The Castle Cinema

Text Kate Hollowood
All photos © Jørn Tomter /
First published in Issue 6, 2017

On a sunny Monday evening in May, Chatsworth Road’s Castle Cinema draws a warm and relaxed crowd. Before the showing, an older couple sip gin and tonics quietly in a corner of the dining area, while others indulge in burgers, generously portioned baskets of fries and carafes of red wine. Everyone ambles into the cinema room in their own time, met by tiers of welcoming-looking armchairs. Throughout the movie (a wartime comedy drama) guests laugh freely, as if those surrounding them in the dark weren’t really strangers. 

“The emphasis has always been on creating a meaningful experience, rather than a portal to see content,” says Asher Charman, who has led the regeneration of the cinema with his partner Danielle (Dee) Swift.

After running some of London’s most successful pop-up film events together - Hot Tub and Pillow Cinema - the couple wanted to set up something more permanent. “There’s this constant cycle of building something you’ve poured a lot of love into and then taking it down again,” explains Asher. “We were longing for a place to call home that we could invest in.”

While scouring London for spaces above pubs and bars, the pair discovered an old cinema existed just a few minutes from their home. The Castle, now property of neighborhood grocery store Eat 17, was built in 1913 and showed its final film in 1958. Since then, it has undergone various makeovers, transformed into a Bingo Hall, then a Snooker Club in the 70’s and most recently a restaurant. Asher sees its history as a narrative of entertainment during those periods of time.

In order to raise enough money to restore the space to its original role, the duo launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and spread the word locally with flyers and posters. “This meant that from day one, we had a relationship with all the Chatsworth Road shop owners,” says Asher. “One of the best things about doing this here is the brilliant community.”

The Kickstarter campaign also created a pool of evangelists who were actively involved in shaping the project. People stepped forward to offer their advice on the interior design, the website and even the statutory planning. “By far the most driven and engaged people were those that live locally,” says Asher. “If we hadn’t used crowdfunding, the project wouldn’t have had the same level of integration.”

The couple’s approach to doing up the space was admirably DIY. “I don’t know if anyone sane would have taken on a project like this with the resources we had. A good dose of naivety goes a long way,” says Asher. From building the tiered decking to programming the films, the pair have done everything themselves.

An exception was made for the decorating, however. “I would have embarked on painting the whole thing, but Dee, the voice of reason, said she didn’t know if that was particularly achievable,” says Asher. Looking up at the vast, elaborate ceilings, which took three professionals 45 days to complete, she clearly had a point.

The cinema has been open since February, showing a mix of Box Office hits and art house films. Prices range from £5 to £14.50, depending on concessions or the time of day. “We’ve tried really hard to make our pricing as accessible as possible,” explains Asher.


The Castle space in 2012