On 4 July, cinemas in England were allowed to re-open. While many independent cinemas are gradually opening up, with many looking at September, London’s Genesis Cinema opened up its doors and welcomed its customers back. Tyrone Walker-Hebborn, Genesis’ owner, talks about the challenges the cinema has faced over the past seven days, the measures put in place and the lessons learned.
The initial difficulty we faced when thinking about re-opening was tackling the minefield of procedures and safety measures that lay ahead of us which were crucial to get right. Once we got to grips with that, it was a case of training our staff in all of these procedures and getting creative with our programme with the limited product available.
From an admin point of view, I’d say that one of the biggest difficulties faced was simply settling into working life again. No-one could remember login details or passwords, we felt as though we were starting from scratch!
Our main priority has been to guarantee that the venue is as safe as possible for our customers, making sure that everything is as clear and visible as possible. Any customer concerns have been allayed as soon as they have entered the building. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that we’re an arts venue, not a hospital!
We wanted to reflect this through our social distancing stickers and so we worked with creative studio Anima on their ‘Feel the Gap’ initiative, which aims to make social distancing fun. Our floor signs have all been designed by local artists – they’re encouraging and creative and have made our customers smile.
One surprising result of all this is that considering how big a building we have, we’ve been struggling to find space for all of the furniture that we’ve had to remove to make enough space. We have taken away all unnecessary seating and it’s been a challenge trying to squirrel it away!
To mask or not to mask?
We have made PPE available for those staff who want to wear it and it’s at the customer’s discretion whether they decide to wear one or not. It’s about making everyone feel comfortable, regardless of their personal choice.
We have and will continue to adhere to the government and UKCA guidelines on this. I’d estimate that around 10% of customers are coming in wearing masks. Through research and feedback, we feel that it’s a very vocal minority who want to see facemasks in place.
We have, however, installed protective screens and the depth of our concession counters already makes up for 1m distance rules in most cases. Neither our patrons nor staff members have questioned or disputed mask wearing at the cinema.
Snacks on sale
Concessions-wise, all of our stands have been open and are doing well, with a few modifications. We’re selling pick and mix, but customers are required to wear gloves when using the scoops which are also being cleaned regularly. We moved the bottom shelf too as it is easily accessible to children. We no longer have display food in our kitchen either.
We imagined that given the shorter queues at our concessions, our customers would feel less rushed and would be purchasing more, but we have found that that hasn’t necessarily been the case. However, our spend per head has remained the same.
As well as the above, we have a number of measures in place to keep everyone safe. These include: allocated social distanced seating, a one-way system, staggered film times (only one screen coming in and out at one time), extra time allocated for deep cleans, ushers in screens, extra training and hand sanitiser strategically placed throughout the building. We’re committed to maintaining an open dialogue with our customers to see if there is anything else we can do to assuage any fears they might have.
What are people watching?
When it comes to film releases, we’ve had to constantly react to last minute delays on film releases from distributors. This has been a difficult challenge throughout this period, so we have programmed a mixture of library titles and films that were released earlier in the year. The most popular films (in order) have been Queen and Slim, Parasite, Knives Out, Moonlight and Do the Right Thing.
It feels great to be open again and there has been a definite buzz about the place, albeit in a steadier fashion. Our customers were very loyal to us during the lockdown period, buying vouchers and offering to support us in a myriad of ways. I felt that we owed it to them to get things moving again! It’s a wonderful feeling to know that we’re providing at least an afternoon or evening of escape, guiding our audience back to some form of normality.
This building was built to be full of people and works best when it is. I love to see our customers chatting, laughing and engaging with each other, and it’s this sense of community that keeps us going.
More more information about Genesis Cinema, visit www.genesiscinema.co.uk