Jaws not Jesus: Crystal Palace cinema campaigners continue fight against church
24th June 2009 By Matt Watts
“Jaws not Jesus” was the message coming from scores of protestors hoping a beloved bingo hall will be converted into a cinema, not a church. More than 100 protestors appeared outside the Gala Bingo on Saturday for the second consecutive weekend to show their support for a silver screen coming to Crystal Palace. They had pinned their hopes on the bingo hall -and former cinema – in Church Road as such a venue after interest in the building was expressed by a major independent cinema chain. But it has instead been sold to evangelical church Kingsway International Christian Centre. The church is also rumoured to have snapped up the former Mercedes showroom – another former cinema – next door. Campaigners and local traders say the site is of “vital importance” to the economic regeneration of the area. Andy Stern, who owns vintage shop Bambinos in Church Road, said: “It is the key building in the triangle that can be the springboard to unlock the potential of Crystal Palace.” Cinema campaigner and vice chair of the Crystal Palace Chamber of Commerce, Sue Nagle, said: “We are not anti-church in any way. “This campaign is about keeping a building in community use.” While a cinema would be widely used by local residents, she added, a church would instead draw the majority of its visitors from outside Crystal Palace, who would take away parking spaces frown shoppers. Ms Nagle also questioned demand for another church, when five churches in a half mile radius around the triangle were “half empty”. The Kingsway International Christian Centre was contacted to comment on residents’ concerns, but said it would not comment before the sale had been officially completed on June 30. Campaigners intend to challenge any planning applications made by the church to convert its multiple community leisure use to single purpose usage. A spokesman for Bromley Council said it had a planning policy that sought to protect leisure uses where appropriate, but each planning application was judged on its individual merits and circumstances. The closure of the art deco bingo hall is considered a big loss by the community, especially the elderly who saw it as their social crutch, according to residents. Disappointed staff were also only informed of the closure on June 15, six days before it shut for good on Sunday night. A spokeswoman from the Gala Coral group said the 11 staff affected by the closure were told as soon as possible by management. She said the company was looking for alternative roles for the staff in the company.