Tag Archives: Volunteer


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.


To meet and greet members of the public, serve them tea or coffee (alas no Kia-Ora!) and then get to enjoy a film in a superb environment is – for me – truly made to measure.

In October 2018 I resigned as a Director of a non-league football club in Essex – some forty miles from my home in East Sussex, as the travelling was becoming too much of a headache. As my role consumed a large proportion of my (retired) week I was in a quandary as to what could replace it. The very next day (!) I saw a tweet from the Hailsham Pavilion calling for volunteers. As a self-confessed cinema nut (average 2-3 films a week!) this was kismet. Hailsham is a short jaunt from me so I went along to meet the General Manager Paul for a brief interview. It felt like coming home. Having spent many, many hours in darkened venues over the years, to be able to give back something to the community and see films for free was simply too good to miss.

Fast forward seven months and there is zero doubt in my mind that this was exactly the right move for me at exactly the right time. Karma, if you will. The Pavilion is a 203-seater 1921 cinema lovingly restored by the Hailsham Old Pavilion Society and boasts a voluntary force in excess of 170. As one who retired three years ago after a forty year freelance career in IT, servicing clients has always been at the forefront of my thinking. To meet and greet members of the public, serve them tea or coffee (alas no Kia-Ora!) and then get to enjoy a film in a superb environment is – for me – truly made to measure. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the voluntary force behind the Pavilion, every one of whom I have met I have found to be of a similar view to mine – that we get more from volunteering than the clients do! Unlike a lot of the workforce these days, every one of us has a major advantage – we want to be there. Long may my voluntary association with this superb community cinema continue.


I have always hated public speaking before volunteering but it has helped ease my nerves when I do have to speak to a packed audience. I am also more willing at events to go up and introduce myself to people, where as in the past I might have just stayed put in a corner.

I have only been a volunteer for the past two years, but can say it has been great. I have really enjoyed the majority of the experience and have learnt so much from it.

I volunteer for two organisations, Lincoln Film Society and the independent cinema the society screens in, The Venue. The society celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2018 and the Venue is going to be 7 in September.

Although Lincoln Film Society and the Venue are linked I find that the volunteering differs between the two.

With the Lincoln Film Society I have been going for over 14 years, it started with my parents taking me. It was in some ways my education into films and where my interest really started to develop. I had helped on and off since moving back to Lincoln in 2015 and just started to offer my help, until I basically talked my way onto the committee. It was through being part of the society committee that led me to volunteer at The Venue. I had been going to their screening once or twice a week, plus I was always asking what films they were screening next or if they would consider certain films, I think they finally caved in and I was actually asked if I wanted to join their volunteers scheme.

Volunteering for both organisations has taught me a lot, including to be more patient, diplomatic, as well as learning the magic of a spreadsheets! It has boosted my confidence that has fed back to my own work practice. I have always hated public speaking before volunteering but it has helped ease my nerves when I do have to speak to a packed audience. I am also more willing at events to go up and introduce myself to people, where as in the past I might have just stayed put in a corner.

I also enjoy the social side of volunteering. Making new friends with other volunteers, customers, visitors and online through social media. I have enjoyed discussing films and swapping film recommendations with our audiences after screenings. With your regular core audience and members it’s always a pleasure to see them week after week, it’s a bit like an extended family, our own community. Volunteering has made me realise how much film can not only entertain but also teach us, it’s a great resource.

Going to the Cinema For All conference last year was a real eye opener to the good volunteers and film can impact a community, and that’s something to really aspire too in what ever shape or form you can.

Through volunteering I have had the opportunity to help organise special events, which has been great fun but it does makes you realise the time and effort that can go into these things. At times it can be stressful and you do wonder why you bother, it’s just a stupid film after all. But then an audience comes out the screening beaming, saying that’s the best thing they have seen, thanking you – well that’s something magical and you realise that’s why you volunteered the time in the first place.

I think the one thing I have learnt and am still learning is that volunteering is what you make it, you should do it for the right reasons and most importantly it should be enjoyable.


I’m happier, more confident and am even looking at starting a business to try and enable me to do even more of these events across my city.

I’ve been running Film at the Folk Hall for over 3 years now. I was in a bit of a rut with the work I was doing a few years back and found myself feeling a bit lost and uncertain about the future. A good friend of mine asked if I ever did anything for anyone else or volunteered my time to something. It was a fair question, I felt like my whole life revolved around others but I had little tangible to show for it and it certainly hadn’t been helping my mental state. After a very quick look around my local area I found a Community Cinema struggling to fund itself and in need of support. It was a no brainer. I love movies and I love people and I reached out. Three years on I’m running it and it’s become a complete passion project. With my awesome team of volunteers we have built the audience from an average of 38 to 75 and we’re able to run free social impact events on a regular basis. I’m still doing exactly the same work but now balance has been restored. I’m happier, more confident and am even looking at starting a business to try and enable me to do even more of these events across my city.

Our next screening is First Man and it will be our first ‘Pay it Forward’ event. We won’t be charging a penny for the tickets but will have a collection for York’s Foodbank and will be extending the chance for our audience to go out there and do something good for someone else following the event. It can be anything they want, giving blood, or having a coffee and a chat with a homeless person. Perhaps catching up with an old friend who needs cheering up. Whatever it is, we believe that doing something nice for someone else is win-win every time and has real power in it for both parties involved. We’re asking for our audience to share their ‘Planned-in acts of kindness’ with us so watch this space to see if our little social experiment works!

Find out more about Film at the Folk Hall here.


For me, the best thing about volunteering is the sense of achievement when we overcome barriers to pull off something amazing.

