A historic former cinema in Kings Heath will host an outdoor Christmas market to showcase local independents – if the current lockdown ends on December 2.
With a rare 1955 Bedford fire truck already on site ready to serve coffees, the move is sure to delight anyone who wanted to visit Birmingham’s now-canceled 21st German Christmas Market this winter.
The Kingsway on Kings Heath High Street is nothing more than an abandoned facade since a fire destroyed most of the building in 2011.
But the cleared land at the back has already been used successfully as an open-air cinema in August and September.
The plan now is to open a Christmas market there from Thursday, December 3 – assuming the lockdown ends on December 2, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his October 31 address to the nation.
Creation of a market place
The earthen bowl behind the cinema has been laid out with tons of gravel so that it can withstand heavy rains.
The central area was covered by a “marquee” which was opened for cinema screenings at the end of the summer and which has been preserved.
Picnic tables are set up and color coded to implement social distancing.
Stands with integrated plastic screens are all under construction and the cinema bar is being rebuilt.
A locally preserved historic Bedford fire truck from 1955 is already on site, renamed Kaffeinas Coffee Club.
A single-decker Leyland Leopard bus run by the Moseley-based community interest company (CIC), Off The Scale, will also be an attraction.
But it’s the independent artisan traders in the local neighborhood who are touted as the biggest draw of all.
With Kings Heath now part of a six month experiment to create a low traffic neighborhood program, the focus of the market will be on creating a amenity where local artisans can sell to those who live locally.
To add to the festive atmosphere, the site could be open until 9:30 p.m. if restrictions allow – giving the attraction lights more than four hours of total darkness for maximum effect.
Former local music promoter Eddie O’Callaghan is once again leading the transformation of the site with the blessing of its future developers, Nestings Redleaf Ltd.
Eddie said: “Rather than going out with all the guns, the cinema was a great way to present this space that has to be seen to be truly appreciated.
“We are planning a safe and socially remote gathering place for local communities with everything from bars to food, music, vintage, craft and cheese stalls, mulled wine and chestnuts.
“We hope to spread the joy of Christmas in these difficult times.
“Most of our booths have already been booked by word of mouth, that’s how we wanted to do it because a lot of people just want to be able to shop locally.
“With our tables we’ll have room for about 100 people at a time, but until the board can give us directions, we can’t say for sure what we’ll do.
“We have to get out of lockdown first and then, if we do, it depends on how far we are in terms of any restrictions.
“But we had already done a lot of work to prepare the site for the outdoor cinema, so this latest transformation is much easier in comparison.
“There will be a different scenario every day and it won’t be just for Christmas.
“We also want to continue the site as a seasonal market for the new year.
“We are very careful about how we put everything together, but there is a lot of fresh air here to help people feel safe.
“Whether we are at level 3 or otherwise (post lockdown), we will follow all directions of the board.
“We are building a new website and will have a reservation system.
“We will have professionally presented music played below 85dB with respect to the neighbors, but there will be no dancing.”
Long term future
The developers are currently working on plans to reassign the site with a view to possibly working from 2022.
Nestings Redleaf Ltd is managed by business partners Paul Bishton and Nirmal Vora.
The idea is to create a mixed-use site that will include recreation facilities as well as houses, but firm plans have yet to be submitted to Birmingham City Council.
The length of planning and funding means there’s a good chance the site will be a movie theater again next summer with another market to follow if this winter’s first event is well supported by locals.
Paul Bishton said: “As the owner of the building, Nestings Redleaf is delighted to support and work with Eddie and his team on their upcoming Christmas Market at The Kingsway, Kings Heath.
“He and his team have worked tirelessly throughout the summer to deliver the brilliant pop-up cinema which we know has been warmly received within the community.
“This time around, with Covid-19 causing the cancellation of so many Christmas plans across the country, we hope the Kings Heath Christmas Market is a shining light, bringing much needed winter cheer to Kings Heath!
“For Nestings Redleaf, this is all part of the search for an exciting new lens for the old Kingsway cinema.
“We want to develop something that celebrates its heritage, including the High Street uses that the community really needs, but which is fundamentally economically viable to develop.
“Achieving this balance takes time and effort behind the scenes, but in the meantime, we will continue to welcome innovative and exciting uses of the land, ahead of The Kingsway’s rebirth! “