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MAKE Lewisham Council honour their promise and STOP them from destroying DEPTFORD CINEMA

This petition had 3,567 supporters


Hi,

My name is Sam. I live in Lewisham and have done for nearly eight years. Although I've lived in Lewisham for little under a decade myself, my family have been in Lewisham and neighbouring Southwark for generations.

About two years ago, I saw a post on the Brockley Central blog advertising a new community project. Lewisham was one of only two London boroughs with no cinema at all and Deptford Cinema was a not-for-profit community project looking to rectify this and it needed volunteers to make it happen.

Deptford Cinema aims to provide affordable access to cinema and the arts for the people of Lewisham. Anybody is free to get involved in whatever capacity they want. The project took a building on Deptford Broadway that had been empty for 20 years and has turned it into a thriving arts venue in Lewisham.

You should definitely come down and meet everybody at one of our Sunday meetings, every week at 4pm and get involved. I've ended up helping with ongoing building work, programming of films, running events, funding applications and a whole lot more. I've not only learnt a whole host of skills but I've met and become friends with so many amazing people, that I would never have met had it not been for Deptford Cinema.

The cinema is incorporated as a Community Interest Company (CIC), a type of company designed for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for public good. Despite this, Lewisham Council treat our community project - run by local volunteers - exactly the same as a company designed purely for profit. As a result, the Council are applying an unpayable business rates bill to the cinema. Some boroughs give relief to CICs; Lewisham Council does not.

Over the last 6-9 months, we have been in constant communication with Lewisham Council to alleviate this problem via the proper channels of relief, whether it be small business relief or hardship relief, both of which we believe to apply to us. Lewisham Council disagrees.

Lewisham Council advised us to become a charity to automatically get the 80% rates relief applicable to charities. This wasn't immediately undertaken due to various factors, such as the ongoing relief applications, third-party advice that CIC was the correct form for the organisation and support from Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, whom, over this period, has twice stepped in to support the cinema - by putting a 6 month hold on Deptford Cinema's rates status.

When all our relief applications had failed, with no solid explanation why, and apparently, with no appeal process available, converting to a charity became our only option, one that would reduce future rates by 80% but would not solve the unfair and unpayable historical bill.

Then we received a letter, the best letter we could hope for, from the Business Rates Manager at Lewisham Council. If we converted to a charity, the council would retroactively apply the statutory 80% charity relief to our existing account.

Great right?

With volunteers now spending their time working towards the organisation becoming a charity; Lewisham Council then told us over the phone that the letter was a mistake and they would not be honouring this promise. Back to square one...

But worse: the Council wants Deptford Cinema to pay the outstanding business rates (£5,400) over three months and the rates for 2016/2017 in one payment (£6,897). Both of which will bankrupt and destroy a community asset; a fact the Council are completely aware of.

Three volunteers therefore arranged a meeting with the head of business rates of Lewisham Council. We took our extensive business plan, showing the continued growth and sustainability of a young local project which is still not finished, and two proposals for payment:

  • In light of the letter promising 80% relief, would it be possible to have 50% relief? It will still stifle the growth of the project, but it could be manageable...
  • ...if not, instead of a reduction and instead of three instalments, could we extend over a longer period such as 32 months.

First, just so you know, there weren't enough seats at the meeting, so one of our volunteers, a 61 year-old retiree had to kneel for the duration of the meeting with the council, with no offer to fetch him a chair from elsewhere. Second, no interest was taken in the materials we'd brought to the meeting and both of our suggested proposals were rejected. Third, that letter I mentioned with the promise of 80% relief, the council tried to keep hold of it at the meeting.

At no point have we tried to avoid paying our rates. Instead, we've tried to work with the Council to solve the problem and ask them to recognise Deptford Cinema for what it is, a charity in all but legal status.

We are now faced with a deadline for payment, after which the Council will send round the bailiffs and destroy a project run by the community in Lewisham, for the community in Lewisham. A community you would hope the council sees themselves as part of and representative of.

We want Lewisham Council to honour their promise of retroactively applying the 80% statutory charity relief to Deptford Cinema when the transition to a charity is complete in the next month or so.

Help us make this happen to prevent Lewisham Council from destroying their borough's oldest still functioning cinema.

Finally, thank you for taking the time to read our call for help.

With love,
Sam
& the 200 or so more volunteers of Deptford Cinema



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