As a young boy Sam Neophytou used to go to Sunday School in Crouch End’s Salvation Army Hall.
He went on to become a film director and four years ago he and his friend and actor George Georgiou converted that hall into the ArtHouse, an independent cinema/art centre, which has become a focus for community life.
“We’d been looking for a space to create a fringe theatre”, said Sam, 57. “When this place came up we thought ‘forget the theatre, let’s go into cinema.’ At the time there was no cinema in Crouch End.”
By then the 110-year-old hall had become The Music Palace, a drinks venue which held regular gigs.
Sam and George, who met while working together on a Greek mythology series called Bubbles, set about raising funds and reconfiguring the space. They were supported by Haringey Council who were keen to bring about regeneration of that end of town quickly.
The pair budgeted £200,000 but the nine-month build cost £750,000; as well as digging deep into their own pockets, they found other local investors. They’ve created a two-screen cinema and stage area, bursting with character and café/bar where locals can meet and mingle or take in art exhibitions or poetry readings.
Members of the Local Buyers Club can save 10% on food and drink at the ArtHouse. (More details here)
Today’s ArtHouse plays a diverse program of cinema, live National Theatre screenings and comedy, designed to attract the whole community.
Sam’s wife Jenny Hansford, a former teacher at Rokesly Primary School and picture editor, looks after the cinema’s day-to-day running, the couple have a 12-year-old daughter and their son Gabriel, 21, works front of house when he’s home from uni.
Sam added: “I’ve lived in Crouch End my whole life and went to Rokesly Primary School then Stationers’ School. I used to come to this building for bible class when I was five-years-old. I remember dark spaces – they weren’t particularly happy memories. A building is so much more than bricks and mortar – it’s what you put into a space that makes it inviting.”
Though building work next door to the ArtHouse has forced them to temporarily close during the day, business is going well. By keeping prices low they’ve helped to make the cinema accessible to all and some customers visit three or four times a month.
“Cinema is killing itself”, added Sam, who has halted his directing career to focus on this. “Big mainstream multiplexes are pricing themselves out of the market – it becomes ridiculous. They charge so much for tickets that adding anything else like popcorn will tip the balance. I’m on a crusade!”
The ArtHouse pays the London Living Wage or more and Sam describes their staff as “fabulous”. Their template for a successful independent cinema has worked so well that they’re helping create new cinemas throughout London. Within three years they hope to be running 10 others.
He said: “Crouch End Picturehouse opening created a bit of a problem in the beginning but we adapted. We do lots of different performances and comedy – Jo Brand and Sarah Millican are among those to have performed here and we have lots of world music as well. It forced us to engage further with our audience, define who we were and curate a diverse program to accommodate the people around here.”
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