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Government gives cash lifeline to Bishop's Stortford Empire and Saffron Screen cinemas

Bishop's Stortford's Empire and Uttlesford's Saffron Screen are among 202 independent cinemas which will share in a £16m grant this Christmas.

The cash is coming from the Government's £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. They will also be able to apply for another slice of £14m in the new year as part of a second round of support.

The BFI (British Film Institute) is in charge of distribution. Eligible cinemas were able to apply for safety grants, to help them meet the immediate costs of implementing Covid-secure measures to protect staff and audiences, and larger business sustainability grants to help stabilise sites financially.

Masked and socially distanced cinema-goers at Saffron Screen
Masked and socially distanced cinema-goers at Saffron Screen

The majority of the funding has been awarded to cinemas in every corner of the country, from Penrith to Peckham and Penzance, with cinemas outside London benefitting from 78% of funding to date.

Empire in Stortford's Anchor Street leisure centre is not allowed to open currently. Under Covid-19 tier 4 rules, all indoor entertainment venues such as theatres, concert halls, cinemas, museums, art galleries, casinos, amusement arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, go-karting venues, indoor play and soft play centres, as well as circuses, fairgrounds, funfairs, zoos and other animal attractions, water parks and theme parks must shut.

However, Uttlesford is one of three council districts in Essex that remain in tier 2 and can press ahead with its season of festive films. The not-for-profit community cinema is based at Saffron Walden County High School in Audley Road.

The entrance to the Bishop's Stortford Empire cinema in Anchor Street
The entrance to the Bishop's Stortford Empire cinema in Anchor Street

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "The magic of film is such an important part of the festive period and this investment will help protect our independent cinemas so they're around for many Christmases to come."

Ben Roberts, BFI chief executive, said: "Across the country, local independent cinemas are hubs and lifelines for communities and often the only form of culture and entertainment. From educational programmes and workshops for young people to screenings for the elderly and audiences with specialised needs, these cinemas play such an important role in people's lives.

"The Culture Recovery Fund will mean that many of these cinemas survive the current crisis and go on to play a vital role in the recovery of local economies and communities, bringing people together to offer joy, solace and the magic of the big screen."

Recognising that cinemas need content during this crisis, the Government's Film and TV Production Restart Scheme has helped keep cameras rolling at the other end of the screen supply chain. The £500m scheme, which opened for applications in October, has assured nearly 100 productions that they will be supported if future losses are incurred due to Covid-19 and provided the confidence they need to restart filming.

Cinemas in multi-purpose arts venues such as South Mill Arts, in South Road, Bishop's Stortford, were allocated grants by Arts Council England.

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