Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses

The Electric is closing

Ian Francis
Thursday 29th February, 2024 Posted by Ian Francis

This year’s Flatpack Festival will take place without the Electric as a venue, for the first time in 18 years.

The Markwick family who run the cinema have made the difficult decision to close down this week, despite healthy attendances. At the end of March the building’s current 88-year lease will come to an end. We understand that a property developer intends to apply for planning permission to demolish most of Station Street - except for the Grade II listed Old Rep Theatre - to make way for a fifty-storey apartment block.

This would be a deeply damaging move for Birmingham.

1) This is a building of enormous historical significance. The city’s first full-time film venue when it opened in late 1909, the Electric embodies the history of cinema in its many chapters: from silents and newsreels to cartoons and blockbusters, from sex comedies and arthouse double-bills to the boutique sofa offer of today. There are very few places in the world that have been showing films almost continuously in the same location for 114 years.

2) That doesn’t mean it’s a movie mausoleum. This is a living, breathing cultural venue where people gather to enjoy the communal big-screen experience. At a time when independent cinemas are facing huge challenges, in a city which is under-screened relative to its population size, why would we want to lose a viable business like this?

3) In order to attract people to live, work and play here, we need to protect and nurture the things that are unique to our city. There is a reason why the Electric features in so many international travel guides, why you can find it in the Legoland version of Birmingham. Because there is nothing else like it, and it tells a story about this place.

With a plan for investment and renewal Station Street could be a jewel in the city centre, a heritage corridor right next to New St Station where within a few hundred yards visitors can find: The Crown, the pub which helped introduce Black Sabbath to the world; The Old Rep, the country’s first repertory theatre; and The Electric, repository for over a century of film history. In the right circumstances all three venues have the potential to embark on new chapters which will enrich people’s lives and put Birmingham on the cultural map.

Clearly this city has already had enough bad news this week. However, if we don’t want to lose the Electric then time is of the essence. We will share any news as and when we hear it, and there will be a public meeting soon to discuss a potential future for Station Street.

Update 4 March 2024:

It has been extremely moving to see the response to the news of the Electric's closure on Thursday. The main thing to say is: this is not a done deal. Working together, we can save this place. A few questions have been recurring, so here are some answers...

1) Can we get it listed?
At least one listing application went into Historic England last week, as well as an attempt to get the cinema registered as an Asset of Community Value. We are also expecting a decision on the Crown's listing application any time now.

2) What next?
A petition (14k signatures and counting) will be presented at the full council meeting on Tuesday 5 March. Any plans for the site are hearsay at this stage, but clearly it is important that we begin to articulate an alternative vision for the renewal of Station St. More on this soon.

3) What can I do?

  • Write to your local MP and/or councillor
  • Sign the petition to protect Station St - link in bio
  • Follow @OldStationSt on X for updates
  • Use any platforms or connections you have to express the historical and cultural value of the Electric

...And finally, visit your local independent cinema. As we said last week, the Electric did NOT close because of poor box office. However, these venues do need your support to survive and thrive.

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