The one clear fact that emerged from last night’s two packed public meetings (both called to consider the future of Penarth Pier Pavilion and its Cinema) – is that the people of Penarth care a lot about them.
At least 150 people cared enough to fill Stanwell Road Baptist Church Hall to capacity for the “SOS People’s Public Meeting” organised by Nicki Page – with every seat taken, and with “standing room only” for dozens of late-comers .
…And across town in Queens Road they cared enough to pile en-mass into the crowded confines of The Pilot pub for the almost-simultaneous and separately-organised meeting convened by former Town Mayor Councillor Philip Rapier (Labour St Augustines).
It was clear that the public response to both public meetings had taken their respective organisers by surprise – but it was the strongest indication yet that the people of Penarth want their Pier Pavilion and its Cinema fully opened again, following the shock decision to close the Pavilion [refurbished in 2013 at a public cost of £4,200,000] for 3 days each week as from March 6th – and to close the integral Pavilion cinema indefinitely.
At the “People’s Public Meeting” at the Baptist Church Hall , some seats at a top-table had been set aside specifically for the directors and trustees of Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd (a.k.a. PACL) all of whom had been invited to attend. Those hot seats were the only ones which remained unoccupied .
The organiser – PR Executive Nicki Page – told the audience the only reason she had called the meeting was that she loved Penarth, the Pier and the Pavilion . She said she had been born in Penarth, educated at Stanwell School and had returned home after working abroad for many years . She said she was not standing for “any local position” , she didn’t like politics, she had “never voted”, – but everyone, she asserted, had “felt outraged” and she wanted to give people the opportunity to “share those feelings in a public arena” .
Ms Page said she had “approached every member” of Penarth Town Council, had tried to “engage” with the Vale of Glamorgan Council, and had “tried to engage with Carwen” (sic) [a.k.a. Carwyn Jones Welsh Government First Minister ] – but he had been too busy to see her. She said she had also travelled to London to attempt to engage with the Secretary of State for Wales but had been told a meeting was “not appropriate and that – bottom line – he didn’t want to see me”. She had earlier offered her help to Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd free of charge – but had been told it was not needed and that the company preferred to pay for its services .
Ms Page also claimed to be the first person in Penarth to be banned from what she called “The Town Hall” where – when she had attempted to contact councillors and pin-up a poster, staff had called her “aggressive and unapproachable” and she had been told to “leave the Town Hall” . When she had attempted to pin-up a poster at The Kymin, she said she had been told the police would be called if she did not leave.
She told the audience that ITV News had filmed interviews with her on the issue that day – but the item had been held over from that night’s programme and would be run later in the week.
It was at this point the meeting took an unexpected turn when Ms Page brought before the audience a female speaker who was going to impart her “passion and commitment on the issue” – but whose name – unfortunately – Ms Page appeared to have forgotten .
A member of the audience asked “Can we have your name? We don’t know who you are”. The speaker, who turned out to be as local gospel singer, Ms Betty Thomas, modestly asked a member of the audience to introduce her . With the formalities duly completed, she then launched into an unaccompanied solo rendering of “Precious Lord.”
For some in – what had now become a congregation rather than a public meeting – it was a moment to discreetly take their leave of the crowded hall – but if the Pier Pavilion and the Pavilion Cinema are in need of divine intervention to secure their survival, then this cannot have harmed their chances.
Meanwhile across town, in the Pilot Pub, there was also standing-room-only in the packed rear bar/ dining area where presumably some regular customers – having booked a table for a quiet dinner – must have been surprised to find themselves densely surrounded by those attending Cllr Philip Rapier’s meeting.
With the meeting almost spilling out into Queen’s Road, it was – notwithstanding Cllr Rapier’s theatrical skills – an effort to hear what was being said.
Cllr Rapier made it clear that he was not representing Penarth Town Council or the Vale or Glamorgan Council – he was simply acting as a “facilitator and co-ordinator” with a view to bringing together a group of “volunteers” with compatible skills and expertise who could undertake the operation of the cinema under arrangements to be negotiated with Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd.
