The closing of one of Lewisham’s leisure centres may see the borough getting something that it hasn’t had for many years — its own cinema.
Ladywell Leisure Centre will close as soon as soon as the new Glass Mill Leisure Centre on Loampit Vale opens in a few weeks. However, Lewisham Council has said that no firm decision on the site’s future usage has been made.
Max Calò, a member of local film group Hither Green Hall, said he saw the leisure centre’s closing as an opportunity to build a cinema at the borough’s historical middle between Catford and Lewisham Centre:
“The site of the leisure centre is highly appropriate. It is on a main road with a lot of busses passing through. It is very large and is about to go on the market.”
Together with other members of Hither Green Hall, Calò started an online petition to push for the cinema at the site. The petition was later spotted by Curzon Cinemas, who run six arthouse cinemas in the capital and another venue in Cheshire. Calò said Curzon then contacted Hither Green Hall with interest in redeveloping the site as a cinema, and the two parties then held a private meeting with members of Lewisham Council to discuss options.
Michael Harris, Labour Councillor for Lewisham Central, said that working with Curzon was something the borough was keen to progress:
“I’ve arranged a number of meetings between Curzon Cinemas, the Mayor, local residents and our planning department to discuss whether we can bring a high-end cinema to our borough. Local residents and groups such as Hither Green Hall are incredibly enthusiastic about the possibility of a new cinema and I believe it will help continue Lewisham’s regeneration.”
The Council had said in an earlier statement that they prefer plans favouring the site being redeveloped to offer a mix of housing and retail space. Cllr Harris though, said that the local plan for the area has been amended to include a cinema:
“Lewisham’s development plans make specific reference to the council considering a cinema for the Ladywell Leisure Centre site, so when the brand new Glass Mill centre opens in the coming weeks, this will need to be looked at.”
Harris also said that this only means the idea of building a cinema at the site must be considered, and it is not a certainty.
Lewisham and Waltham Forest are the only two London boroughs that don’t have a cinema within their boundaries. Richard Shaw, Chair of Hither Green Hall, said bringing a cinema back to Lewisham could help revive the borough’s economy:
“If there was a cinema here people would… come out of the cinema, go to a bar, a pub, a restaurant and spend more money here. At the moment that money is being spent in other boroughs. Lewisham is concentrating on housing, but all those people then have nowhere to go in the borough. If there was a cinema here, it then helps the local business, because those local businesses will profit from the extra traffic that is being brought in….”
Shaw also said that building a cinema specifically at the Ladywell site will make the area a better place to live.
“If that just becomes another set of flats, there’s just going to be people going in, closing their doors and not looking out any more,” he said. “But if there’s a cinema there’s people coming and going all the time — it’s going to be a safer area to be in and that’s what we need in Lewisham.”
Detailed plans for the site of Ladywell Leisure Centre will be brought before the Mayor of Lewisham in the summer.
Curzon Cinemas was unable to be reached for comment at this time.