THE majority of visitors to Manchester, and a large number of its permanent inhabitants, rarely venture beyond the comfort and confines of its central and southern areas, neglecting the city’s northern outposts. While central Manchester may be the focal point, there are some hidden gems to be found in the little-explored north. One such gem is The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre and its Small Cinema.
Located in Moston, the centre has only become anything close to habitable in the last three years.
The seats don’t give you a “numb arse”. Always good to know.
Originally run as a social club for miners (hence the name), and holding a range of acts including boxing, it remained a popular venue right up until it fell into ruin and disrepair in the 1990s. Attempts to turn the club into a block of flats failed, leaving few options other than demolition on the cards.
With the apparent lack of future for the venue, it was revived by a 2011 community project led by Lou and Joe Beckett that proposed refurbishing it to the benefit of the local area. The original plan to build an art gallery was scrapped in favour of a café which was quickly followed by the introduction of a function room and a sports room, the latter featuring a 100 year old pool table.
With the initial refurb a success, the Miners Arts Centre was approached last year by Sam Meech of the artist collective, Re-Dock, about a pop up cinema installation, but rather than a temporary addition, Lou and the others instead decided to go with the ambitious option of constructing a permanent cinema.
Howard Patient, who has been part of the project from its inception, explains how the cinema was built with a modest “£1,000 and a lot of good will” rather than the £98,000 it would have cost normally to complete. With a core team of ten volunteers experienced in construction, including structural engineer Howard, supplemented by 60 volunteers including many local kids, the cinema was built in an impressively quick twelve weeks. A small budget and minimal funding meant that the majority of the cinema’s materials were either sourced or donated - the 90 plush seats taken from the Liverpool Plaza, floor tiles donated from a local solicitors as well as paint contributed by HMG Paints.
Christened The Moston Small Cinema, it cuts a cosy, intimate environment despite being rough around the edges. The slight imperfections lend the space charm and character, complimented by the glamorously restored red velvet auditorium seats. Howard also confirms that the seats don’t give you a “numb arse”. Always good to know.
While the décor may have the allure of faded elegance, the technical side is brand spanking new with a digital projector and a 5.1 sound system making for a viewing experience to rival multiplex cinemas.
The screening quality might resemble the Odeon or Cornerhouse, but the prices are a far cry from their borderline extortion. The Small Cinema’s showings are usually done on a donation basis or a nominal fee, usually £3, and the other bits and bobs that make up the cinematic experience are equally affordable with bags of popcorn a mere 60p on top of the bonus of being able to enjoy a £2.50 pint from the fully licensed bar. The fact all the income goes back into the centre’s redevelopment makes it money well spent.
Not content with just standard film screenings, the Small Cinema adds a memorable and personal touch to all its events, evidence of Howard’s insistence on “diversifying” with “different ideas” in order to survive.
Classic Cars for Classic FilmsIn the past year, the Small Cinema has held Mod scooter nights and classic 1950s car nights, including a showing of George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Adding extra elements to screenings to make them multi-faceted events is one of the Miners Arts Centre’s biggest assets. On the premier of The Wheel, the story of Northern Soul, they screened the film three times in one day, rotating the sold out audience between the picture and a Northern Soul-inspired disco. A future showing of Shane Meadow’s Dead Man’s Shoes will also be the launch of Howard’s friends Lambretta chopper owners club, featuring a collection of modified scooters, with a one inspired by the film as an impressive centrepiece.
The cinema offers a tailored experience to its varied punters. Examples of the special service range from bringing tea and blankets for the elderly to putting on Halloween-themed nights for kids. As part of working in and beyond the local community, the cinema hosts cartoon screenings for autistic children once a month as well as holding LGBT film festivals. Additional events have also been put on to cater to the local Nigerian and Chinese communities.
All these targeted communities are part of the art centre’s attempts at “breaking down barriers”, as something built on goodwill, like the Small Cinema, often arouses suspicions of ulterior motives, Howard explains. Whether it is the local kids, southern Manchester’s residents or the Bangladeshi communities, Miners Arts Centre and all its facilities are open to everyone, no ulterior motives other than to bring the forgotten idea of community spirit back.
The centre’s hard work over the last three years has been recognised nationally with a selection of high profile fundraisers aiding the on-going refurbishments. Radio 6 lead a donation programme to get the heating fixed while later this year, The Charlatan’s Tim Burgess will preview his documentary, Picnic Mountain Blues, in addition to providing his own Twin Peaks Coffee.
Speaking of Manchester’s musical groups, one of Howard’s many contacts is original Stone Roses frontman, Kaiser, (from when they were known as The Waterfront) who will be giving his own take on the band’s history prior to a screening of film Made of Stone. It’s these added elements and distinctive touches that turn the average film screening into a something unlike any other cinema experience in the area.
The Moston Small Cinema is an important part of the Miners Art Centre but remains “part of an ever evolving building” and just one aspect of an array of community driven initiatives. The continued expansion and renovation of the building will see a white room for art introduced as well as an internet radio station, new kitchen and even a recording studio. Away from the actual centre, Howard and the team have been involved in admirable projects like helping save Ancoat’s hospital and working extensively with FC United of Manchester.
With FC United’s new ground set be built a stone’s throw away from the arts centre, along with a sharing of community ideologies, it seems the perfect local, reciprocal relationship. Documentaries about the club have been premiered at the Small Cinema while the building doubles up as a gathering point for fans boosting both their profiles as part of their mutual partnership.
Before speaking to Howard, the main focus of this article was all about the Small Cinema - how it was started and what its purpose was, but the reality is, that it’s only one aspect of a much more purposeful project. The renovation of the old miners’ social club is a prime example of how community spirit can be rebuilt, giving the local area not only a wonderful array of opportunities but also as a social gathering place. So far the response to the arts centre from the local people has been brilliant, a tangible measure being the fact it’s had no graffiti in three years.
To limit the project to its catchment area of Moston would be do it a disservice as Howard remains keen to reiterate the desire to “break down barriers” between all manners of people and places. The Moston Small Cinema has had some truly unique events on and is sure to have a lot more as its reputation grows in stature – whether you are a discerning film fan or simply looking for a something different, it caters to all tastes. With the project’s huge success it’s likely to inspire similar developments and it might just make north Manchester the place to go in future.
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