Specifically Cllr Rapier asked for assistance from:-
- Volunteer chartered accountants to examine the Penarth Arts and Crafts Accounts
- Volunteer legal advisors to assist with securing the future of the Cinema
- Volunteer cinema “staff” who he envisaged could carry out the duties of projectionist, front of house, cleaning and maintenance
When all the voluntary offers have been received it’s intended to set up a “Steering Group” to oversee cinema operations. Amongst the options proposed by Cllr Rapier are :-
- “sub letting the cinema to the community by Co-operative . Mutual Ownership
- Investigating the British Film Institute guide to licensing requirements for “neighbourhood cinema”
- Investigating film rental eligibility and the cost of joining the British Film Institute “approved neighbourhood cinema scheme”
There was much discussion of the apparently parlous state the Penarth Arts and Craft Company’s accounts.
Penarth resident Andrew Jones – who had organised the on-line petition to save the Cinema (attracting 1600 signatures in the process) said the facts of the matter were that the money had “run out” and the company was “robbing Peter to pay Paul ” but insisted that the Cinema itself was “totally viable” and cited examples of other community cinemas in Wales which did pay their way.
PACL, he said, had “completely mismanaged” the cinema and “wasted the money” . He had heard reports of bills not being paid by PACL.
Some members of the public wondered how realistic it would be to separate functions carried out by the Pavilion from those of the Cinema – and pointed out that sales of pop-corn and bar sales (which have been provided by the Pavilion) would be important part of the income of any cinema which was run as a separate entity .
Cllr Ian Courtney (Labour Cornerswell), who was Penarth Town Council’s “nominee” trustee on the board of Penarth Arts and Crafts up to November 2014, told the meeting that the current chairman of PACL [ Professor Tony Hazell] and his predecessor had both worked “exceptionally hard“. It was a “personal sacrifice” on the part of Professor Hazell that he had “dedicated part of his life to PACL” [ i.e. Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd] .
Cllr Courtney said the firm had a number of financial obligations which he could not divulge for legal reasons. He reminded the audience that he had said had publicly that he had resigned because of “matters of commercial viability affecting the Pavilion”. The chairman however had said afterwards he was unaware of any commercial issues.
Cllr Courtney went on to say that the accounts for the year in question indicated “a material uncertainty which may cast a doubt about the charity’s ability to continue as a going concern“ . That statement in the accounts had been made six months after the chairman’s statement that “there were no commercial issues“. He said “I will leave you to judge whether at that time – nearly two years ago – there was a major commercial challenge facing the Board of Trustees”
However other speakers thought that – although the background was useful – it would be better to concentrate on the current situation. Andrew Jones said this would depend on “whether PACL would invite anybody in to take care of the cinema for example” . Mr Jones said he understood that some talks on these lines were already in progress.
Asked how much the Cinema cost each year to run, Cllr Courtney said that when he was a PACL trustee “it was impossible to tell because we had no management accounts “.
Another speaker asked whether it was correct that the Cinema had spent “only £60 a year” on marketing and that “two managers were paid £25,000 a year”. No one came up with a reply.
There was an extensive discussion on the very high charges made by film hire organisations – a major overhead which cinema operators have to pay and which it was said could amount to £1,000 for a “hot” film.
A member of the public asked whether it was the case that Penarth Arts and Crafts had paid £47,000 to rent 363 films when the films could be bought for £7,000. Another said the hire rates depended on the film, and on how “current” it was . It was also pointed out there were special hire rates available for universities and film clubs. Andrew Jones said he understood that the fees in the case of the Pavilion were a percentage of the box office takings.
Cllr Rapier pointed out that community cinemas “up the valleys” were viable and he believed that the Pier Pavilion Cinema could also pay its way , The Ritz Cinema in Thirsk North Yorkshire was open 363 days a year and was completely viable he said .
Cllr Rapier said he needed “12 signatories ” – ideally with legal or accountancy qualifications – to form the nucleus of a community cinema group to invesigate the position of PACL and potentially negotiate arrangements to kleep the Pavilion Cinema going .
He invited all those who wanted to help, to contact him via his email address Philip.firstname.lastname@example.org and his phone number is 02920709232 [ as detailed on the Penarth Town Council website] .
