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Hebden Bridge Picture House has applied to be the first Cinema of Sanctuary and we are not surprised. We were told by a mother seeking sanctuary with her family:

“This is a place where people want to be. We are given nothing by the Home Office. This takes the pain away from people, takes tears away. Our children can feel normal and belong to the community. We see racism in the UK but in Hebden Bridge we bring together diversity. Some of us have been waiting over 10 years and these trips bring us relief, the donations are welcome and we feel included. It has restored our dignity.”  

The cinema wants to learn from City of Sanctuary about creating a welcoming and safer place for people seeking sanctuary. Their welcoming work through the Making Friends project at Hebden Bridge Picture House is already an inspiration and we welcome their motivation to share their experience and inspire other cinemas.

Hebden Bridge understands resilience and solidarity since the Cinema was badly flooded in 2015 during the flood and the local community helped to clean the Cinema. They embrace giving to the community and befriending people seeking sanctuary.

The Picture House began with free monthly film trips to people seeking sanctuary, including refreshments and bus fares.

“It has really helped and supported us and our families to enjoy ourselves as we are people seeking sanctuary, we are given £39 per week which is not enough to save for going to Cinema.”

“You have given us what we couldn’t afford at this point, and I just want to send my thanks to you, all the sponsors and both Hebden Bridge Picture House and Making Friends Group”.

Initially families seeking sanctuary were invited to view Paddington 2 on a Saturday afternoon along with other families. They encouraged interaction with local people so that they can share ideas, learn from each other and exchange impressions of the film they have seen.

“You supported us to get some funny show and family movies which we really enjoyed. You supported us by providing snacks (drinks, sweets, popcorns) clothes, and home staff. You are our rock.”

The Picture House learned directly from people with lived experience, building partnerships with other organisations (e.g. St. Augustine’s and Together We Grow) jointly organizing activities enabling people to get to know each other and others. They then reached out to involve other groups such as the Lesbian Immigrant Support Group and Sisters United.

They went onto to providing other activities; trips out of Hebden Bridge, gatherings and a Christmas party providing opportunities for new friendships and relationship building.

“We feel like VIP /princes and princesses! Like a dream and a wish come true. We are united together meeting the people of Hebden Bridge.  I am honoured to be a part of this amazing experience.”

“Hebden Bridge Picture House is helping us to go there spending quality time and being among the community.”

“Children are always looking forward to it, even us as parents we love going there relaxing and spending nice time with people.”

As Kate says, one of the Making Friends members,

“It is all about making friendships and supporting each other”.

When the first pandemic lockdown was imposed, the Making Friends Group created a WhatsApp group to help people keep in touch, share cinema news, distribute needed donations, activities and plans for future trips to the cinema.

“We always feel comfortable and happy in the welcoming environment at the Picture House, and we weren’t forgotten during the pandemic.  You make us smile in our difficult situation and build our confidence. Thank you is not BIG enough.”

“Only people from the cinema checked in with us. No-one else asked after us when we were so isolated. The donations helped us through difficult times.”   

A volunteer with lived experience has been the Making Friends Ambassador for the last two years and is involved in planning, organising, monitoring and evaluating the Cinema trips.

The Cinema also promotes and invites people with lived experience to apply for vacancies which they publicise through the Making Friends Group, making it clear they want refugees to join their team.

“I appreciate Hebden Bridge Picture House Cinema, Making Friends Group and the lovely team for all the love, care and support for our families. We really want to say thank you as going to the cinema is a treat for our children.”

There are plans to extend the work to include single men and a teenagers’ group, provide more staff training and engage with other organisations.


Congratulations to Hebden Picture for the First Cinema of Sanctuary award. See their press release here.