The History of Jam Jar Cinema

At one point in the mysts of time Whitley Bay had 5 cinemas, and North Shields had 7. Skipping many years into the present day we found ourselves with no community cinema in North Tyneside. Whilst we are well served by a Multiplex and The Tyneside Cinema, travel and cost are far to often a barrier to access. The idea of a new cinema in the ‘coastal belt’ of North Tyneside is born out of the closure of the ABC/Canon in Monkseaton and The new Playhouse, Whitley Bay not showing films. 

We started working on the idea in spring 2011 and became a formal community company in May 2012. It was quite a struggle to find a venue big enough and we managed to find our current site a former derelict Job Centre on Park Avenue, Whitley Bay. We took over the lease in May 2013 and were open to the public from September 2013. We didn’t have much money to do the work or keep the place going so relied heavily on volunteers and good will of local people and companies. North Tyneside Council and Start Up loans gave us the initial funding which paid for the seats, projection equipment and sound system, the screen and tiering for the seats, as well as start up costs for the business.

In our first year 9,000 people came to our venue. We were at a point where we struggled to get the newest releases so we invested £60,000 to get the latest cinema equipment. This means that we are now able to show the latest movies and we screen films within the first 14 days of them coming out. Our audience figures have greatly increased and we now welcome over 25,000 visitors a year to over 800 screenings a year.

The other key development has been the gradual move from being a volunteer-run organisation to paying our key staff to ensure our long term sustainability. We now have a full time Managing Director, Dan Ellis and 6 part-time Cinema Assistants and Key Holders who are responsible for the safety of the building and our screenings. We still have a small army of volunteers supporting the venue, helping with marketing, programming, ushering and running the foyer bar

The Historic Jam Jar Cinema Model

Jam Jar Cinema is a historic idea where you used to be able to get into the cinema at a discounted rate, or for free, on production of a Jam Jar. This originated in North Tyneside and continued until the 1970’s when the value of glass dropped. By this time it had spread to cinemas all over the country, typically in areas of heavy industry: Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Glasgow; where it was known as J’eely Jar Cinema. But it started here in North Tyneside. We could think of no finer name for our community cinema than ... Jam Jar Cinema!