Today Andrew Jones – who instigated the 1,600 signature on-line petition protesting the closure , released a further statement in the wake of last night’s meeting at The Pilot.
In it he says: Philip Rapier presented the case for the formation of a shadow voluntary organisation ready to step in with a proposal to take over the cinema as a community cinema.
Whilst his proposal is no doubt well intentioned there are 2 problems with this in my opinion :-
1) That PACL show no signs of reaching out to the community in order to find a way forward
2) That the one thing that PACL has done well is to produce a first class programme of films in conjunction with the Independent Cinema Office and shown in a state of the arts digital auditorium. We want this to continue. Whilst I have nothing against the notion of setting up a community cinema we are far from being at this point.
Some people last night were frustrated by the apparent lack of a way forward and concrete plan. However what I believe is important – and the reason for 2 packed houses – is that for the first time people have felt they had the opportunity to express their concerns. It is very difficult to have a concrete plan going forward when nobody in a position to bring about change at the Pavilion ( Funders, local politicians, trustees) seem prepared to engage with the very people whose support was integral to the funding originally received to reopen the place – the public and users of the Cinema and others functions!
Our views were needed to support the funding bids but it seems our opinions don’t count in finding a way out of the current mess! And yes unless someone can convince us otherwise a mess is what it is! It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes – we can see the feudal kingdom of Hazel-wood for what it really is having visited it regularly – but we are only meant to see utopia!
Our own experiences as customers of the Pavilion are supplemented daily by people and organisations coming forward with their own very poor experiences of unpaid invoices and turned away custom.
Ever since the sudden closure was first announced I have been of the opinion that this can only be down to the fact that PACL has not paid its bill to the ICO for film distribution. Last night I heard several people (better placed than I to know if this really is the case) confirm this – with one claiming the outstanding bill is hefty to say the least. If it is the case that the ICO payment is a pre-agreed % of box office takings then it does raise very serious questions about management practice and financial performance.
In his column in last week’s Penarth Times local MP Stephen Doughty stated amongst other points on the Pavilion the following :-
‘I have had a number of helpful conversations and meetings with both Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd and the Vale of Glamorgan Council over recent weeks, and I am pleased that a whole series of steps are being taken to ensure the future sustainability of the Pavilion and its activities….
I know that PACL will welcome all offers of voluntary support, advice and partnerships – and would encourage readers to do what they can to offer support.
Having visited last week, I can confirm that the Pavilion was open, busy, and even with the temporary suspension of public film screenings, other bookings of the cinema are happening….
Constituents are always welcome to get in touch with me, to share views on local or national issues, or for assistance with personal casework matters.’
I have spoken to Stephen myself on this issue and had a frank discussion and he listened to what I had to say. I would though respond again to the above points he made by saying:-
• We would really appreciate some engagement and dialogue over this important issue in terms of any remedial steps being taken
• Our evidence to date certainly does NOT support the views that PACL welcome offers of support , advice and partnership. The very opposite in fact.
• What other ‘bookings’ of the cinema are really taking place?
• Please get in touch with Stephen as he is asking in order to give him YOUR views
At the end of the meeting I met many people who came over to me to thank me for my efforts to date with this petition. I just set it up as like others in the room I don’t want to lose our wonderful cinema. People asked what we could do next? The truth is it is very difficult to know if all doors are firmly closed and nobody will engage. When that happens rumour builds and so does suspicion and anger and that is hardly surprising. What is clear is that people have totally lost confidence in PACL going forward and are looking to funders, politicians, the council as freeholder to bring about urgent change – if that includes the removal of current Trustees then so be it. Clearly there are passionate people among us who also have skills and knowledge to make the Pavilion work as we know it can. We are here waiting to be part of a dialogue going forward.
Until then all I can urge you to do is to raise your concerns, suggestions and own experiences with your local councillor – remember there is a local council election coming up and the future of the Pavilion is clearly going to be a big issue. Then as MP Stephen Doughty says he would welcome your views as I’m sure would AM Vaughan Gething too.
The media are showing interest which is good! I am told that ITV Cymru Wales are airing the piece they have done on the Pavilion on this evening’s Wales At Six – 6pm”
ENDS STATEMENT BY ANDREW JONES March 21 2017