Deptford cinema is in danger of closing after being forced to pay a backlog of business rates that would “immediately bankrupt” them, say volunteers.
The cinema in Deptford Broadway, which is one of two in Lewisham borough, is a not-for-profit organisation but now must pay business rate fines they say could send them out of business.
It is run entirely by volunteers and is a Community Interest Company (CIC), which means it is “designed for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for the public good.”
However as it is not an official registered charity Lewisham council say they are not entitled to the 80 per cent business rate discount.
Councils can allow business rate relief for CICs at their discretion.
Edwin Mingard, a 31-year-old film-maker, said: "We took on a derelict building, which has been left for about 15 years and we have built a huge group of volunteers who run the cinema together.
"Lewisham was one of two boroughs with no cinema of any kind."
The council have supported the cinema in the past.
Mr Mingard said: "They have been very supportive, because of cuts they don’t have money to throw around especially on something like this when there are essential services being cut, so they didn't help in in a financial way but we got a very small grant from the council."
Mr Mingard, who moved to Deptford Broadway to devote more time to the cinema project, said they do not object to paying the money but cannot stick to the council payment plan.
He told News Shopper: "We made two very small payments to show we were serious about tackling the debt.
"They want, in total, about two and a half thousand a month for the next three months and then they want about £800 a month.
“We want them to agree to a reasonable payment plan. We would like them to recognise that we have been billed the same way a Tesco would be.”
They have started a petition, which has almost 3,200 signatures, against the council’s plan.
Deptford Cinema was set up to address the fact that there were no cinemas in Lewisham borough.
Mr Mingard said: “We exist to provide those things as cheaply as possible, it is a hard thing to do in London, and our tickets are £3.50 for locals or £5 for a normal ticket.
“We do this in our spare time around full time jobs because we care about our friends and neighbours.
“We want them to be able to see a film without leaving the borough or paying £10 or £15 to do so.”
He added: “Even charities do pay rates, we are not asking for special treatment we are asking for the same treatment.”
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A spokeswoman for Lewisham Council said: “In recognition of the valuable contribution Deptford Cinema makes to the community, Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, has previously intervened to help the organisation deal with some of the difficulties it has experienced.
“He is willing to do so again by meeting with representatives to discuss what can be done to support the future of Deptford Cinema and discuss their concerns.”