Storyhouse is Chester’s only independent and not-for-profit cinema. Film Programme Manager Nicky Beaumont tells us why that is so special.
Hi Nicky, can you tell us a bit about your role?
I have the great job of looking after everything that happens on our various big screens. We have a boutique cinema that screens films four times a day and, in the summer and Christmas and Halloween we also operate our open-air cinema Moonlight Flicks across the region. I started working in the film industry back in 1996 and I was approached by Storyhouse before the building opened to help develop the plan for the cinema – that was late in 2015 and I’ve been here ever since
How do you go about choosing films for Storyhouse?
Every week in the UK somewhere between six to a dozen different films are released into cinemas. My job is to choose the best ones for our audience and because I’m based in the building, I’m able to get a really good idea of who that audience is.
Unlike most cinemas, Storyhouse is a not-for-profit charity, so I can be much more eclectic in my choices. I like to think of the film programme a bit like an extension of the library – sometimes people want to come in for the latest best seller but there’s also great enthusiasm for all sorts of specialist subjects – and so I seek out niche or indie titles that tell interesting stories. A big part of the programme consists of films that are less available in other local cinemas, including films from around the world and re-issues of classic titles. For a single screen I do like to pack a lot in.
I try to watch as many as possible in advance, and read a lot about upcoming films, but I also believe it is important to listen to our customers and we really encourage feedback, like our customer review cards that are displayed outside the cinema.
Storyhouse is the city’s only independent cinema – what does this mean?
The cinema inside Storyhouse is owned and operated by us – not a large chain – and that means it embodies the same principles and values that govern the building as a whole. We are inclusive and accessible, and work regularly with local organisations such as Cheshire & Warrington Carers Trust to make sure that the programme can be accessed by as many members of our community as possible. We have a Young Storyhouse Card scheme that guarantees the cheapest ticket prices for young people in the city – and it’s free to join! We aim to be environmentally friendly – and like the rest of Storyhouse don’t have single use plastic in the cinema. As a not-for-profit organisation, any money made from tickets helps us deliver all the brilliant youth and community activity that take place here too.
What makes the cinema at Storyhouse so unique?
When you first see Storyhouse you can’t help but think – wow! The building is a rare example of a 1930s built Odeon designed by the Harry Weedon architecture practice. I love the fact that the building was repurposed as a theatre, cinema, and library given that so many former cinemas were allowed to go into permanent decline. The cinema itself is a 92 seat modern boutique space with wide comfy seats and plenty of leg room – but look around the building and you will find examples of the original Odeon features, from the old clocks in The Kitchen, to the red sweeping staircase that lends a touch of glamour.
We pride ourselves on providing a friendly and welcoming experience and have a regular cinema team all on permanent contracts, so that audience members will see the same faces when they come. It doesn’t matter if you come on your own – someone will be around to say hi and have a chat
How does our programme support local creatives?
The cinema is very connected to the Storyhouse Young Programmers who curate special film seasons and we are a delivery partner for the BFI (British Film Institute) Film Academy, which targets young people that are interested in working in the film industry but might face barriers to access the education or experience needed to progress. We also partner with the BFI Film Network to showcase new shorts made by filmmakers in the north. Earlier this year we partnered with the Oska Bright Film Festival – the largest festival for filmmakers who are neurodivergent or learning disabled – to run a training course for neurodivergent young adults in Chester to gain skills in film programming. We are open to collaboration with community groups and educators and every year we provide the venue for Chester Film Society to host their annual International Film Festival. When possible, we invite filmmakers and speakers to visit for post screening Q&As, panel events, and discussions which is a great way to explore the film on a deeper level.