Did Sir Norman Foster get as much pleasure from designing The Gherkin as architect Robin Baker did from designing Birks Cinema in Aberfeldy? It seems unlikely. ‘It’s been such a privilege to work on this project and now that it’s finished it will feel like a bereavement. For the past 18 months it’s been my life.’ But Robin, who lives in Aberfeldy, will soon be able to watch movies at the state-of-the-art cinema he’s help to build; the 70-mile round trip to Perth for a cinema will be a thing of the past.
High profile supporters for The Birks include actor and former Aberfeldy resident Alan Cumming and award-winning Scottish film director Murray Grigor but it is the community effort, described by MSP John Swinney as ‘heroic’, that has opened this cinema.
New releases such as Oblivion will be shown along with cinema classics and special interest screenings including Heartland Film Society. There will also be live broadcasts from The Met Opera, NT Live, Bolshoi ballet and many more, including concerts and sporting events.
In 2006 local resident and film enthusiast, Charlotte Flower spotted the For Sale sign on the run down building and wondered if it could ever be a cinema again. Most people wouldn’t have given that a second thought; instead Charlotte helped mobilise a community to start a long round of grant applications and a feasibility study by Ron Inglis of Regional Screen Scotland. Fortunately, for the Birks, the Town Centre Regeneration Fund was launched around this time. In total, a staggering £1.8 million was raised from Europe, the Scottish Rural Development Fund, The Big Lottery and various other sources. Robin and his design team produced a fully developed design and the building work was completed by Hadden Construction.
The ‘by-the-community and for-the-community’ ethos continues with a private gala screening on 19 April. It’s not for the great and the good: tickets to the screening can be won by anyone with Willy Wonka style golden ticket scratch cards.
Ironically, the 1939 building design would not have got planning permission today because it doesn’t fit in with the older buildings that surround it. But Robin describes how they wanted to respect the external shell. Traditional materials such as white render and double-glazed Crittall windows were used to upgrade the exterior.
More light has been let into the building with new and enlarged window openings on the west and south sides. Inside, the changes have been dramatic with a double height space with bar being created on the first floor and a cafe on the ground floor.
A specialist cinema interior architecture company, Burrell Foley Fischer used a woodland theme for the interior design – this refers to the Birks, (the Birch trees) of Aberfeldy. Angus Ross, whose beautiful furniture has been featured in Australian Vogue, The Sunday Times and The Guardian, and who happens to live in Aberfeldy, made the reception counter and the bar for The Birks.
The cinema has had a wider impact on the community – Perth & Kinross Council have tidied up the surrounding area with new paving and two empty shops adjacent have now opened as a cafe.
The last film shown at The Birks was in 1982. Now, thanks to this community-led social enterprise Aberfeldy has got its own high tech Cinema Paradiso once again.
Photos of Birks Cinema are by Genie@RBA.