Rio Cinema looks to the future as board of trustees steps down

Rio Cinema. Photograph: Mark Hillary via Flickr
Rio Cinema. Photograph: Mark Hillary via Flickr

The Rio Cinema is hoping to “open with a bang” in August, following central government announcing a £1.6bn bailout for the arts sector.

The newly optimistic outlook follows widespread concern over its future among the well-loved cinema’s supporters, with the cinema’s board of trustees warning that “difficult decisions” lay ahead and the Save The Rio campaign urging an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to dismiss said board over rumours that commercialisation was on the cards.

This weekend the cinema’s trustees stood down en masse to make way for an entirely new board. The new members are understood to have set as their objectives the payment of the London Living Wage and roll-out of collective bargaining for staff, as well as a renewed pledge to protect the Rio’s identity.

Former chair of the board of trustees Patrick Lyons, who stood down in 2018, said: “When the Rio as the Rio appeared to be threatened, you had such an incredible outpouring of support, financial support, supporting and maintaining the direction of the Rio, you had 6,000 people signing a petition.

“You had over 10 per cent of the members after the special EGM, which is incredible, as most members are not engaged on a day-to-day basis like that.

“That kind of support shows that the members themselves are not going to let the Rio be anything other than the Rio.

“It’s a community organisation, and the community cares a lot about it. The community, the members, won’t let the Rio become something that it isn’t, and nor should they.”

The former board of the Rio had insisted they were “baffled” by rumours of a sell-off to a commercial chain, with sources in Hackney Council confirming that, due to its status as a not-for-profit voluntary sector organisation, any idea that it could transform into a mainstream concern without council agreement is “plain stupid”.

Other options to allow in larger commercial operators could have been less implausible, with for instance the outsourcing of the cinema’s programming or of its food and drink, a direction it is understood members of the current board are keen to avoid.

Members of the new interim board will now be seeking to avoid redundancies while keeping the cafe and bar supplies local. While it is known to be too early to say where potential savings will be found if necessary, some new trustees are known to be focused on seeking to raise the profile of the cinema further while attempting to continue to expand Rio membership.

The 111-year-old venue is now hoping to reopen in the middle of August to coincide with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet on the 12th.

Speaking on BBC News, executive director Oliver Meek, who has been working to raise funds for the cinema, said that the government’s arts bailout was “fantastic news”, adding: “The government singles out independent cinemas as benefitting from it, so that gives us a huge amount of confidence.

“We don’t know exactly what it entails, but the UK Cinema Association and the BGI have been lobbying government, and if it’s anything like what they’ve been discussing with us, it will be really positive.”

Meek went on to express his gratitude to members for donations and for sales of memberships and merchandise which had kept the ship afloat along with the government’s furlough scheme, though worries persist on how long the cinema could continue operating on a reduced capacity due to social distancing.

The former Rio Board have now sent out their thanks to all those who donated to or shared the cinema’s fundraiser.

A statement from the former board said: “It is with a heavy heart, that after much discussion we have come to the decision that we step down as a board.

“The charity urgently needs to focus on implementing new ways of working, systems, processes and training implied by the government’s recent social distancing guidelines, so that the cinema can reopen.

“The cooperation and help of the Rio’s staff will be essential to implement these necessary changes. However we look at the situation, and despite our own personal feelings about what has happened in the last couple of weeks, the reality is the relationship between the current board and the staff has been negatively affected by these recent developments.

“The Rio cannot afford delays, and urgently needs to focus on building and implementing a viable model for the future. As a board, we no longer feel able to effect such changes and for these reasons we feel we should now hand over to the trustees suggested by Save The Rio.

“We wish the Rio well, and hope to see the cinema re-open soon and continue to provide a much-loved service to the local community.”

You can donate to the Rio Cinema’s fundraiser here.