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Leigh Film Society: Orange bags of cinema sunshine

Leigh Film Society:
Looking after communities in lockdown with their ‘orange bags of cinema sunshine’

Leigh Film Society, based in Greater Manchester, is a famous name in the community cinema world. Founded in 2013, Leigh Film Society have inspired groups across the UK with their dedication to serving their communities, and their extensive work focussed on battling social isolation and providing new opportunities for disadvantaged groups in their area. They are multi-award winners at the annual Film Society of the Year Awards, and were presented with the prestigious Film Society of the Year award back in 2017.
During lockdown, Leigh Film Society, have been providing a very special service in their communities, by delivering DVDs to vulnerable and/or isolated people. They are made up of a team of dedicated volunteers, including the wonderful Elizabeth Costello – who also features on the Digital Releases During Lockdown episode of the Cinema For All Podcast. We wanted to talk to her about their inspiring DVD delivery initiative, and the impact that this has had on their community.

Can you tell us a bit about the Leigh?

Leigh is the second largest town in the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, and suffers from severe deprivation. It is a post-industrial town which has lost many of its traditional jobs over the past thirty years (particularly in textiles, mining and engineering) and has the lowest social mobility of any area in the UK.

The community of Leigh is inspiring a cultural revival by restoring places like Spinners Mill a Grade II listed mill that hosts an inclusive and varied cultural programme, and where Leigh Film Society have established a base!

Our film society, Leigh Film Society, is an independent community cinema charity. Established in 2013, we use film screenings to fight against social isolation, create opportunities for young people and support community cohesion. We have many different film screening projects from the Evening Film Society, Afternoon Classic Cinema Club, our Annual Short Film Festival, Community Cinema events, monthly Saturday family matinees, and an Adult and Young Carer’s Film Club.

Leigh has always been a cultural town bursting with talent and enthusiasm for the arts; a town rich in its heritage and community spirit!

Leigh Film Society is an inspiration to so many community cinemas because of your incredible breadth of work. What have been some of your most notable achievements so far?

Over the past seven years we have used film screenings to commemorate national events, raise awareness to campaigns and to help raise money for good causes whilst bringing the best in non-mainstream films to our town. We’ve had so many achievements, it’s hard to select a notable one! Winning Cinema for All’s 2017 Film Society of the year was a big deal for us and that really meant so much to receive national recognition.

We are made up of 100% volunteers at Leigh Film, and in June 2018 we were extremely proud to be awarded The Queens Award for Voluntary Service for “Providing socially-inclusive cinema screenings for everyone in the community and broadening access to culture”.

In 2020 we were awarded Edge Hill University’s 2020 Employer of the Year for the work we do with student work placements at our annual short film festival. It is really important, in a post industrial town, to create opportunities to support young people enhancing their CVs to get into the film industry.

Something I personally enjoy is that we have reinvigorated the family Saturday matinees. We have also recently started a new Carer’s Film Club which gives valuable respite to adult carers and young carers – cinema escapism is perfect for this.

You are doing something amazing during lockdown to look after your community. Please can you tell us about your DVD delivery service?

With no screening events able to take place, we started looking at ways to keep film in our community. We tried a few online screenings and set up a forum for film discussion. With our vast DVD collection we decided to offer it out to vulnerable people living in isolation. The response was amazing – there’s so many people out there living alone. With support from Forever Manchester we were able to offer a DVD delivery service, run entirely by Leigh Film Society Volunteers.

Requests started to come in from Facebook, Twitter and via our Wigan Council’s community hubs. When people get in touch, we check out their preferences and then a bag is delivered containing from 6-8 DVDs, as well as a treat to enjoy while watching! There is no personal contact as the deliveries are left on their doorstep. All bags are age appropriate and we call them our ‘orange bags of cinema sunshine’!

For many years, we have championed cinema therapy and the therapeutic benefits that cinema offers. Watching films is a great way to escape to another time or place and a relaxing way to take our minds off the current crisis.

What inspired you to start this initiative?

The initiative was inspired by our afternoon classic cinema club as we knew so many of our members lived alone. We wanted to stay connected with them and show our support.

We saw that you received some DVDs from Studio Canal as a thank you for all the hard work that you’re doing – congratulations! Do you have any advice for other groups on approaching a studio of this size for support with a project?

