An enchanted princess of a building, the beguiling Abbeydale Picture House is at last mid-rescue. One of Sheffield's most iconic buildings, its striking presence first graced Abbeydale Road in 1920: a luxury cinema with gold decorations and a silver screen, full of marble, mosaic and mahogany.
There've been occasional screenings at Abbeydale Picture House in recent years – everything from silent films with live piano scores, harking back to the building’s early days, to Bruce Lee films. Festivals like Sensoria, the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival and Doc/Fest have made great use of the building for packed out concerts and screenings, and there's a regular flea market in the car park. The Picture House’s decadence on all these occasions has remained mesmerising; it’s hard to keep your eyes on the screen when your surroundings are so fascinating – all peeling paint and crumbling, melodramatic beauty.
Now, the culturally insatiable and exceptionally capable lot from CADS have taken on the task of bringing this divine Grade II listed building into regular use. And it’s in such a great spot, with Picture House Social right underneath it and all the delights of London and Abbeydale Roads – we like to call it the Food Mile – and the Antiques Quarter stretching to either side. Nick from CADS talked to us about the story so far and what we can expect in the future.
It must be really exciting to be working with such a Sheffield icon, but hard work too. What can we expect from the revitalised building?
It's definitely hard work, and the list of what needs to be done is seemingly endless! We've made great progress so far, and a huge proportion of that is down to the incredible help we've had from volunteers (including GoodGym), and the efforts of Sheffield Contemporary [a new art space] in the fly tower. So far we've brought the former backstage into use as a second events space, added more seats to the auditorium, and renovated other rooms around the building into studio spaces. Unfortunately a lot of original historical features have been lost over the years as the building fell into disrepair, but we've been able to salvage and safeguard what remains. The second stage is more of a longterm goal – we're applying for funding to complete the full heritage restoration of the building for use as a vibrant, public events venue. It'll take several years but it's looking positive!
What's the response been like from the local community?
It's been fantastic – we knew it would be, knowing the long history of love the local community has for this building (most of us live in the area too). We wouldn't be able to get this far without all the volunteers, and we're also working with the Abbeydale Stakeholders Group and Sheffield Antiques Quarter to help contribute to the area.
What will the revived Abbeydale Picture House add to Sheffield's current venue circuit?
Sheffield has been crying out for a venue of this capacity for quite some time. In broader terms, we want to provide a flexible, creative venue that doesn't shy away from the weird and wonderful. Due to the nature of the building it's suitable for music, cinema, theatre, conferences and comedy, so we're keen to hear any ideas! CADS has always had a policy of openness and CADS Trust will be looking to support events and projects from local people that might not be possible at other venues. The fly tower also holds huge potential, and this has already been shown by Sheffield Contemporary – they'll be back for more exhibitions, but in the meantime it's also available to hire. It's hard to put into words how tall and breathtaking this space really is!
Abbeydale Picture House features in a short film we made with Sheffield Hallam Uni, alongside a bunch of the city's other top cultural attractions – watch below.
- Words by
- Nat Loftus
- Images by
- Gemma Thorpe