Northern Ireland’s oldest cinema set for £6.5 million refurbishment

Northern Ireland’s oldest cinema is set for improvements with a £6.5 million refurbishment project.

Northern Ireland’s oldest cinema set for £6.5 million refurbishment.

The Strand Arts Centre, on Belfast’s Holywood Road, is a cultural icon in the city. Having opened its doors in 1935, it is Northern Ireland’s oldest cinema still in operation.

However, it will temporarily close in February 2024 to undergo a £6.5 million refurbishment. Among the highlights of the renovation work are dedicated spaces for live events, a licensed café, and plans to make the cinema more accessible.

Strand Cinema – Northern Ireland’s oldest cinema

Northern Ireland’s oldest cinema set for £6.5 million refurbishment.
Credit: Facebook/ Strand Arts Centre

The Strand Cinema opened its doors in December 1935 with a screening of David Butler’s Bright Eyes, starring Shirley Temple and James Dunn.

Operated by English cinema chain Union Cinemas, the Strand originally comprised one screen with a stage and 1,170 seats. The art deco cinema was designed by John McBride Neill, Northern Ireland’s leading cinema architect.

Ownership changed hands a number of times, with the cinema operating under independent custodianship from 1977 to 1983, when it closed amidst rumours of its imminent demolition.

Local businessman Ronnie Rutherford reopened the venue as the Strand Variety in 1984, hosting live music performances. Rutherford brought film back to the Strand in 1988.

The Strand ceased operation as a commercial cinema in 2013, becoming a not-for-profit venture focused on the survival of the building.

Refurbishments – set to begin in February 2024

Work will begin in February 2024.
Credit: Facebook/ Strand Arts Centre

The £6.5 million refurbishment project will kick off in February 2024, with the Strand set to remain closed for about 18 months.

On top of its programme of blockbuster, independent, and classic films, the renovations will allow the Strand to present a diverse range of live music and theatre productions, both professional and community.

Furthermore, the refurbishments will create separate spaces for creative endeavours, including rooms for performing arts rehearsals, filmmaking, and music production. The Strand will also open a licensed café for hospitality before and after events.

The work will also make the Strand more accessible. Its current layout is unfortunately prohibitive to those with mobility issues, so the revamp will focus on improving disabled access so that everyone can enjoy the new Strand.

An important institution – “a fixture in the heart of east Belfast”

The Strand has been a fixture in the heart of east Belfast for nearly 90 years.
Credit: Facebook/ Strand Arts Centre

The Strand’s importance to the local area cannot be overstated. From its baby-friendly screenings, minor’s club, and senior-tailored ‘Silver Screenings’, it is a cultural asset to the people of east Belfast and beyond.

CEO Mimi Turtle stressed its importance to Belfast Live: “The Strand has been a fixture in the heart of east Belfast for nearly 90 years, and while it has had its ups and downs during that time, it remains an important part of the community here.

“Over the past year alone, we have held over 800 events and worked with around 400 groups and organisations who utilise this space for everything from art workshops and dance classes to special Q&A sessions and film premieres”.

Turtle also revealed plans “to continue holding events and workshops so that we are able to keep our programmes going until we open our doors once again”.

You can check out the Strand’s current programme here.

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