To be honest, I just messaged them and they responded! It was as simple as that. However, we do keep our social media up to date and can clearly evidence what we’re doing in our community. I’m sure they will have taken a look at us first and researched before responding – they said they liked what we’re doing and wanted to help. Due to the success of the project, we have put out numerous requests for DVD’s donations. People in the community have really got behind this initiative and donations are coming in on a regular basis!

What feedback have you had from people in your community about how it has helped them in isolation?

The feedback and positive comments have been wonderful, and the smiling faces when we deliver the DVDs makes it all worthwhile.

It’s wonderful to receive feedback like this:

“Thank you for the DVDs. You really lifted my spirits. Not only with the delivery but the content. The film Along came Polly. Gave me a giggle as I’m known as Polly. Thank you for your kindness.”

We have now expanded this project to include: primary school children who are vulnerable, children who are accessing free school meals, refugee groups, care homes and carers.

What it has highlighted to us is the amount of people and families who are not online or can’t afford the streaming channels. This is a concern that we need a digital reform for the most disadvantaged in our society.

When this is all over we will return to our regular screening programmes bringing great films for everyone.

Find out more about Leigh Film Society on their website, and on their social media channels, @LeighFilm (Twitter) and @LeighFilmSociety (Facebook). You can also download this full case study as a PDF here.


We were touched by this personal message from Elizabeth Costello. Elizabeth leads the award-winning Leigh Film Society, and we are always so impressed by her motivation and dedication to community cinema. This article was printed by Wigan Council, for a piece about saying ‘thank you’.

The person I would like to thank isn’t here to say thank you. I don’t know their gender, I don’t know their name, I don’t know anything about them. All I know is that the kindness of this stranger is the reason I am here today.

Following cancer treatment, I had renal failure and spent five years on renal dialysis, 3-4 days a week, being kept alive by a machine, never knowing if things would change.

In 2012, the phone call came to say that a compatible kidney donor had been found. The call came in the middle of the night so I just knew immediately what it was and my heart started racing.

I’d like to tell me donor that when you’re given a second chance at life it forces you to think about what’s important. I decided to put my knowledge of film to good use and, in 2013, I set up a film society. Six years later, we have an amazing team of people and use film screenings to fight against social isolation, create opportunities for young people and bring the community together.

To my donor, I would say that I want more than anything to make you proud and to make my life count for something so that your decision to leave the gift of life was worth it.


A review by Elizabeth Costello, Leigh Film Society

I was delighted to win two tickets for this ground-breaking event – a celebration of working class people who have achieved success in the film industry, curated by Cinema For All Patron Danny Leigh.

Coming from a working-class background myself, and running a film society that falls within one of the most deprived communities in the country, I very much wanted to fly the flag and represent our town and our great achievements as an award-winning film society. Alongside this, my daughter Emma lives and works in London in film production and has first-hand experience of how hard it is for people from a working-class background and how having a northern accent can mean working harder to be accepted within this industry.

There were so many panels it was difficult to choose as each one promised to deliver quality discussions.

Keynote Speech – Maxine Peake
Maxine Peake is one of the most famous working class heroes. Maxine is very often political which she feels is important as a public figure if asked to have an opinion. She spoke openly and honestly about her struggles for acceptance and is a strong voice for working class people and all things northern. She recently made a documentary called The Acting Class about the financial struggles of young people affording high end drama schools. Leigh Film Society CIC helped in the making of this film with sponsorship. We felt it was important to support working class drama students across the country and to help get their message across about the difficulties they face, proving there is no greater barrier to socially mobility than money. Danny mentioned Maxine’s new film called Funny Cow about a working-class female comedian on the club circuit, prompting Maxine to say how working-class people use comedy to lighten the load.

How To Make It – Vicky McClure, Jonny Harris and Asif Kapadia
Leigh Film Society had recently screened the Johnny Harris film Jawbone. It’s an outstanding film made with passion and perfectly demonstrates the struggles of working class people. I was really looking forward to listening to Johnny Harris. He didn’t disappoint. His passion for filmmaking and representing the underdog really came through. It turned out to be a great panel, keeping its focus on celebrating working class heroes and not making the privileged or middle-class members of the audience feel under attack. Johnny made some great points about casting agents and how they need to get away from RADA and check out the undiscovered talent at local colleges and drama groups. It is now his mission in life to make this happen. This panel was entertaining, funny and focused on exactly what the event was about.

Woodfall – Actors Rita Tushingham, Tom Courtenay and Joely Richardson, Journalist Paris Lees and Filmmaker Jez Butterworth explore the gritty stories brought to life by Woodfall Films
This turned out to be a lovely session taking the audience on a journey reminiscing through the many films made by Director Tony Richardson. Listening to Rita Rustington talking about the films she’d made with Woodfall and how coming from Liverpool she was a new breed of working class actor.

