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Friends of Birks Cinema

17 December 2014

The Birks Cinema, once the heart of the town of Aberfeldy, closed its doors as a cinema in the 1980s. Its transformation into an amusement arcade was short-lived and after it finally closed its doors in 2004, lay empty for several years.

In 2006, Friends of the Birks Cinema was born with the aim to raise sufficient funds to purchase the vacant building and restore it for the benefit of the local community and visitors, creating a multi-purpose venue with a cinema at its core.

The fundraising target of £1.8m to secure and re-furbish the property was a big ask, but thanks to the sheer dedication and creativity of the fundraisers this figure was reached. The Scottish Hydro Griffin Community Fund, at that time administered by Foundation Scotland, was just one of many funders and awarded the group £100,000 in 2012 to contribute towards the capital redevelopment.

The vision was to create a new facility comprising a 99 seat auditorium equipped with the latest digital equipment, space for two wheel chair users, a stage area, café bar facility, box office and concession sales plus a multi-use area in the upper floor which can be hired out by community groups/local businesses and corporate clients.

The cinema auditorium was designed to support a range of community uses e.g. training workshops, small scale drama productions, private screenings etc. The café/bar is open all day and evening providing a place for mums and toddlers, visitors, the local community to enjoy a catch up over a coffee and something to eat. Prior to opening to the public, a two-week trial period was run for community and school groups – to test the facilities and to iron out any teething problems ensuring that the building operated as expected.

After six years of intensive fundraising, design, planning and construction work, the cinema opened to the public in April 2013, with it officially opening at a Gala event in November 2013 attended by cinema patron and X-Men star Alan Cumming. Since then, The Birks Cinema has built up its client base from corporate events, birthday parties and wine tasting to the latest Hollywood blockbusters and live broadcasts from the Bolshoi, the Metropolitan (MET) opera and Royal Opera House. The cinema truly has something to offer everyone.

With a team of 12 full and part time staff supported by 30 volunteers, the cinema is also providing benefit to the community in terms of employment and skills development.

Muriel Dunbar, Chair, Board of Trustees of The Birks Cinema Trust said, ‘"After many years of working towards our goal, it's great to have our own community cinema again in Aberfeldy. Already we're seeing the results of our endeavors with the building being used not just for a full programme of films and live broadcasts but also for all sorts of community events, parties, meetings, live music and conferences, with many people just dropping in for coffee or a meal. This multi-use is exactly what we had hoped for, adding to the quality of life of the residents of Highland Perthshire and to the holiday experience of the many visitors to the area. We’d like to congratulate all our staff, volunteers and supporters on a very successful first year of operation.”

The project is a great success story of how a community can work together to turn a dilapidated but valued local building into a vibrant social hub, and how community benefit funding can act to lever further investment to underpin the long-term success of such an enterprise.

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