Reaching the age of one hundred years is an impressive feat; one which most would celebrate, look back on, and reflect. Whilst the Hyde Park Picture House proudly did that upon reaching the milestone in 2014, it also quickly started moving forward, to a bigger future, which is now already building. Within a year, the Friends of Hyde Park Picture House group began work on proposals to improve and expand the structure, with a view to applying for support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

For undoubtedly, this grade II listed building is a heritage site which demands to be preserved. As one of the oldest cinemas in the country, and the only that remains gas lit, it boasts many original unique features, inside and out. Their ornate balcony, stained glass windows, decorated Edwardian plasterwork and external box office all add a historic interest and nostalgic charm, but also make for a wonderful modern day film watching experience.

Far from resting on its ancient attractions, the Hyde Park Picture House complements them with an intimate service and expertly selected screenings. They are socially interactive, welcoming of public involvement, and shaping their showings for what its audience enjoys, without compromising to box office pressures. That means wonderful listings of art house films, without snobbery, because this place is for everyone. There are mainstream new releases if the vibe is right, bring your own baby shows, classic movie spectacles, horror weekenders, live events, and pretty much everything else, all within a single screen.

But a century on from opening, the cinema scene has changed, and it ain’t easy to keep up with the multi-city multiplexes. In Leeds alone, Vue, Showcase and Everyman have almost 50 screens between them. Even the Odeon is looked back upon as a relic from an era long past. Thankfully, the passion for the likes of Hyde Park to survive, and indeed thrive, means help is often at hand. In 1989, the Hyde Park Picture House was saved from closure by the Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd, an independent business within Leeds City Council. The similarly aged Cottage Road Cinema in nearby Headingley also required a takeover to continue in 2005, from the Northern Morris Group who own other traditional picture houses in Yorkshire. Any fears of either selling their souls were immediately banished by compatible relationships which have progressed the cinemas sympathetically and with a loving appreciation of their unique importance.

The most recent massive step in the evolution of Hyde Park is the aforementioned application for expansion. After years of thoughtful planning by consultants, engineers, architects, employees and friends, approval was granted in 2018 and funding acquired in 2019 for building work to complete in 2020. The Heritage Lottery Fund have committed ?2.3 million, a sum matched by Leeds City Council and the Garfield Weston Foundation, and full project rendering has just begun.

The plans are impressive and the money appears to be going to all the right places. Historic features are to be protected and existing charms are to be revitalised. But progression is required too, and so a second cinema will be added in the basement, and both screens will be made into a more comfortable and accessible experience. Hyde Park Picture House will close for a year whilst work is ongoing, but fear not, for they will be going on a merry tour, with pop up screenings and events in other Leeds venues, until the renewed building is expected to complete in September 2020. These modern times are as exciting for this landmark Leeds site as were its wonderful past.