So many groundbreaking films made in the late 50s and 60s that raised issues about class tensions and at the time were referred to British New Wave. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) is still shown in schools today. Joely Richardson spoke with so much affection for her father’s films and how location was import to him. Rather than using studios he used actual deprived estates keeping his films authentic. I particularly enjoyed Tom Courtney reminiscing about the many comparisons over the years between himself and Albert Finney. These antidotes delighted the audience.

We had a wonderful day together celebrating and recognising the great work and successes of working class people. I cannot praise Danny Leigh enough for putting Clss on the agenda and hosting this event.


With the annual Film Society of the Year Awards just around the corner, we wanted to catch up with some of our past award winners and see what they’re up to.

Leigh Film Society, founded in 2013, are an inspiring group of film enthusiasts based in Leigh, Greater Manchester. We asked Rob Tongeman from the society a few questions about what they’ve been doing and anything that they have in the pipeline.

Which award did you win?

Film Discovery Award
Community Cinema Award
Film Society of the Year

How did winning an award at Film Society of the Year impact Leigh Film Society?

We have had increased interest from both members of the public (which means busier screenings) and the press. It has raised our profile within the community. Please see our website’s “Press Coverage” page.

What was the highlight of the past year for Leigh Film Society?

Our society winning the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is a massive honour to be recognised in this manner.

Do you have any upcoming screenings for us to look forward to?

We are holding a charity screening of Toy Story for the local Action4Alfie charity which is for a little boy with Duchennes Muscular Distrophy. We are also holding a screening of 24 Hour Party People to conicide with the 40th Anniversary of Factory Records, Manchester this year. As part of our normal programme we are screening, The Shape of Water, Airplane (our annual retro comedy month), Downsizing, Prevenge (Halloween film) & Journey’s End.

We are also in the planning stage of a “cozy” Christmas screening of a classic film (undecided right now) for our members & regulars which will have food and drinks before and during the event.

Anything else that you’d like to tell us about?

We held a screening of Suffragette earlier this year in support of our Leigh based WASPI ladies. This was an event they approached us to do.

We held a sing-a-long event screening of the Sound of Music. This was very well attended including 2 local ladies choirs.

We have also already this year screened, A Man Called Ove, Jawbone, OSS 117 Lost in Rio, Land of Mine & Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

We collect audience ratings (when able) after our film screenings and place the scores on our “Past Screenings” page of the website.

You can see further pictures and video from some of the events on the “Gallery” page of the website.



‘Receiving advice, guidance, support and recognition from ‘Cinema for All’ has given Leigh Film Society the credibility and confidence to drive forward its mission to deliver a wealth of film and film knowledge. Delivering film screenings that has benefit to all that live, work and visit our Community’ – Paul Costello – Chair of Leigh Film Society CIC

‘[These sessions] have given me so much to think about and so much to do that will enhance our profile. I always tell people that we are a not for profit organisation run entirely by volunteers, but [you] have made me realise we are more than that, we provide our community with professional film delivery and a real alternative to the mainstream. So much to shout out about.’ Leigh Film Society’s Development Director Elizabeth Costello, speaking at the Community Cinema Conference 2016

Leigh Film Society, established October 2013, was named Cinema For All’s Film Society of the Year 2017. We caught up with them to talk about their work, and Leigh Film Society’s plans for 2018 and beyond.

How and why did your community cinema come to be?

The idea behind Leigh Film Society came in October 2013, with a café in Tyldesley and some friends who started a Film Club. We regarded ourselves as film enthusiasts, but we found that if you wanted to see a film that wasn’t a CGI blockbuster and was maybe a little bit different, then it would mean a trip into Manchester. We decided to bring non-mainstream, art-house, foreign language films to our home town. It soon became apparent that the small café gave us no room to develop and grow, so when the opportunity came along to move to the Turnpike Centre in Leigh, we took it. In September 2014, we re-launched as Leigh Film Society.

Where is your group located? Does this affect how you approach running your group in any way?

Leigh Town, which falls within the wider Borough of Wigan Council, is historically an old mining town. We keep the history of our town in mind and think about films that will appeal to our industrial, mining, and cultural history.
Six of our Communities in Wigan rank within the top 10% most deprived in the Country.
Of these six, three are ranked within the top 3% most deprived in England. We take the cost of attending Leigh Film Society events seriously, as our town has many low-income families. For example, although we do sell refreshments, we also allow everyone to bring their own food and drink.

