Unlocking lockdown with the Businesses of Leeds: Ilkley Cinema

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The doors are open and the wine is flowing after May 17th marked the moment hospitality in the UK reopened indoors. This significant date in English calendars allowed us to once again reconnect with friends and family in settings other than back gardens and park benches, making it an important step in terms of improving our mental wellbeing through social connections. However, this brave new world is not without the restrictions and parameters put in place in accordance with government guidelines to protect staff and customers. Therefore, although this is a huge phase in the reopening of many social outlets, it has also posed equal challenges as many establishments are unable to function as they have historically done so before.

Ilkley Cinema

Image from: Ilkley Cinema

I spoke to the manager and staff of one such outlet who have adapted to the challenges these new restrictions pose to their business’s financial survival. Ilkley Cinema is an independent business run by two friends in a small town on the outskirts of Leeds. The plush seating and swanky interior set its offerings apart from the traditional cinema experience, but its real draw comes from the well-stocked bar and in-house kitchen which allows staff to provide food and drinks to customers in their cinema seats. However, upon speaking to manager Phil Jones, I learned that COVID-19 restrictions mean the screens cannot be filled to full capacity, halving the business’ primary source of income.


Image from: Ilkley Cinema

Instead of closing, the management team have created a new business model in order to survive in a restricted customer climate. A separate lounge area and outside balcony allows the cinema plenty of space to provide a café/bar experience to those meeting friends for a coffee or a drink, even without going to see a film.

Image from: Ilkley Cinema

Jones described how he furthered this potential by expanding the food menu, previously composed of pizzas and dough balls, to include toasties, chips, tarts and even sharing platters which can be ordered alongside various wines, beers or spirits to create a varied social experience.

Image from: Ilkley Cinema

The past 18 months have been tremendously difficult for many business owners, particularly those of small independent businesses who don’t have a large financial cushion to fall back on. Therefore, adaption to constantly changing circumstances has been the lifeblood of Ilkley Cinema, and its ability to adjust and creatively modify its offerings has allowed its continued survival and entertainment provision to the local community.


When speaking to Phil about the cinema’s importance to the town, he gushed over the continued community support and loyal customer base. He spoke of the backing local residents give the cinema, even when there are a limited number of films available due to the impact of the pandemic on production and added how this sets the cinema apart from national chains such as The Odeon and The View, who are entirely reliant on the production of popular films for their survival. In contrast, Ilkley Cinema provides a social offering and is a centrepiece in the local town, which means customers continue to visit for food, drink and company even when new releases are at an all-time low.

Image from: Ilkley Cinema


All this points to one major recurring theme the recent pandemic has shone a harsh spotlight on: community. The restrictions surrounding social gatherings threw into the limelight the importance of social connections in our everyday lives and when this was physically prevented, people turned to new means of relating to others. One particular resurgence was in listening figures to community radio, something which drives a sense of belonging and unity directly into your living room. The reception LDC has received since launching the station in the first lockdown has been tremendous, and we’re delighted our platform can provide the social connections we have all discovered to be so important in our lives.

We’d love to hear about how your local business has survived the ever-changing COVID landscape, and if you’ve received support from your local community. Contact us through our social media platforms:

Twitter: @LDCRadioLeeds

Instagram: ldcradio

Facebook: @LDCRadio

Written by: Melissa Watson

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