A brief history of Broadway

Broadway is Nottingham's independent cultural cinema and media centre. In the twelve months to March 2009 Broadway had its most successful year so far, with more than 150,000 admissions to the cinemas and great business in the café-bars, and among the centre's resident enterprises.

Broadway, the trading name of Nottingham Media Centre Ltd, is a city-centre cinema and media centre owned and operated by a third sector company limited by guarantee with charitable status. This research has been able to have privileged access to the records of the company, and its case study is set out here to illustrate how third sector organisations can develop from very small beginnings to major public facilities. Two key factors are of particular interest here, the use of mergers as a growth process, and the security of ownership of capital assets as a basis for development.

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In 1957 a group of cinema enthusiasts formed an association under the name of Nottingham Film Society to bring to the city international and archive films not available through the prevailing commercial cinema of the time. Monthly screenings were held in the auditorium of the Co-operative Society Education Centre, which had been converted in the 1950’s from a former Wesleyan Chapel. The Film Society was a wholly-voluntary organization, which in due course became a registered charity. It received programming assistance from the British Film Institute’s film society office and its local success in attracting audiences and its ambitious programming policy chimed with the BFIs then plans for a network of regional film theatres. In 1966 the society was designated officially as a Regional Film Theatre, the first of the kind in the country, known as Nottingham Film Theatre. It continued to programme, on a part-time basis, at first still wholly voluntary and later with a part-time employed programmer and administrator, until the 1980s.

Meanwhile, an older organisation, also a third sector association, the Midland Group of Designers and Artists, formed in 1943 to promote local creative work, had had its own ambitions. Moving through several rented premises in the city over more than forty years, the Midland Group, as it was known, established first a gallery for contemporary art and later a full-blown contemporary arts centre. In 1979 the Midland Group, by then constituted as a company limited by guarantee with charitable status, moved in to a set of redundant buildings in Carlton Street and with assistance from the then Arts Council Housing the Arts Fund, and other sources, developed a centre which included visual arts and crafts galleries, a performance space, cinema, education spaces, a film production workshop, darkrooms and shop. The cinema, a 75-seat basement auditorium known as the New Cinema, ran an eclectic seven-nights-a-week programme. The film production workshop, the New Cinema Workshop, was an independent association of Nottingham’s aspiring film-making community, housed in the Midland Group, founded in the era of Channel 4’s film workshop development.

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During the 1980s, a third organization had sprung up as an association of film-makes in the city, utilizing Government job-creation Manpower Service Scheme and training support to create Nottingham Video Project, primarily engaged in skills training and low-budget production for social and political organisations.
The four organisations, Nottingham Film Theatre, New Cinema Workshop, Midland Group and Nottingham Video Project, together with several members of the city’s film community, had collectively created a proposal to develop media culture and production in the city, embodied in a paper titled ‘Nottingham as a Media Centre’, successfully proposing to the BFI that the city should be included in its emergent national media centre network.
Crippled by a capital deficit incurred in the redevelopment, and having no lease, but only a 24-hour licence on the premises from the County Council, the Midland Group eventually perished, going in to liquidation in 1987.

Following the collapse of the Midland Group, the New Cinema and Nottingham Film Theatre came together to seek to ensure the continuation and growth of cultural cinema in the city. This alliance, effectively a merger, formed City Lights, which became a full-time cinema programme using both the Co-op Education Centre’s auditorium and the New Cinema, until the latter became unavailable as the building was re-developed. City Lights sought new premises to establish a more ambitious media centre and, after much searching, was able to acquire the Co-op Education Centre in whole, as the CWS had decided to sell, subject to a restrictive covenant. Fundraising and contributions from the City and County Councils enabled the purchase of the freehold and an initial refurbishment. The building became the Broadway Cinema on 31st August 1989.

Meanwhile NVP and the New Cinema Workshop had merged to create Intermedia, a production and training project, constituted as a company limited by guarantee, aimed at sustaining and growing the city’s capacity for production. Intermedia became a tenant of the lower floor of the Broadway building, and was subsequently able to raise funds to create a production studio and training facilities.

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Broadway developed an ambitious expansion plan which has been carried through over nearly twenty years. Three further phases of development have taken place. A second screen was created. The café-bar, later two bars, was established under a franchise. Two adjacent properties have been acquired, enabling the accommodation of small and emergent film and media production businesses to be expanded. Most recently, a major redevelopment took place which was enabled by the merger of Broadway with Intermedia, making the it possible to increase the screens to four, including the world's only cinema created exclusively by the Nottingham designer Sir Paul Smith, and provide further growth space for production enterprises, as well as bringing the customer services up to current standards. The café-bar operation, previously a franchise, has been taken in-house and the centre’s conference business is being developed.

Finance for the stages of development have come mainly from public sources, including Europe, the National Lottery and the Regional Development Agency. The capacity to access substantial sums of money has been dependent on two crucial factors: the capacity of Broadway to manage and deliver projects; and its outright ownership of its capital asset. The restrictive covenant imposed by the former owner was eventually lifted, once Broadway had demonstrated its ability to make the new centre work, and the outright unencumbered freehold has been a vital element of Broadway’s ability to finance development. The strength of Broadway’s capacity owes much to the series of mergers and acquisitions which have shaped its history. Progressively building on local experience, bringing together accumulated skills and knowledge, merging smaller, more fragile organisations to create larger, stronger ones, and keeping a clear sight of long-term local aspirations, has been an essential element of Broadway’s success in becoming a major amenity in the city and region.

Over more than fifty years, from the founding of Nottingham Film Society in 1957 to the present day, Broadway has developed from a wholly-voluntary group of enthusiasts meeting once a month to see and talk about films, to the present £2.1m turnover centre, creating 37 FTE jobs and supporting an additional 15 businesses with an estimated turnover of £4m. Total cinema admissions reached a record 150,000 in the year to March 2009 and total visits to the centre are in the region of 350,000 a year. Broadway remains a company limited by guarantee with charitable status, and among the tasks in its next phase of development will be to review the company’s structure and see if best advantage can be taken of recent changes in the company and charity regimes.

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