Wandsworth cinema left ‘fending for themselves’ during the pandemic

After the easing of Covid restrictions was delayed until 19 July, the founder of Backyard Cinema in Wandsworth claims they have been left to fend for themselves by the Government during the pandemic.

It is no secret the entertainment industry has had a difficult time throughout the pandemic and Backyard Cinema is no exception. 

The venue was only open for six and a half weeks in the 12 months following the onset of the first lockdown, posing huge financial and personal challenges for 36-year-old founder Dominic Davies and his staff. 

Davies started Backyard Cinema literally in his own backyard, and it has now grown into a multiscreen themed cinema experience at Capital Studios in Wandsworth, showing everything from beloved classic movies to new releases.

DOMINIC DAVIES: Backyard Cinema’s founder remembers the first lockdown as an ’emotional time’. Picture credit: Backyard Cinema

Davies said: “The first lockdown was a pretty emotional time. At first, the Government didn’t tell us we had to close but advised us to close. 

“A lot of the onus has been put on businesses throughout all of this, even when it comes to giving people information about the rules. We’ve been fending for ourselves.”

The second big blow for Backyard Cinema came when London went into Tier 3 restrictions before Christmas, and they had to refund 40,000 tickets. 

An even since reopening in May, the venue has faced fresh challenges, not least of which was the four week delay to the Government lifting restrictions, something Davies is supportive of.

He said: “Some of the recent lockdown extensions feel somewhat unplanned, but the last thing we want is to open and everything to go wrong again. We have to believe in the science.

“This has been an incredibly tough year because after the third lockdown a lot of the transient staff you’d expect to find in London are just not around anymore.

“Why would you pay London rent when you can’t go out and experience it?

“Across the industry, the market is crazy. There are a lot more jobs than there are people.”

Backyard Cinema staff serving a customer
STAFF SHORTAGE: A Backyard Cinema staff member serves a keen customer. Picture credit: Backyard Cinema

Evidence suggests this is an issue faced across the hospitality and entertainment industry, as a recent UKHospitality survey showed 80% of surveyed companies are reporting vacancies for front-of-house roles and 85% are in need of chefs.

Davies explained how Brexit inflicts a double blow – many of the cinema’s European staff no longer have the right to work in the UK so have headed back to the continent.

It is not only Davies’ business that has been affected by Covid-19, but his personal life too. 

Davies said: “I was meant to be getting married at Backyard Cinema this March on the beaches of Miami – one of the cinema’s themed sets. It’s now going to be April next year and it should be a big celebration.

“Last year was a pretty intense time. I had a closed business and my fiancée, who is an NHS nurse, was going off to the frontline.

“We’ve lost an entire year of our lives. Everyone has lost something.”

Backyard Cinema Miami Nights screen
DREAM WEDDING: Davies still hopes to get married at Miami Nights at Backyard Cinema. Picture credit: Backyard Cinema

Despite the setbacks, Davies is hopeful for the future of the cinema industry.

He said: “Cinema has been around for so long, I believe in it coming back and landing on its feet. 

“There’s no time to waste. At Backyard Cinema we want to write better shows, expand to new regions, get more customers and turn ourselves into a nationally and globally recognised brand.

“We now just need the world to get used to going out regularly again.”

Feature image credit: Backyard Cinema

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