My Experience protecting a Redfield cinema’s Asset of Community Value status

To celebrate Student Volunteering Week 2024, we caught up with final-year LLB student Lydia Jones to ask her about her work, together with fellow Law Clinic student Maryam Alsuwaidi (final-year LLB), to provide pro bono support to preserve a potential community space of great value in Bristol.

Lydia Jones, final-year undergraduate Law student and Law Clinic volunteer at the University of Bristol Law School.

Tell us about the case, what was the challenge? 

St George’s Hall, once an art deco cinema in its heyday, had been privately sold by Wetherspoons to a property developer who proposed that the cinema should be demolished, and HMO (Houses of Multiple Occupation) accommodation be built. 

We opposed this plan because, not only would the cinema be lost, but because their proposal was contrary to local need. HMO density in the area already surpasses the suggested limits.

The ‘Save Redfield Cinema’ campaign group challenged the landowner by nominating the property to be an Asset of Community Value (‘ACV’). This was initially unsuccessful due to a technicality on the nomination application, but subsequently successful once this was rectified and the campaigners renominated the property. However, the landowner then appealed the nomination. 

The renovation of the cinema would be in the best interests of the community as neighbourhood cinemas offer affordable shared experiences across class, heritage, ability, age, and income.

As well as screening films, the campaigners have proposed that the space provides a further opportunity for everything from stand-up comedy to debates, conferences, live music and a community kitchen.  

Furthermore, access to arts and culture is a core requirement of healthy living. The concept of “20-minute neighbourhoods” and “15-minute cities” in which everything needed for healthy living is within a short walk is a key way to boost the prosperity of city populations.

In Bristol, the city centre has the highest concentration of cultural provision. In comparison, Redfield is located in the Easton ward where there is little local diversity and few places for the community to come together.  A cinema and cultural venue at this key location of St George’s Hall would be the only established cultural venue within a 20-minute walk.

How were you involved in addressing the issue? 

We were instructed by the client to help write their representation for the appeal. We enlisted the help of a pro bono barrister, Daniel Henderson from No.5 Chambers, whom we liaised with to craft the client’s defence of their nomination.  

A number of arguments were advanced by the developer against the decision to list St Georges Hall as an ACV. One example of these complaints was that the nomination should fail as the cinema had not been used to further the social wellbeing or interests of the local community in “the recent past” – a core legal test which needs to be met in order for an ACV to be successfully listed. The owner submitted that “the only non-ancillary use of the Property in the recent past was as a commercial public house”. 

In response to the owner’s arguments, we proved that the property had indeed furthered the social wellbeing of the local community in the recent past.

Before Wetherspoons closed the pub in 2021 the site had been a public house since it opened in 1998. It provided the ability for a wide demographic of local people to eat, drink and socialise at affordable prices, considerably lower than the other eateries that have sprung up as a result of increasing gentrification in the area. Locals have been forced to drive to other parts of town and those that can’t travel easily had lost this vital resource to address issues of social isolation and loneliness. 

Another part of the legal test was to prove that is it “realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years when there could be non-ancillary use of the building” that would further the social well-being of the local community. The owner expressed concern that the refurbishment costs for the property would be enormous, therefore the renovation of the cinema would be unrealistic and unachievable. 

In response, the client submitted significant evidence to support their plans for St Georges Hall as a neighbourhood cinema.

They worked up a robust operating budget in consultation with both Bristol’s Cube Cinema and Clevedon’s Curzon. They proposed a diverse capital funding mix that includes capital grants for which we are eligible (including the Government’s Community Ownership Fund) social impact investment, charitable loans, and community fundraising. Additionally, the organising group includes experienced project managers, cinema programmers and operators, and community organisers.

What was the outcome? 

After much anticipation, the Council decided to uphold our client’s ACV nomination, subject only to the removal of the residential flats.  

Overall, this was an extremely rewarding experience as I was able to help a cause I believe in: protecting the arts and preserving historic buildings which are meant for the enjoyment of the community.

The decision highlighted how Bristol is a proud UNESCO city of film and has a thriving film industry and heritage which needs to be supported. 

The case also demonstrated the importance of access to justice as we were able to win against professional, paid lawyers who had acted for the developer, and therefore save an asset of the community which otherwise would have been demolished.

Further information

Find out more about pro bono work within the University of Bristol Law School, through our Law Clinic, which provides students with the chance to gain a solid experience of law in practice by offering free legal advice and support to members of the public under the supervision of Law School Staff.   

As well as our Human Rights Law Clinic, which sees students play a practical role in the drive to make social justice a reality for all. Integrated into the work of the Human Rights Implementation Centre students acquire knowledge and experience in international human rights law and practice.   

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