What is your ethos?

‘Providing Great Film for Everyone’

Leigh Film Society is a group of individuals who act as one ensuring the above Ethos is followed.
No one person will be given credit or kudos for the Film Society and Festival, as it is a team enterprise:

Leigh Film Society will ensure that the Society is welcoming and available to all. We implement an approach that is anti-oppressive, and focus on equality, respect and dignity, to ensure diversity and participation from all groups within the local community.
Leigh Film Society will ensure constant development and improvement of the Society as changing needs present themselves, maintaining an innovative approach and flexibility in meeting people’s needs.
Leigh Film Society will encourage all members/volunteers to attend meetings, be involved in decision making processes, and contribute to the Society’s development.

How would you describe your approach to programming? What influences you to choose the films you do?

Film programming is the most difficult task, and the one thing that we almost always disagree on. When we make selections, we look at what other groups near us are doing, what’s trending, Cinema For All recommendations, and what film critics are saying.

We can always tell when we’ve made a bad choice – by poor attendance. Some of our most successful film selections have been based on national commemorative events, or our annual retro comedy night. We know that our audience feedback will tell us if we get it right.

Monthly Classic Cinema Club (Afternoon) – Screening the all-time great classic films and musicals. This project is aimed at people who are socially isolated, living with Dementia, with Carers or anyone who loves classic films. Now in our fourth year we have opened a second Classic Cinema Club, due to popular demand. All Society volunteers have taken dementia awareness training.

Monthly Leigh Film Society (Evening) – Screening art-house, foreign language, retro comedy, documentaries and independent films. We aim to screen non-mainstream films that will challenge and push boundaries. We are also aware that a trip to the cinema should be fun and something you want to return to. With that in mind we provide a diverse and entertaining programme.

Annual Leigh Short Film Festival – A showcase and celebration of low budget short films.

Ad hoc Community screening events – Community screening events that are varied in programming, specialist and cultural interest, working with other community groups, local government projects, national commemorations and all to benefit community cohesion.

What inspired you to take the different approaches to the initiatives in your film projects: the elderly in Classic Cinema Club, for creatives in Screenwriting and LSFF, and for film aficionados in Discussion Club in addition to your regular programming?

Sometimes the simplest of ideas and encounters can be fundamental in inspiring other initiatives.

Classic Cinema Club
The afternoon classic cinema club came about as the venue was set up and technically prepared for the evening film society. As we needed to stay at the venue with our equipment we decided to open for an afternoon screening of the classics. It didn’t matter to us if attendance was low – we wanted to offer an afternoon to anyone who loved the classics. We contacted local pensioners groups and Age UK to promote this offer. We soon realised that there was a real need for this service as there was a lack of cultural provision for the senior community. Due to demand, we have now opened a second club and are looking to open a third mid-2018. We remain entirely volunteer led and offer an affordable alternative to multiplex cinemas.

Wigan Film Discussion Group
Following a film screening at our regular evening film society, people would mingle and talk about the film. The venue needed to close, but this always felt like a neglected and yet important part of any film screening. Two members who travel from Wigan offered to open a film discussion group and invite members to watch a film at home and then discuss at the monthly meeting. The aficionado of the group, Andrew Nowell, is a local reporter whose passion is for creative writing and film and the Media Director for Leigh Film Society.
This meeting takes place in a back room at a Wigan pub thus avoiding room hire and other costs. This group has developed slowly and has now set a programme for the year discussing films through the century. With our new partnership with Edge Hill University the invitation has gone out to film studies students to join the group, taking part in a community project outside of their educational environment.

Another society member named Abigail Henry, whose passion and qualifications are in scriptwriting and film-making, approached Leigh Film Society for support in setting up a local group of scriptwriters. We could support this group financially, and use our website and social media for promotion. The idea behind the group is that local scriptwriters meet, talk through their individual projects, and support and encourage each other. The aim is that one day their films might be made and submitted to the Leigh Short Film Festival.

Leigh Short Film Festival
Leigh Film Society was part of another group that met quarterly to discuss arts provision in Leigh. Where people with passion for film and community meet with no other agenda than to provide the best possible cultural offering in the community, anything is possible. Together with creative writers, local filmmakers, and volunteers, the idea to showcase and celebrate local filmmakers came about in September 2014. The festival is a joint venture of volunteers from many other arts groups and individuals and continues to go from strength to strength.

