In the year in which it celebrates its centenary the Town Council owned Hebden Bridge Picture House has proved that not only is it thriving but that it continues to put its audience first, as it has been officially recognised as the UK's first Cinema of Sanctuary.
The City of Sanctuary movement centres around the key values of inclusiveness, openness, participation, inspiring others and integrity. One of its five core principles is that 'We should welcome the stranger.'
Rebekah Fozard, Manager of the Picture House said: "Sanctuary seekers are welcomed, included and supported here. We believe that connecting people through our cinema and through film, encourages friendships, changes attitudes and motivates action for positive change. It is a privilege to be the first Cinema of Sanctuary, and hopefully inspire cinemas and other organisations to follow suit."
Since 2017 those seeking sanctuary, asylum seekers and refugees have been welcomed with a complimentary ticket and hot drink for a film screening at the cinema. This scheme which has grown every year was initially introduced by the Picture House owners, Hebden Royd Town Council and operates at all film screenings without the need to book in advance.
Cllr. Dr Carol Stow, chair of the Picture House Committee said, "At a time when national and international politicians so often fail to find solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems, and when the plight of refugees and asylum seekers is so vividly brought home to us in the daily news, I am delighted that the council, Hebden Bridge Picture House and the Friends of the Picture House have worked collaboratively to welcome asylum seekers and refugees to the cinema, and prove we can take concrete, effective action at a grassroots level."
The Making Friends scheme, run by the supporter group, the Friends of the Picture House, and financially supported by the Community Foundation for Calderdale, organises a monthly free family cinema trip for sanctuary seekers, including facilitating transport to the cinema from Halifax where the majority of Making Friends participants live.
The scheme brings together those seeking sanctuary, helping them to mix, improve language skills and importantly welcomes those seeking sanctuary to their new home.
The Covid 19 pandemic saw the Friends of the Picture House's support of the scheme become more practical, with organised collections of donations and delivery of essential items. Now with the reopening of the cinema and the expected arrival of new people seeking sanctuary, the cinema prepares itself to again make new friends.
Making Friends attendee Ilham said, "The days out at the Hebden Bridge Picture House are very special to us. We meet other people in Hebden Bridge and like us from Halifax. We always keep the day free for our trip to the cinema! We go to the park with the children before the film, and our friends from the cinema help us with the childcare there. When we get to the cinema, we are offered a hot drink and the children have juice and popcorn. If we want another drink, or the children want more popcorn, that is provided with a smile too. We feel like VIPs!"
Laura Beesley, Chair of local support organisation Together We Grow and of Calderdale Valley of Sanctuary said, "We are delighted that the Picture House's excellent work in welcoming Sanctuary Seekers has been recognised in this prestigious award and we look forward to working together to promote our borough's message of welcome."
For details on this and the Making Friends project please contact The Friends of the Picture House.
Added: Friday, 27 August 2021