Stanley Halls accused of bullying as they kick out cinema club

BELLA BARTOCK, our arts correspondent, reports on the angry reaction to the abrupt closure of a volunteer-run movie group

The community trust that runs the Stanley Halls in South Norwood has turned the lights off on the venue’s cinema club, having effectively sacked the volunteers running the weekly movie screenings using a posting on Facebook.

Stanley’s Film Club has tonight issued an email to its subscribers to assure them that efforts are being made to secure alternative locations for its increasingly popular movie nights.

Meanwhile, the board of the Stanley People’s Initiative, the trust which operates the Halls, have been widely criticised for its abrupt and brutal action. They have been accused of bullying and of trying to take away the business which the film club had built up over the past two years. The deputy chair of the Stanley People’s Initiative is Paul Scott, the councillor for Woodside ward who is currently subject of an investigation into his controversial conduct in chairing the council’s planning committee.

In a statement on its Facebook page, posted late on Sunday night “from the board of The Stanley People’s Initiative (SPI) – the charity which manages Stanley Halls for the benefit of the South Norwood Community”, it said that, “Stanley’s Film Club was established by a group of passionate volunteers in 2014, and has become synonymous with Stanley Halls over that time. For many people, it has been a first insight into what Stanley Halls has to offer.

“Operating a film club of any size takes a lot of time and effort, and we were very fortunate to have Katie Brandwood become involved during 2015. She has been a key driver in making Stanley’s Film Club what it is today.

Stanley Halls in South Norwood: cinema club has been booted out

“Over the last six months or so, the Film Club has moved to weekly screenings and held a number of special events – effectively a trial of whether it could operate successfully as an ‘independent’ community cinema.

“Over the trial (October 2016 – March 2017), in order to nurture the growth of cinema here in South Norwood, SPI did not receive any ticket or membership revenue from the club, nor did we charge for venue hire. Waiving hire fees for the 12 months to March 2017 represents a subsidy of approximately £14,000.

“Katie has now expressed a desire to create a full-time community cinema in South Norwood, utilising abandoned or disused commercial property. The full-time nature of a designated cinema providing films 5 to 6 nights per week clearly does not fit with the broader and more mixed use that Stanley Halls continues to offer the South Norwood community.

“The SPI Board wishes Katie every success in establishing her new business venture, and extends its sincere thanks for her contribution to Stanley’s Film Club during the time she has been its champion. We are pleased to have played a part in the development and nurture of her plans. We are also highly appreciative of the contribution made by the significant number of volunteers who have worked with Stanley’s Film Club since it was established by SPI almost four years ago.”

The SPI statement went on to suggest that a film club will be “brought back in-house” under general manager David Somner from June, with fortnightly screenings.

But film club supporters dispute the SPI claim of a £14,000 subsidy, and also complain that suggestions about extending the club’s programming and looking at other premises had been confidential and only at a very early discussion phase. They also highlighted that all drink and food revenues from sales at the screenings went to the Halls, not to the film club.

Paul Scott, centre in grey fleece, at the signing over of the Stanley Halls lease to the trust, of which he is vice-chair

There is something very unpleasant about the tenor of this post,” one Halls user said. “It seems to me that its purpose is to cast Katie in a certain light whilst wishing her well.

“It looks a lot like bullying to me.

“Not a good look. Highly unattractive and off-putting.”

Another well-known community volunteer posted, “Wow! You’ve just sacked someone via Facebook, for wanting to create something outside of Stanley Halls and used the Community Economic Development plan to do it. Good one.”

A third poster wrote: “Whatever the disagreement might have been, the way in which SPI is trying to claim the hard work of another person and her supporters for themselves is quite shameless.

“You saw a good thing run by someone else, and from reading the sums involved, you got a bit greedy. Unfortunately, now you are left with no income at all.”

The ill-feeling created by the sacking of Brandwood and her movie volunteers could have an adverse effect on the Stanley Halls custom in future, judging by some of the other comments. The trust “must think we are all stupid if we are expected to believe the implied comments about not receiving revenue and so on”, one poster wrote.

“Stanley Halls clearly has the upper hand and used this post to muscle flex. If an agreement was reached then an agreement was reached. Don’t then use that as a premise to bad mouth someone.”

Brandwood’s partner, Stephen Brandwood, said, “Rest assured the film club will continue at a more welcoming venue. We can only hope that Stanley Halls is able to find some new management in the future which cares greater about the community and its members.”

And in an email to subscribers sent tonight, the Stanley’s Film Club – which has affiliated with the British Film Institute as a neighbourhood cinema – announced that, “in order to continue our work it has been essential for us to move to a new venue”.

The Stanley’s Film Club’s next weekday screenings will be held at the South Norwood Constitutional Club on South Norwood Hill, beginning tomorrow with a screening of The Eagle Huntress.

The film club email also said, “We’d like to thank you for your ongoing support and for helping us on our journey in building a sustainable weekly cinema for the South Norwood community. We delight in welcoming you time and time again and are committed to offering an inclusive space for everyone to enjoy a diverse programme of independent and mainstream cinema.”

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