Deptford locals are desperately fighting to save their volunteer-run cinema, a community project in a derelict car body workshop on Deptford Broadway.
The Deptford Cinema, opened in 2014, faces closure over an unpaid £12,297 business rates bill from Lewisham Council. They say that paying the bill would bankrupt them.
A petition to save the cinema has received an overwhelming response from local residents, garnering over 2,500 signatures in less than 48 hours.
British Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins, whose family is from Lewisham, encouraged her Twitter followers to get behind the cinema.
My dad’s side of the family all came from round Lewisham so it’s close to my heart. Help save Deptford Cinema xx https://t.co/lQkM5aSH8j
— Sue Perkins (@sueperkins) May 25, 2016
Franck Magennis, one of the cinema’s 200 volunteers, said: “We feel that Lewisham Council is being a bit unresponsive. We are an organisation without much money and that doesn’t exist to make a profit. Charging a full business rate bill to an organisation of that kind is completely irrational because you’re going to destroy it.”
Deptford Cinema is registered as a Community Interest Company, which in some boroughs would make it exempt from business rates. The not-for-profit cinema has been in dialogue with the council for more than half a year with little luck.
The petition states that the council showed no interest in coming to an agreement at a recent meeting by refusing to retroactively apply an 80 per cent statutory charity relief when the cinema will have completed the transition to a charity in a month’s time. The suggestion to pay the large bill in instalments was also declined.
Adriana Kytkova, another volunteer at Deptford Cinema, said: “We have people who are really, really lonely that come to our cinema. To them, the cinema is a resource of friends, social activities and meeting people.”
There is, however, some hope for the future.A Lewisham Council spokesperson said today: “In recognition of the valuable contribution Deptford Cinema makes to the community, Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, has previously intervened to help the organisation deal with some of the difficulties it has experienced. He is willing to do so again by meeting with representatives to discuss what can be done to support the future of Deptford Cinema and discuss their concerns.”
The same message was echoed by New Cross councillor Joe Dromey, who has been working with Deptford Cinema for several months. He said: “I first heard about the issue with their business rates five weeks ago, and since then I’ve been working with the Deptford Cinema team and Lewisham Council to try and find a way forward. I’m confident we can do so.”
Magennis said: “There’s no back-up plan here. Unless Lewisham council is able to help us, we’re screwed.”