It might not yet be quite as physical or vicious as the infamous Ice Cream Wars of 1980s Glasgow, but there’s a turf war developing in South Norwood and it has turned nasty in the last few days.
At stake is an emerging small business trying to bring independent cinema to the SE25 manor, but which has been squeezed out by a “community” venue that has been funded with public money. The independent cinema has discovered its programme being copied and undercut by the council-backed venue.
“The situation stinks,” Katie Brandwood, the director of Stanley’s Film Club, has told Inside Croydon. “I’m not sure how long I can put up with this childish, greedy, selfish behaviour, which is not only harming Stanley’s Film Club but the South Norwood community as a whole.”
Stanley’s Film Club is a CIC, a community interest company which was set-up in 2014 to screen movies in Stanley Halls when the historic venue re-opened as a local arts centre, run by residents. Since it started, it has earned the endorsement as a neighbourhood cinema from the British Film Institute.
But earlier this year, the film club was summarily forced out of Stanley Halls, Brandwood characterising it as an “eviction”, her film club being charged a hire fee of £200 per screening and being denied any share of the bar takings from the film-goers her programmes were attracting to the Halls.
Now re-established at another venue on South Norwood Hill, Stanley’s Film Club is crying foul, as the management at the Halls has started running its own cinema screenings, announcing a schedule which in some cases is offering the same movies just days before the film club’s own screenings, and under-cutting their ticket prices.
The announcement this week that Stanley Halls is to screen the Kevin Spacey crime caper, Baby Driver, just a week before the film club is due to show the same film has caused Brandwood particular concern.
Stanley Hall’s management has described the scheduling as “a genuine mistake”. But complaints from other residents posted on the Stanley Halls social media pages have been deleted and in one case the commenter blocked.
“This is more like North Korea than South Norwood,” one Stanley’s Film Club supporter said.
Brandwood is clear in her view what is going on. “Stanley Halls’ management seems bent on driving my business into the ground,” she said.
“After kicking us out four months ago because we were unable to pay the £200 per night hire fees they were charging, with no cut of the bar, they have now started publicising an evening film programme, under-cutting us by a significant margin.
“This includes a screening of Baby Driver, which is particularly upsetting as we rely on income from these larger mainstream films to support the indy fare.
“I am trying to do something good for my community, on a meagre salary (God forbid!) which I haven’t seen anything of since May. We are a non-profit community interest company trying to bring independent film to an area which otherwise wouldn’t have access.”
The dispute raises important issues regarding public accountability, including accusations from some that the Halls management is, in effect, misusing public money. Stanley Halls has received subsidies from Croydon Council, and could be seen to be using that to drive another, independent venture out of business.
Brandwood said, “I can feel my nerves unravelling as I see Stanley Halls take yet another step towards destroying everything I have worked for.”
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