Empty cinema in Basildon town centre could become creative campus

A cinema, charity shop and a restaurant lying empty in Basildon town centre could be transformed into event spaces.

Basildon Borough Council has applied for a £5million grant from Arts Council England to turn the three council-owned buildings into a “creative campus”, fit with virtual reality gaming and offices.

The plans would see the former Robins Cinema and drop zone, British Heart Foundation furniture store and the American Diner in Great Oaks turned into workspaces for firms in the creative industries, as well as social and events spaces.

According to a council report, these could include places for immersive technology such as virtual reality, in addition to offices for firms in the screen industries, software and computer services.

The council hopes the campus will bring people back into the town centre and boost growth for new digital and technology-based businesses, it continues.

A section reads: “Collectively, this space is designed to both stimulate and support new firms in a growing and emerging sector in which Basildon has considerable strengths, and bring people into the town centre to consume/participate in linked creative digi-tech activities and provide the kind of space that creative people want to hang out in.”

A later section reads: “Basildon Town Centre is in need of renewal, with vacancy rates, the high level of retail frontage, increasing competition from other shopping centres, rising business costs, changing consumer habits and the cost of living crisis all impacting on the vibrancy of the town centre.”

The council submitted an expression of interest to the Arts Council England Creative Development Fund for the grant in July this year.

Last month, it was told the bid had made it to the next stage and was asked to make a full application by November 18.

Cabinet members will now meet on Thursday October 20 to approve the submission, and the spending of £150,000 to cover the next phase of work.

Arts Council England’s fund aims to give people access to arts and culture in areas with historically low levels of cultural engagement to help support economic growth.

The fund has a total budget of £30.2m for 2022/23, according to the report. The final decision will be made by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and applicants will be notified in March 2023.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter