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December 18, 2013

A phoenix from the ashes

If you live in Edinburgh and enjoy cinema, within a 5 mile radius of the city centre you have more than 50 screens to choose from.  If you lived in Oban in 2010 when the only cinema closed its doors, you faced a 200 mile round trip to Glasgow to get your fix of the silver screen. But last year, that same cinema reopened under community ownership and in its first year of trading more than 50,000 tickets were sold. Last week, a few of the organisers made that same round trip to Glasgow – but this time to collect an award.


Phoenix Cinema – best example of community led regeneration – SURF 2013 awards

The outcomes of the prestigious 2013 SURF Awards for Best Practice in Community Regeneration were announced recently at a celebratory presentation event in Glasgow’s Radisson Hotel.

Representatives of the five winning initiatives for 2013 were personally congratulated on their inspiring work by Margaret Burgess MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare.

Margaret Burgess MSP, Minister for Housing and Welfare, said: “The SURF Awards highlight the hard work and remarkable outcomes achieved by organisations whose aims are to regenerate their local communities. This is such an inspiring event for the Scottish Government as regeneration plays a crucial part in the improvement of our physical, economic and social landscape. Congratulations should go to all who took part, including, of course, the winners themselves.”

The 2013 SURF Award results were decided upon by a panel of 21 independent judges drawn from national regeneration agencies and community groups. After carefully scoring over 50 project applications, and then visiting 15 different shortlisted initiatives from the length and breadth of Scotland, the five category winning projects were announced as:

Town Centre Regeneration Category – Stromness Townscape Heritage Initiative

Support to Work Category – Project SEARCH Scotland

Infrastructure & Social Benefits Category – Orkney Micro-Renewables Community Interest Company

Creative Regeneration Category – The Portal, Govan

Community Led Regeneration Category  – Oban Phoenix Cinema


More on the Oban Phoenix Cinema…..

What is the aim of the project?

To respond to a local ‘save our cinema’ campaign by reopening a popular and unique cultural venue as a community­run facility.

Where is it taking place?

Oban Phoenix Cinema is located in central Oban and serves the wider north Argyll & Bute region.

What has been achieved?

The cinema was purchased by the community in 2011 after a local campaign to save the building, which closed the previous year, gained extensive support from the local community and further afield – including Dame Judi Dench and Robbie Coltrane. Those in Oban, Lorne and nearby islands faced major challenges in accessing mainstream cultural activities, and with the cinema closed, a 200 mile round trip was required to the nearest alternative in Glasgow or Inverness. The cinema reopened in August 2012 as a community­run social enterprise offering a high­class cinema experience. In its first year, attendances have exceeded 50,000 and the cinema is among the highest average attendance as a proportion of population across the UK. With £400k investment in the last two years, the turnover for year one was an impressive £139k, with a surplus of £12k. It also employs nine people and has a bank of 80 local volunteers. On top of being a successful cinema and contributing to the town’s economic development and tourism, the initiative has a strong social focus. There has been particular success in responding to wider community needs by running a youth volunteering programme and providing arts & social opportunities for older people.

Who is running it?

A committee of volunteers manage the cinema, which was purchased on behalf of the community with the assistance of loan finance from Social Investment Scotland, a grant from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and significant community fundraising. Everybody in the community is allowed to be a member of the social enterprise. There are currently 81 members, who democratically appoint Directors at the AGM.

Why did the judging panel like it?

The judges were impressed with the dedication of the core community group, which used its mixed skills base to garner support for the re­birth of the cinema using a mixed funding package. They were clear that the cinema makes a considerable contribution to joint efforts to help make Oban a more attractive place to live in and to visit. The range of services offered by the venue is substantial, and provides much­needed support networks for local residents.