Belfast Telegraph

Fears over future of Northern Ireland's oldest cinema

Renovation bill set to come in at over £4m

Actress Christina Nelson, harpist Ursula Burns and Mimi Turtle, Chief Executive Strand Arts Centre celebrate five years of Strand Arts Centre
Actress Christina Nelson, harpist Ursula Burns and Mimi Turtle, Chief Executive Strand Arts Centre celebrate five years of Strand Arts Centre
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The oldest cinema in Northern Ireland is facing a fight for survival with a renovation bill of more than £4m.

The Strand Arts Centre in east Belfast was opened as a cinema in 1935 and for the past five years has been a not-for-profit dedicated arts centre.

Around 60,000 people each year have enjoyed live concerts, school visits, creative workshops and film premieres.

But events like an intimate gig with Van Morrison and large-scale youth musicals are under threat as the Strand building starts to crumble.

Renovation costs are expected to be £4.2m, with Belfast City Council already agreeing to front up £1.8m of the money from its Belfast Investment Fund.

Mimi Turtle, who is chief executive of the Strand, said many activities were being delivered in a deteriorating building with limited disabled access and inadequate facilities to meet demand.

"The Strand is full of character and we want to preserve its heritage," she said.

"But it urgently needs renovated and in doing so we can provide so much more for our audiences and the local community."

Leading figures from the creative industries, tourism and the east Belfast community are urging support for the Strand's proposed redevelopment.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said losing the Strand would be a "devastating blow".

"Generations of families have been through its doors, including my own," he added.

"A renovated and reinvigorated Strand would be a massive asset for our local area and it can't come soon enough."

The actor and director Sam McCready, who has often performed on the stage of the Strand, added: "It's a gem in the east Belfast crown, not only as a piece of architecture with those art deco elements to it, but also as a meeting place for people within this community."

Novelist, screenwriter and Strand champion Glenn Patterson said: "It's impossible to overstate the importance of the Strand for the city of Belfast and for east Belfast in particular."

Noirin McKinney, who is director of arts development at the Arts Council of NI, said that east Belfast had an incredible legacy of producing talent.

She added: "Unfortunately it's never had the facilities to match and incubate that talent, so the redevelopment of the Strand has huge potential for the area."

John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, said: "Our industrial heritage is a very significant element of our past, and what people did and where they went during those times is very important in that regard as well, and the cinema was a central element of the community."

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