We are absolutely delighted that, in just short of a week, we have passed 2,000 signatures for our online petition to save the Abbey Cinema building.
We are not surprised that the signatures keep coming – or at the outpourings of love and affection for this handsome, loved and locally iconic building which has been a part of Wavertree’s life and skyline for over 80 years. In the year in which another locally born icon, John Lennon, would have turned 80, it has been heart-warming to read about people’s memories of the Abbey in its cinema heyday. Many of them involve John and George and those ‘happy hours’ that the Beatles themselves recount in the original lyrics to ‘In my Life’. Although, as this romantic reflection from one of John’s early girlfriends confirms, their teenaged trips to the circle of the cinema may not have involved too much of actually watching the films!
In other stats news, we have also passed 6,000 views of this website, of which some 1500 are views of our story ‘What’s Happening with the Abbey?‘ – so we are already well aware of how much this building and the memories it holds mean to our community. We also have a paper copy petition in our ReLoved shop, and people have been sharing their memories of the Abbey with our shop volunteers. Love Wavertree intends to work with our community in collecting and recording these wonderful stories and memories.
We have heard nothing further as yet from Lidl since we published our original piece in May of this year, which included communications from that time between Lidl and our friends at the Wavertree Society. We are delighted that Save Britain’s Heritage has since submitted an application to list this beloved and culturally significant building. The application (composed by the phenomenal ‘JB’, Jonathan Brown at SharetheCity) is available to read here. Like many other commenters, we were astonished that The Abbey had not been listed already, and will be writing to Historic England to give our full support.
The official line from Lidl remains that it is still carrying out building surveys. No formal plans have been announced to demolish, and as such we have been cautious of not going in too quick and too fast, but we are aware that Lidl’s operational preference is for new builds. When local residents who had taken the opportunity to leave their cars in the car park to the front of the building found notices on their windscreens regarding plans to seal the ‘site’, we were moved, at the very least, to start gauging local support for retaining the building.
That support has been full and vocal. We are very pleased that the petition has received cross-party support locally with Cllr Richard Kemp, Lead of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats, and Cllr Tom Crone, Leader of the Liverpool Greens, both signing our petition in the shop and Cllr Maria Toolan, Labour Councillor for Central Ward and a great champion and advocate for our city’s heritage, adding her signature to the petition online.
We have been clear in our communications across all forms that Love Wavertree is not opposed to Lidl, and we wholly recognise that (particularly in the current climate) many people and families within our community could do with local access to lower priced, fresh, good quality foods. That said, we note that there is also a Lidl planned for Edge Lane Retail Park, less than two miles from the Abbey building, and another Lidl already well-established on Kensington, again within two miles. We understand and recognise that market saturation is important in the supermarket business, but wonder if is worth losing 80 years of heritage in the process.
Instead, we hope that Lidl is open to working with our community in exploring new uses for the building – in addition to a new supermarket which, we propose, could easily occupy the ground floor unit which previously hosted the Co-op. Love Wavertree had, in fact, been in conversation with the Co-op around community uses for the additional space in the building before it was sold on to Lidl – and with a 24,000sq ft ground floor footprint, that is a lot of space with potentially a lot of uses.
A number of our community have referred to potential uses for the building in their comments around the petition, putting forward ideas including a food tech and innovation centre, shared workspace for local SMEs and social enterprises and, with Love Wavertree’s history in going ‘Car Free’, a proposal for a green tech lab. We think there is plenty of room in there for all of this and more!
Far and away the most popular idea, though, has been to ensure that the Abbey Cinema returns back to its roots and that at least some of the vast space is used to host an independent cinema, with a number of comments recognising the potential to work in some way with the new Littlewoods Film Studios, planned for development by Capital & Centric in another of Wavertree’s iconic buildings – the old Littlewoods on Edge Lane – and set to receive £17m in funding. Capital & Centric describe Littlewoods as an ‘art deco beaut’ on their dedicated website for the development , and we agree. Built in 1938, it is both a contemporary and a neighbour of our own art deco beaut – The Abbey – and needless to say, with £17m en route, we would love the opportunity to explore any potential to collaborate!
Our call to explore additional uses is not just about heritage and the past, despite the building’s architectural value, it’s co-relationship with Picton Clock and the Lock Up, and its internationally significant Beatles heritage, it is about the future too, about our aspirations for Wavertree and specifically our young people and their hopes and dreams. We believe – as one response put it – that Wavertree ‘deserves more than a tin shed’. We believe that our young people deserve more, and that our built and aesthetic environment deserves more. Ideally, we would love to see an independent cinema in the building alongside a film, TV, drama and new media training facility that can work to develop our bright creative minds and future talent. And believe us when we say that #WavosGotTalent.
We recognise that the Co-op previously located in the building didn’t always see a lot of footfall and would argue that our proposals to use the rest of the space as mixed use for the community could have assisted with that. If Lidl can’t see the business argument for co-locating a cinema and a supermarket, we will happily take them to the multiplexes/FACT and do a quick survey of who is sneaking in supermarket popcorn under their jacket!… What a breath of fresh air it would be to have supermarket drinks and snacks allowed, and even encouraged.
Going back to the stats, we note that in addition to the 2,000+ signatures, our petition has had over 8,000 views! We hope and expect that the majority of these are people who are thinking that they will come back and sign later. If this is you! – then please do sign as soon as you are able. Our beautiful Abbey could depend on it.
We have created a dedicated Twitter handle for the campaign – @SavetheAbbey, and would encourage you please to sign the petition, share widely! – and follow the @SavetheAbbey account for further updates.
Should you be part of the Lidl team and reading this, Love Wavertree would welcome the opportunity to discuss The Abbey and its future. How lovely it would be for this development to be one where Lidl works alongside the local community, rather than against it; a chance to shed its reputation for demolishing in favour of new builds and instead to embrace a new and mutually beneficial business model, founded on community enterprise and investment in young talent and working alongside a community which includes a wealth of knowledge and experience, and which is already proving its mettle in running the ReLoved shop and hub.
We’ll bring the popcorn!