I’m one of a team of volunteers who run Sinema Sadwrn, a community cinema based in Llansadwrn, west Wales. For such a small place, Llansadwrn has a lot of committees – one for the annual show, one for the Reading Room (our small community hall), a community council and more besides. However, the closure of Llansadwrn school in 2017 was a blow to village life, and setting up Sinema Sadwrn was one of the ways the community reacted to it.

A group of us came together in 2018, keen to offer a new, regular, social event in the village that could bring people of all ages together. It was all hands on deck at the beginning, but with support from people like Cinema for All, we’ve learnt to organise ourselves to make the best use of our different skills and experiences.

Our committee of volunteers includes a Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, marketing officer, technical whizz and me. I look after film programming and licensing. Through volunteering, I’ve built relationships with Film Hub Wales and the BFI amongst others, and developed a broader knowledge of film. I also seek out Welsh-made short films to show before our main features, which involves quite a bit of research – it’s lovely to find new talent ready to share their work. Our village has a mix of English and Welsh speakers and all our posters and programmes are bilingual, so I also take care of any translation work.

For me, the best thing about volunteering is the sense of achievement when we overcome barriers to pull off something amazing. Last summer, we put on a free screening in a marquee on the village field as part of the Llansadwrn ‘big party’. Faced with expensive costs and practical challenges, we turned to the community for support. We raised funds through sponsorship to cover the outdoor license fee and bought some improvised black-out material (garden weed barrier) to convert the marquee into a cinema. It was a busy few weeks and an exhausting day, but I think we all felt proud of our efforts as we sat down to enjoy a cheesy musical with the community.

Volunteering can be hard work – the toughest aspect for me is trying not to overcommit. There have been points where I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, and I’m sure other volunteers have felt the same way. I work full time and fit in cinema commitments around that, so it’s helped me value my time and I’m gradually learning to balance things better. It’s important to know what’s achievable within your means, and to ask for help if you’re struggling. I’m lucky to have a friendly team to fall back on, and we regularly review workloads and responsibilities at our meetings.

It’s really rewarding to feel that we’re working as a team to do something positive for our community, and great to hear from our audience that they like what we’re doing.


We are so excited to announce the programme for the Student and Young Volunteer Cinema Programmers Day on 23 February!

Join us and University of Westminster Film Society for a day of workshops, networking, exciting film screenings, and talks about volunteer film programming and running a student cinema. The day is aimed at students and 18-30 year olds running their own community cinemas, but is open to all ages.


Highlights include discussions from a panel of student cinema/young organisers, a workshop on programming to change the world and introducing audiences to films that may change their worldview, and film screenings of Vote 100: Born a Rebel, Border and another exciting preview (TBC).

Tickets cost just £20 (including a light lunch and refreshments).
We also have a number of bursaries available to assist with ticket and travel costs! Contact Ellie on ellie@cinemaforall.org.uk to enquire.


Trustees Week: Gemma Bird

To celebrate Trustees Week (7-13 November) we interviewed Cinema For All’s Vice Chair, Gemma Bird about her role as a Trustee and what inspired her to become one.

Tell us about your role as a Trustee.

I became a trustee in March 2014 after volunteering for Cinema For All in the past and coming to learn how important I felt the organisation was to supporting and growing the community cinema movement. This is something I felt I really wanted to be a part of and I felt I had skills and experience that would be helpful to the organisation. I first got involved in film societies and community cinema whilst completing my PhD and joining the University of Sheffield student cinema Film Unit. During my time at Film Unit I came to understand how important film societies could be, not only in bringing communities together through the enjoyment of film but also for fundraising, raising awareness of issues and teaching children and youth groups key skills through getting to run their own cinema for a day.

Since joining the board of Cinema For All I have had two roles: I took on the role of acting Treasurer whilst we looked for a replacement which was a really helpful (and steep) learning curve for better understanding charity finance and governance, before becoming Vice Chair in 2015. As part of my role I get involved in strategy (I lead on the Board’s Education and Culture Working Group feeding into discussions with the staff about how to meet this key charitable objective), I also try to support the staff team as much as possible when needed as well as supporting the Chair. I also get to be involved in the yearly Community Cinema Conference and Film Society of the Year awards which is always a privilege. 

Why did you want to be a Trustee for Cinema For All?

I wanted to be a trustee because I think the work of the organisation is so important. I wanted to be able to help and support this work in some small way, especially as we are focusing more and more on the All in our name really meaning All. Beyond believing in the important work of the organisation, I also really enjoy community cinema and I want to continue to be a part of and support the movement and I felt this was the right way for me to do this at this time. 

What have you found particularly enjoyable or satisfying whilst being a Trustee at Cinema For All?

The opportunity to work with and support our fantastic staff team is always an honor, as is working with the rest of the board. What I find particularly special though is the opportunity to hear about all the fantastic volunteers giving up their time to be a part of the community cinema and film society movement; to learn about their events and stories, and to be inspired by all the amazing things they achieve. Thus, my most enjoyable moments are probably at the Film Society of the Year Awards and Community Cinema Conference, when every year I can learn more about the fantastic things people are achieving and to be truly humbled and inspired by them. 

Why is it important for someone like you to be a Trustee?

It is important to make the most of the skill set you have and to use it help and develop charitable organisations. You won’t always have the answer, and you will always be learning from the amazing team around you, but the arts and voluntary sectors are a vital part of our wider society. If you can help in any small way to make sure they continue to flourish it is important to do so. Beyond that, I think it is important for younger people to join boards, in particular younger women who have been under represented in the past. The different types of knowledge, experience and understanding you bring to a situation may not have been built up over the same length of time but is still important because the more  perspectives you have on a board, the better prepared you will be and hopefully the more representative.