the Strand, said: "The potential here is great but the next step on the journey can only be taken together with the support of the community. A refurbished Strand will deliver so much more for local audiences and greatly enhance the cultural life of east Belfast."
The board of the Strand, which celebrates its 80th anniversary later this year, has launched a new #StrandTogether initiative to appeal for support to ensure the long term viability of the venue as a vibrant film and arts centre. The not-for-profit Strand Arts Centre was established with charitable status two years ago and Van Morrison, who had played in skiffle groups at the cinema's old minors club on Saturday mornings as a teenager, returned to play the opening concert in front of just 150 people.