The Rio Cinema in Hackney: "There’s nothing quite like it left." (Pic credit: Tom Williams)

By Tom Williams

HACKNEY’S Rio Cinema was forced to close yesterday after staff walked out in what they are calling a fight to ‘save the soul’ of the building.

The row, which started with calls by the staff to be paid the London Living Wage, has become increasingly bitter over recent weeks after management announced plans to modernise the 101-year-old cinema.

The plans include restructuring staff roles and pay and moving to an automated screening system as well as installing a second screen and new cafe and bar area.

Oliver Meek, Executive Director of the Rio, said the changes were a response to the serious financial problems faced by the cinema which lost £40,000 last year. “I’m really disappointed by the strike, I’m distraught by it,” he said. “But this is about evolving in order to exist. The operation here hasn’t changed since 1999 and the world of cinema has changed immeasurably since then.”

Staff have claimed that they were not consulted on the changes and that they undermine the ethos of the cinema because of they will mean that less community events can be held there.

They left their posts at 3.30pm and staged a loud picket outside the building on Kingsland Road for over four hours.

Staff and their supporters on the picket line outside the RIo: "We’ve really been given no option at all.”
Staff and their supporters on the picket line outside the Rio: “We’ve really been given no option at all.” (Pic credit: Tom Williams)

One member of staff who has worked at the cinema for 15 years said that he had been told his employment would finish on the 12th June. The man, who asked not to be named, said: “People choose to come here because of the experience and the integrity of the building. It’s one of the last links back to how cinema was in London. There’s nothing quite like it left.

“That’s why we work here. I’ve dedicated myself to this place and I owe it a lot, it runs very deeply for me. Obviously it has to remain viable but the management seem to want to turn it into something where the cinema is secondary.

“We have to strike because they haven’t listened. We’re powerless in the building so we have to take it outside. We’ve really been given no option at all.”

However Meek dismissed claims of a “corporate takeover” saying “it’s really more of an ideological thing where some staff who have been here a long time resent the idea of change.”

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