Oxford’s Ultimate Picture Palace is saved in £300k effort

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FILM fans have saved Oxford’s last independent cinema from closure after rallying round to raise almost £313,000 in under three months.

The 111 year-old Ultimate Picture Palace, in East Oxford, was left facing an uncertain future following the death of former owner Becky Hallsmith. Despite her wishes that the picture house should be owned by the community, it became necessary to put it up for sale.

In a bid to save the Cowley Road venue, staff launched a campaign to give local movie-goers a chance to prevent it from being sold on the open market by buying a share in the iconic theatre.

Their Lights, Community, Action! campaign has succeeded in securing the future of the UPP, by smashing two fundraising targets. But the credits are not ready to roll just yet. The team are now trying to top their golden target of £366,000 by next Friday, July 1, to allow the historic building to be revamped with new tiered seating to allow better view of the screen, improved access to the box office and projection room, and upgrades to its audiovisual system.

UPP executive director Micaela Tuckwell said: “We are so incredibly grateful and overjoyed by all the support we have had so far. It feels very special to be able to now say that the UPP will become a community cinema.

Read again: Buy shares in Oxford’s oldest cinema

“There’s still time for people to invest. though. Our focus is now firmly on seeing if we can raise enough money to make improvements to the cinema so we can provide the best cinema going experience we have ever been able to offer.”

She added: “Our main message to everyone right now is, if you haven’t invested yet, there is still time to join us and own your own piece of our wonderful 111-year-old cinema. If you have already invested and would now like to help make these improvements a reality, you can also increase the investment and help us make these exciting improvements.”

Built in 1911, The Ultimate Picture Palace is Oxford’s oldest purpose-built cinema and one of the longest surviving cinemas in the country. It has a reputation for its daringly eclectic programming, low ticket costs and excellent bar.

Oxford Mail: UPP supporter Tatenda Jamera runs an independent community cinema and gallery that specializes in showcasing African cinema and art called MAONA

UPP supporter Tatenda Jamera 

A favourite venue for visiting celebrities, it has hosted events by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, broadcaster Bob Harris and rock star David Gedge of the Wedding Present.

Ms Tuckwell added: “This share offer is a very special moment in the history of our cinema and for the future of culture in this city, especially after the challenges of the pandemic.

“Reaching our target will give Oxford’s last independent cinema the very best chance to stay independent for years to come. Anyone who knows the UPP’s remarkable story will be keenly aware of just what an indomitable survivor this cinema is. The UPP’s direct connections to Oxford’s community of film lovers has seen it through this incredible 111-year journey, remaining beautifully preserved and now stronger than ever.

“It is fitting that we are asking for everyone’s help as the UPP starts a new chapter.”

Supporters include Rosie Jacobs, director of small business group Independent Oxford. She said: “The UPP not only provides an essential platform for independent films, it is also a much needed community space for people to come together and share in a collective cultural experience.

“Community spaces like the UPP add vibrancy, colour and diversity to our neighbourhoods, and without them our world becomes homogenised and bland. Buying shares in the UPP means you are making sure your money stays in the community and does good for it.”

Oxford Mail: Comedian Tracey Collins and Oxford arts promoter Vez Hoper show their support for the UPP. Picture by Tim Hughes

Comedian Tracey Collins and Oxford arts promoter Vez Hoper show their support for the UPP. Picture by Tim Hughes

Another admirer is Ceri Ashcroft, co director of early years arts event Tiny Ideas Festival. She said: “We love the UPP. They’ve already hit their minimum goal for community ownership, but if we can get them to £366,000 then they’ll be able to invest in raked seating, easy access for all ages to use the projection room, and they’ll be able to to improve their AV system to widen their opportunity for special events.

“Support their work and become an owner of UPP by investing and help them make the cinema experience a magical and accessible one for all ages, including the youngest viewers and their parents and carers.”

Investors and supporters should head to uppcinema.com/owntheupp

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