Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Soul of the City - A Slight Return

A while ago I wrote a short, personal piece about a building that I feel a strong connection to; namely the Odeon Cinema in Bradford. The piece was submitted for inclusion on the excellent Culture Vultures website and subsequently several readers of that estimable organ added their comments. A discussion ensued.

Now, I'm by no means the first to write about the parlous state of one of the finest examples of a 1930s Super Cinema still in existence. Many others have written much more eloquent pieces on the matter. Feelings about the issue over the years have led to people expressing their love for the building in ever more imaginative ways. Indeed, the Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) have recently celebrated their 10th birthday, and their campaign to 'Save the Odeon' has kept the fate of the building a hot topic in the City.

When it was discovered that the fabric of The Odeon was not in such dire state as had been previously described by our local press - with an agenda - and video footage emerged showing original features and clear potential for refurbishment, the City once more galvanised itself and spoke out. Further nefarious dealings were uncovered between the developers who wanted to pull down the cinema and replace it with an office/hotel/apartments complex, and The Homes and Communities Agency, and the pressure mounted. As the City Park was opened, we all kept our eyes on The Odeon! Thanks to the sheer determination and doggedness of a small, but ever growing, group of people who attracted the attention of the media and high-profile figures from the film, architecture, arts and entertainment world, there will soon be an announcement about the fate of one of Bradford's best loved buildings.

On Twitter I pledged 100 hours of my time as a volunteer to help with any restoration, renovation or regeneration of The Odeon. I asked others to pledge their time, too, and many did. There is a real sense of community now, with a common goal of reclaiming The Odeon for the City. There will no doubt be a number of potential plans for its future use. For a while there was talk of the possibility of the building housing a northern branch of The John Peel Centre for the Arts to compliment the one opened in Stowmarket, Suffolk.

Whatever the eventual plans - concert venue, arts complex, gallery - there should be a very strong community element to any scheme put forward. The Odeon has played a part in the lives of so many Bradfordians; so many stories have been and will continue to be told about it. There is an opportunity to create a real meeting place where those stories can be shared between the generations and different peoples of Bradford. The campaign to save this building got people talking, discussing, arguing - communicating - and at a time when voices are being silenced, and opinions sidelined, a place where expression is encouraged (in whatever form that might take) should be a priority.

For the latest news on the Bradford Odeon please check out the City of Film website, and the BORG website

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