Creating cultural community spaces

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In 2014, after 10 years of offering an eclectic and internationally renowned programme of films curated by local people, the Star and Shadow cinema in Newcastle closed as their rented building was put up for development. 

But this is not where the story ends, as the volunteers decided to find their community cinema a permanent home. 

Over the last decade, the group had been building a loyal community of avid film viewers, programmers and activists, beginning at a large neighbourhood meeting to gain support for the use of their original premises. 

At the heart of Star and Shadow is community, and their open invitation for anyone to join and get involved brought together a creative group with a mix of interests and ideas. Together they developed film festivals, picked up tools to create seating spaces and community places and learned how to navigate the business world.

So when the group found a new space, they drew on their immense community support and launched a successful crowdfunding campaigning, raising over £40,000 to continue running the Star and Shadow Cinema. 

With grant funding from Power to Change alongside several foundations and trusts, the group secured a mortgage from Newcastle County Council, and purchased a building in Sandyford, an area with few community spaces, facilities or events.

As a co-operative owned by its members and run by local people for local people, it was only right that the rebuild was completed by local people. Volunteers at Star and Shadow are eligible to become members (with a £1 lifetime membership fee) after three months of volunteering. Membership includes the right to take part in all business decisions, in this non-hierarchical structure, every volunteer’s input and voice is equally important.

Star and Shadow is now a community multi-arts venue, including an 80-seat cinema, gig venue, recording studios, a café, a meeting and work space and a community garden serving 6,000 local people between the student areas of Sandyford and Heaton, and is one of Newcastle city centre’s largest community spaces. The building is fully accessible with ramps, a hearing loop and toilets to accommodate people with disabilities and make sure it is welcoming the whole community.

Serving three heavily deprived neighbourhoods, the Star and Shadow is stepping stone for socially vulnerable and marginalised groups to access Newcastle’s wider cultural offer. Many of the other cultural organisations in the area can be intimidating or inaccessible – the volunteer-led programme is a point of entry to the region’s rich arts scene for people who might otherwise never access it.

“It’s a kaleidoscope of community experiences; we have refugees, unemployed people looking for work experience, there’s such a variety – it really does tackle the misconceptions that you see in the media,”

Nyree Denney Star and Shadow Volunteer

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