Phoenix Cinema's new owner pledges 'no change'

Acting manager Matt Taylor and staff member Jesse Jones outside the Phoenix cinema

Acting manager Matt Taylor and staff member Jesse Jones outside the Phoenix cinema Buy this photo

First published in Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

ONE of Oxford’s last two independent cinemas has been bought out.

Picturehouse, the company which runs the Phoenix cinema in Walton Street was sold to the Cineworld chain for £47.3m, it was announced yesterday.

But Cineworld has guaranteed that the Phoenix will not change in any way.

The sale leaves the Ultimate Picture Palace in Jeune Street off Cowley Road the only independent cinema left in the city.

Picturehouse, which has 21 cinemas, will continue to run the Phoenix under Cineworld’s ownership.

Picturehouse co-founder and managing director Lyn Goleby said: “I love building places of entertainment that people love.

“There is nothing more exciting than building something that creates the heart of a neighbourhood.”

Ms Goleby, who started Picturehouse when she and her business partner bought the Phoenix in 1989, said one of her fondest memories of the cinema was sewing the screen curtains herself.

“Gradually we saw you could do much more adventurous programming and make profit from it,” she said.

“We will carry on driving arthouse through the DNA of our cinemas.”

Although no extra money will be invested into the Phoenix, there are already plans to refurbish the frontage and replace the roof next year.

Acting manager Matt Taylor has been working there for the past 15 years.

He said: “The team and I at the cinema are excited about the news today, although in practice there won’t be any changes at the cinema.

“We realise some of our customers may be concerned that the programme of films or the unique experience that the Phoenix offers may change, but I can assure them that we will continue to be the Phoenix that they know and love for many years to come.”

Last year Picturehouse made sales of £30m, and a pre-tax profit of £2.5m.

Ultimate Picture Palace owner Becky Hallsmith bought her cinema in May this year from the previous owners, who said they were “exhausted” by it.

Ms Hallsmith said: “I suspect we will pick up the trade of people who like to go to independent cinemas, which is strong in Oxford.

“I would never sell out to Cineworld, the reason I bought the UPP is because I was worried a chain might buy it.

“I am very surprised, I thought their ethos was that they had an independent bent.” She added: “We are nowhere near any profit, I am throwing money into the place, but turnover is improving. We are now the last bastion of independence.”

Gary Smith, owner of Truck Store, has been going to the Phoenix since he moved to Oxford in the early 1990s.

He said: “The Phoenix is an Oxford institution, it has always supported the local music and local films like Anyone Can Play Guitar.

“When everyone else was watching the Olympics I was watching Searching for Sugar Man with about 15 people.

“Hopefully it will remain a community cinema.”

Cineworld runs 80 cinema including multiplexes in Didcot and Swindon.

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