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£8.7m expansion starts at cinema and art centre

Leicester’s Phoenix cinema and art centre has got the green light for construction to start on its £8.7 million expansion project, ‘Phoenix 2020’.

The work on the Cultural Quarter arts venue will include more cinema screens, an improved café, a better art gallery, a roof terrace and more spaces for production work and teaching.

When completed the venue will be able to accommodate more visitors and become more financially self-sufficient.

Disruption from Covid-19 has left the charity which runs Phoenix – Leicester Arts Centre Ltd – venue in a race against time to bridge a £1 million shortfall in finances it needs to start work.

That was covered by a total investment from Arts Council England of more than £5 million along with more than £2 million Leicester City Council.

Further pledges of support have also been received from national funding organisations, including £135,000 from The Foyle Foundation, an independent grant-making trust.

The British Film Institute has provided revenue funding support for the development, and Leicester City Council has granted Phoenix use of the land through a long term lease.

Phoenix moved to a new-build in the city’s Cultural Quarter in 2009, and has grown as a hub for independent film and digital creativity, with a programme spanning film, art, and education.

It is hoped the expansion plans will allow it to double its participation in the arts, cinema, and creativity over five years, and make a bigger contribution to the local economy through increased visitor spending and enhanced support for local artists and creative businesses.

Construction began on September 13 and will last for around 12-15 months, with the venue remaining open for much of the build.

Phase 1 will see a dedicated digital learning suite installed, which will open early next year.

The new cinema screens, art gallery, café bar and roof terrace will be ready in early 2023.

Although building has started, Phoenix still has to raise a remaining £210,000 to support the fit-out and user experience aspects of the project.

So far more than 200 individuals and small businesses in Leicester and Leicestershire have donated to the ‘Phoenix 2020: Be Part of It’ campaign – but more donations and sponsorship are needed.

Ali Sinclair, chair of Phoenix’s board of trustees, said: “I am very excited and somewhat relieved that Phoenix 2020 is entering into the construction phase of the project.

“There are a lot of people to thank for getting us to this point, including the team at Phoenix, our stakeholders Leicester City Council, Arts Council England, the British Film Institute, and our board of trustees.

“We are grateful to be welcoming our customers back after a long period of closure due to Covid-19, and to be able to share this very positive news with them and have tangible evidence of Phoenix 2020 taking shape.”

Peter Knott, area director for Arts Council England, said: “This is fantastic news for Leicester and we look forward to seeing this ambitious project take shape as we begin to emerge and recover from the pandemic.

“Arts and creativity play a vital role in making Leicester a great place to live, work, study and visit, and we’re pleased to be investing in Phoenix as it expands its space, works with technology in new ways and continues to connect with Leicester’s growing population.”

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “Phoenix is an important part of the city’s cultural landscape, and I am very pleased that this project, which will enable it to expand and improve what it has to offer, can get underway.

“Like very many businesses, Phoenix’s trade has been hit hard over the last 18 months, and without this work taking place, the charity would find it harder to remain viable.

“Phoenix has done well to secure funding from many different sources, including the city council, and the planned programme of work will help safeguard this important venue’s future.”

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