Over the years you have been operating, what would you say have been your biggest successes?

When we started in October 2013, we didn’t know what to expect. We had an idea, but no aspirations or targets other than that we wanted to provide great film at an affordable cost that would bring people together. Now, over four years later, we have received many awards and nominations. None of this could have been achieved without the hard work, passion for film and commitment of Leigh Film Society volunteers. To be Film Society of the Year is the ultimate accolade for what we do. Its says to everyone we’re getting it right in delivering quality community cinema.

Volunteers are normally unsung heroes of the community. In November 2017, we were honoured to be nominated for the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Without a doubt there is no higher accolade for a volunteer to win.

Everyone on the team will have a favorite film or event. One of best community screenings was when we screened Life of Brian in our local Parish Church. The people attending this sold out event totally engaged with the film and many people dressed up. A fully immersive cinema event enjoyed by so many people in a venue that you wouldn’t expect to screen this religiously controversial film.

It is always great when a community groups appears on TV. When we were approached by ITV News who had heard about our work with Classic cinema, it was an immensely proud moment for Leigh Film Society.

We are honoured to have two Patrons who support our work with community cinema – award winning actors Christopher Eccleston and Ben Batt, both originally local to the area.

How do you promote your screenings, and how often are they?

We screen three times a month: two afternoon Classic Cinema Clubs, and one evening Film Society. We also do about six ad hoc Community screenings throughout the year.

The best marketing and advertising is anything that is free. We use social media daily, through Twitter and Facebook, and our website is maintained by a volunteer who is a qualified digital technician.
We also send out a monthly newsletter to over 1000 email addresses. Many senior citizens are not on the internet and the only way of communicating is through leaflet drops, local newspaper articles (free) and, most importantly, word of mouth. We regularly visit local care homes and day centres to deliver leaflets and to put up posters.

Tell us about your links with the local community, and connections with local groups and organisations?

After 4 years of delivering community cinema we feel that our name, brand and commitment is well known in the community. Where there was no film focus in Leigh, we have now provided four film projects and various ad hoc screenings in different venues. We believe a success is measured in the number of people attending and then coming back and recommending us to friends.

We have taken our plans to be a community cinema seriously and carefully selected films that have wide appeal. We have carefully chosen venues that have community focus and can help us make further connections with the people and community groups that use them.

After all costs are taken into consideration (such as film licenses, room hire, etc.), we believe in giving back into local good causes and supporting grassroots clubs.

What’s coming up at Leigh Film Society? How can people get updates on you, and get involved?

Our website is updated on a regular basis, there you will find special events, memberships, film information and how to get involved.

We agreed dates for another year in partnership with French Angers – Wigan Twinning Town. These French film nights are very popular with the French-speaking community who live in the Borough.

We are immensely proud to be working with Edge Hill University offering work placements and work experience opportunities. Edge Hill Film Production students made a short video about the LSFF 2017, and really captured the young vibe of the event. We will be working with Edge Hill PR students on a campaign to get young people involved in community projects like a Leigh Film Society. This campaign will run for several months giving the students real practical public relations experience.

Within the regular evening film society, we will continue to screen and deliver a diverse programme. In August 2018 we’ll commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Manchester’s Factory Records with a screening of the iconic film 24 Hour Party People. This screening, along with our film in November Journeys End, will compliment art exhibitions at our monthly venue the Turnpike art gallery. Working and screening in partnerships is important to our development. 2018 will see collaborations with Autism awareness groups and an ex-servicemen’s charity, screening films that are of benefit to their members and families.

How did you find out about Cinema for All, and how has being involved with us helped your group?

When we first started out we were not aware of the help that was available. It wasn’t until we successfully applied for BFI Neighborhood Equipment Fund that we discovered the wealth of help and support. Cinema For All has provided Leigh Film with advice, guidance and support that has helped us stay on a pathway to a successful community cinema project. We have been successful in funding through the Sustain support scheme and find someone from the team is always there to answer a question. Nothing is ever too much to ask. Without Cinema for All’s guidance and support we would not be Film Society of the Year.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone who has just started up or is thinking about starting up a community cinema?

Think about sustainability as funding is great if you can get it, but it is not guaranteed.

You’ve been operating for several years now. What would you say is the key to your longevity?

We always say you cannot operate a film society without a passion for film and a love of community. However, listening to your audience is paramount.

All the above questions were answered by Elizabeth Costello – Development Director of Leigh Film Society