Former Christian meeting place transformed into community cinema

Rachel Connelly of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust with the audience at a children's screening. Picture: Scott Louden

Rachel Connelly of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust with the audience at a children's screening. Picture: Scott Louden

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A UNIQUE historic building once used as a meeting place by a religious sect has been given a new lease of life as a community cinema.

Boasting a Victorian glass cupola and feast hall, the A-listed Glasite Meeting House is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

Heritage chiefs had feared the hidden gem would fall into ruin when the Christian group quit the building due to dwindling congregations.

But new owner the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust is now funding the New Town Community Cinema in the hope that it will pass into community ownership.

Rachel Connolly, audience development officer, said: “This gives new life to a building. And one of the reasons the SHBT bought it is to get people through the door.

“It is an amazing building but most people don’t even know it exists. It’s an absolute hidden gem of the New Town.

“Our charity and our buildings are relatively unheard of, so this is a fantastic way for the public to not only enjoy films in a fantastic location, but to also see the results of what we do – saving historic buildings and giving them a future use for the benefit of the community.”

Volunteer Devin Karambelas added: “There’s no shortage of movie theatres in Edinburgh, but where else can you regularly watch independent and foreign films in a beautiful, 
historic building?

The films have been chosen by local volunteer programmers James Mooney, lecturer in film and philosophy at Edinburgh University; Rory Bonass, formerly with the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival; and film students and heritage groups. The building was trialled for screenings during last year’s Science Festival, but this is the first time it has been officially launched as a cinema.

The ground-floor cinema room seats around 350 people on original pews scarred with graffiti from Glasite children, some of whom struggled to concentrate during long sermons.

The McWilliam Room on the first floor was once used by the Glasites as a dining room, but now functions as a refreshments and socialising space for cinema-goers during the intermission.

During the day, the Barony Street building is being used as a temporary headquarters for the trust until restoration work is completed on its former base at Riddell’s Court.

The next scheduled film on February 26 is Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, about an orphan living in a Paris train station.

Founded by clergyman John Glas, the Glasites were a small Christian group believing in strict conformity with a primitive type of Christianity.

Designed by Alexander Black, the building was completed in 1835 and contains a pulpit created by another famous city architect, David Bryce.

john.connell@edinburghnews.com