What’s happening with The Abbey?

What’s happening with The Abbey?
The Abbey Cinema building

So, Co-op has left the building.

With rumours milling around for months, Co-op officially shut up shop on 18th April 2020. We want to register a huge thanks from our Love Wavertree community to the Co-op staff who served us over the years.

We warmly welcome Lidl to Wavertree. We appreciate belief and investment in our area, and know that many of us will benefit from having Lidl produce on our doorstep at Lidl prices. We understand that after some negotiations, the keys were officially handed over to Lidl on 7th May. More rumours now abound, this time about the building and in particular whether Lidl will seek to demolish in in favour of a new-build facility.

Chair of The Wavertree Society, Rob Zatz, has been in close contact with Lidl’s PR consultancy team, seeking updates on behalf of the community. A selection of Rob’s questions and Lidl’s answers are shown below, with more information available on The Wavertree Society’s website, here.

WavSoc is on the case

We all appreciate Rob’s continued efforts and the Lidl team taking the time to keeping us informed. While it is reassuring to hear that a number of options are being considered, we note that demolition is not ruled out in these communications. We remain conscious that Lidl tends to favour new and recent builds for their supermarkets. Both the Toxteth B&M and the Lime Street stores referred to in their response are ‘nearly new’ builds, albeit existing. Lime Street in particular is an interesting example to use given Lidl’s earlier attempts to locate within the Lewis’s (heritage) building and its subsequent occupation of a ‘nearly new’ build – if not purpose built – when that failed to happen. The Lime Street store is located within the Neptune development on the former Futurist site (of course, another former cinema and a highly contentious demolition).

Remembering the Futurist

Although not formally listed, The Abbey Cinema building lies within the Wavertree Conservation Area and is of huge significance to our community. Its striking Art-Deco style exterior is a place-marker within our physical space and a gatekeeper to our High Street, and it stands proudly in the surround of the Church Road roundabout, among a number of our other built heritage icons including Picton Clock and the Lock-Up.

The Abbey features in the original lyrics to ‘In my Life’, from one of our most famous sons – John Lennon – recounting his memories of growing up in Wavertree with another of our most famous sons – George Harrison.

George reminisced later about going to see the 1956 film ‘Rock Around the Clock’ at The Abbey with John, recalling how seeing the reaction from the young women in the audience to the on-screen Bill Haley had inspired the two young Beatles toward future careers in music.

Like John and George, the building’s time as a cinema features prominently in the stories, memories and lived lives of many of our residents. People remember the bright lights, nights out with their parents, first dates, last dates and seeing ‘The Towering Inferno’ there in 1979, the last film shown.

Prior to Lidl’s announcement, Love Wavertree had been in contact with The Co-op to enquire informally about the potential for adapting the upstairs floors of the building for use by the community. We were inspired and encouraged by Co-op’s 2016 call for a partner operator for those parts of the building not occupied by its supermarket, as advertised here:

As per the spec, the building is HUGE, set over three floors and with a footprint of some 24,000 square feet. We understand that inside it retains some of the original features from its cinema heyday, including some seating and ceiling lights.

We are aware that the building might also have retained an ‘original feature’ called asbestos!… but we know too that we have at least one environmental consultant and at least one independent cinema operator living locally. Wavo, as we like to say, has got talent.

The potential for using the building as a community space has been discussed at several of the open and well-attended meetings convened by Love Wavertree over the last year, with all sorts of ideas coming forward including – yes – an independent cinema, but also shared workspaces and children’s play facilities. Our sense is that there would be plenty of room for all of this and more. Further, we feel that there might be an opportunity to link an independent cinema here with the nearby development of Liverpool Film Studios (set for the old Littlewoods building on Edge Lane), especially with the view to securing opportunities in the film industry for our young people.

We were delighted to welcome some of those young people to Wavertree earlier this year as part of the Placed Academy, a creative training programme for 14-18 years olds from across the North West who have an interest in working in urban design, architecture and the built environment. We were blown away by their talent and the maturity of their ideas, and also by their can-do attitude and boundless imagination. Their work was considered, brilliant and beautifully presented, including this proposal for a Beatles Museum in the Abbey building:

It is fair and true, if admittedly little harsh, to note that none of them drew a Lidl!

But we are very glad to welcome Lidl as a local resource and new partner, and hope that they can show similar levels of imagination in their approach to what might happen next. We are keen to work with them, as we had intended to with The Co-op, to explore opportunities for the community to contribute in bringing this glorious building – and a unique space brimming with potential – back to life.

Building The Abbey, 1938 (Photo Credit: The Wavertree Society)

We plan over the next few weeks to work with our residents past and present in collecting memories and stories about The Abbey Cinema, people and family members who were involved in its building and upkeep, people who have worked in there over the years – during its time as Lennon’s, as Somerfield or as the Co-op, and any (maybe hazy!) memories from its time as Riley’s bar and snooker club. We intend to bring our community together for a conversation online or in person as soon as we can. For now, we would love you to share your thoughts, ideas, stories and memories with us by email, on social media or in the comments below.

We want everyone to know just how much this beautiful building means to us. We very much hope that Wavertree’s future film and musical talent get time to enjoy some happy hours in there, just like our John.

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