Regent Street Cinema, London

Date & Time:9th September 2015

Bringing new life to Britain’s first cinema through a sensitive adaptation and restoration

This popular visit took place at the University of Westminster. In its earlier guise as the original Polytechnic Institution, the venue became the first place in Britain to show moving pictures to a paying audience in 1896 when the Lumière brothers used their new Cinématographe. Following a major project, the University re-opened the Regent Street Cinema in May 2015 as ‘the birthplace of British cinema’.

This subject proved of great interest to participants because it covered issues relating to planning, viable business uses, financing arrangements, intricate and sympathetic design, equipment, and an interior intervention that helped to convey the cinema’s story. The ultimate objective of creating a facility that meets the demands of the modern film industry, as well as the use of historic projection methods, has been achieved. It is one of the few in the country to show 16mm and 35mm film as well as the latest in 4K digital film. The 187-seat Regent Street Cinema is an outlet for students, researchers and senior academics engaged in the University’s programmes for film production and cinematography, and creates a unique bridge to the international film world. Events held there range from repertory screenings and premieres through to documentaries and animation.

The setting is of a classic cinema with echoes of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods that also has shades of more recent eras too. Originally built in 1848, the Regent Street building had a strong connection with innovation from the very start. The Polytechnic pioneered many forms of invention and discovery and in recent years the space had become used as a lecture hall. The University was supported in the £6m cinema project by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Quintin Hogg Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation and many others. It took three years in the planning and business case preparation and then eighteen months on site to complete the works.

The HEDQF visit to the cinema took the form of a welcome address from the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Geoff Petts, followed by a series of presentations from the project delivery team which included the architect, Tim Ronalds, and the main contractor, Overbury.