Clapham Picturehouse staff were devastated about Cineworld’s decision to close all Picturehouse sites, giving employees less than a week’s notice to find work.
A tight-knit crew of current and former staff members gathered for a last call on Thursday, where they shared concerns about the company’s lack of communication and clarity around future employment.
Habiba, 26, a freelance illustrator and multimedia artist, worked at the Clapham site for over five years.
She said: “It was so quick – we all found out over the weekend. My sister works here as well and we were just like ‘what?’ We hadn’t heard anything from management. The next day we got an email.”
Zain, recruited in February, discovered the story on social media: “I found out because I was scrolling through Twitter. Someone tweeted it and I shared it with the group.”
Cineworld’s closure plans were published in The Sunday Times and confirmed by the company in the afternoon.
The world’s second-largest cinema chain decided to close its 536 US sites and 127 UK sites, including all Picturehouse locations, after MGM announced it would delay the release of new Bond Film No Time to Die.
Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger told staff in an email that he asked the government to extend its furlough scheme, but it remains unclear when, if at all, the cinemas will reopen or if staff will be retained or offered redundancy packages.
Gabe, 31, who worked at Clapham Picturehouse for over eight years, said: “We’ve all worked so hard to try and keep this place going. And then for this company, to just make this decision without really acknowledging how we feel and how it’s going to affect us, it’s just so heartbreaking.”
Chris, 46, who originally planned to stay for a few months but remained on staff for over 13 years, said: “It’s not just a cinema. It’s a community, a family. There’s people who have been here 18, 20 years.
“We’re not just a business that shifts, alcohol, popcorn and tickets. There’s a huge arts community, within this building. We’re made up of filmmakers, writers, artists, costume designers and people from all walks of life. There are people who’ve met here and got married and had kids.”
Lydia, 30, has been with the team for the past two years and said: “It feels very corporate and clinical and soulless.
“The building gives us a space that enables the community. And now closing the place down means there isn’t a place for us to commune. And all these relationships that we’ve built over the last 20 years, they haven’t disappeared, but it makes it so much harder.”
Dulwich & West Norwood MP Helen Hayes voiced her anger in a letter to Greidinger, calling on the company to give employees financial assurances, clarify the redundancy process and effectively engage with BECTU, Picturehouse trade union reps.
Hayes was a vocal supporter of Picturehouse employees’ two-year long campaign for a living wage when she tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons in 2017.
Hayes also spoke in parliament about the decision, calling on the Government for more support to protect jobs.
Ritzy Picturehouse union reps led the fight across five cinema sites but four were unceremoniously sacked in 2017, bringing the campaign to a halt.
One rep successfully won an unfair dismissal claim and was awarded just over £8,000 in compensation.
The former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Cineworld is an incredibly wealthy company. Obviously COVID-19 is having a catastrophic effect on its margins, but like it is an extremely wealthy company that has been putting away substantial amounts of profits every year.”
Cineworld’s shares have fallen since Monday’s announcement.
Clapham staff are worried but remain hopeful.
Chris said: “We’re in the same position as everyone else, but it’s important to have places where people can come, life their life, feel part of the community and watch great films.
“I think it’s worth fighting for. If there’s anyone out there, a rich benefactor that wants to buy and create an independent cinema, there’s a workforce here that will pull out all the stops.”
Feature photo credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer