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Funding for your cinema

Find out about organisations that help fund community cinemas, and how to apply.

Screening films is a great way of getting local people from all walks of life together, and there are lots of organisations that award funds to both new and established community cinemas because of the benefits they offer to local people.

You can apply for anything from hundreds to thousands of pounds, as long as you can show exactly how you’d spend the money.

  • How much money should I apply for?

    Before you start filling out application forms, put together a financial plan for your community cinema to work out exactly how much money you’ll need to apply for. Go into detail about what you’ll need for each specific area of your cinema’s operations, such as:

    It’s worth getting some formal quotes for things like audio visual equipment, blackout blinds or advertising space, as you can include these as supporting documents in your funding application.

  • Where can I apply for funding?

    There are many funding application routes you can take – here are some of the key ones.

    The Arts Council

    There are four Arts Councils across the UK that invest National Lottery money in the arts and culture of Great Britain. Their awards are usually between £5,000 and £25,000. Take a look at the Arts Council in your region for more details:

    The Big Lottery Fund

    Every year, The Big Lottery Fund donates millions of pounds of National Lottery money to community groups and projects throughout the UK.

    Awards for All is a Lottery funded grants scheme that funds small, community-based projects across the UK as part of The Big Lottery Fund. As long as your community cinema operates on a not-for-profit basis, you could be awarded anything between £3,000 and £10,000.


    Use a free online service like Crowdfunder or Kickstarter to raise funds for your cinema by collecting donations directly from the people who will benefit from it.

    An increasing number of organisations, individuals and even businesses use crowdfunding to help get initiatives off the ground, and it’s a great way of involving your audience from the very beginning.

    Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

    The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation supports cultural and arts-based organisations all over the UK. In 2013 they awarded over £38 million to a wide range of organisations, helping charities and social enterprises achieve positive change.

    They have several funding strands, so take a look to find out which one is most appropriate for you.

    Local fundraising events

    Ask your local neighbourhood to help out – after all, the community cinema is for them! You could run a fundraiser, or get a team together to take part in a sponsored event. It’s a great way to attract volunteers and new audience members.

    Don’t forget that you can also make money at your screenings through food and drink sales. Selling local produce for your audience to enjoy during the film – such as ice cream and cakes – or to take home with them is a great way to support other local enterprises, too.

    Local government funding for community projects

    You can often apply for funding through your local authority or town council, as there may be a local grant or fund that you can take advantage of.

    Your local Arts Officer may also be able to give you more advice about funding sources, and put you in touch with other organisations that could help.

    Partnerships with other organisations

    Don’t forget to investigate whether you could gain funding through forming partnerships with other local organisations.

    Ask whether a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce in your area would help contribute to your costs in return for discounted tickets, or in return for your cinema running screenings or other film events at their meetings. Working together to promote each other can be a valuable way to increase both funds and awareness.

    Sponsorship, private funding or donations

    There might be some local businesses that are willing to donate money towards your community cinema, or provide sponsorship. Start thinking about who might be interested in an association with your cinema and approach them about any funding opportunities.

    Sponsorship is an ongoing relationship between your cinema and your business partner, so think about what you will offer them in return for their financial backing: will you add their logo to all your promotional material, offer them free tickets to all your events, or give them a page of advertising space in your screening programme?

  • What information will I need to put on my application?

    The funding process varies between the different organisations, but you’ll almost certainly have to fill in a few forms as part of your application. If your community cinema isn’t legally constituted, you might need to ask someone who is – such as your local council or the manager of the venue you use – to apply on your behalf.

    The forms will probably ask for information such as:

    • Detailed budgets for exactly how the funds would be spent
    • Information about who attends your screenings, and how many people come along
    • The role your cinema plays in your local community, and the benefits it offers
    • Your marketing plans and ways of attracting more audience members
    • An idea of your cinema’s ambitions and future plans
    • How your cinema helps the funding organisation achieve its own goals
    • You may also need to write a covering letter summarising your application

    This might sound like a lot of work, but it can be really inspiring to put together your application and get a strong sense of how your cinema could develop.

  • Tips for preparing your application

    • Check the eligibility criteria first to make sure your cinema would qualify
    • Make sure your application is persuasive and stands out from the competition, since you may not be the only community cinema asking for financial assistance
    • Talk about any other plans you have in place for raising money, to show that you are not just reliant on the funding organisation’s donation alone
    • Have all your financial records up to date so that you can be specific about how much funding you need and what the money will be used for
    • Double check the funding application deadline – and make sure you submit yours well in advance!
    • Stay in touch with the organisation to check on progress, as you might have to wait several months to get a decision
    • If you are unsuccessful, you can ask for feedback on your application so that you’re better prepared for making future applications
  • Other ways to find sources of funding

    BFI Film Audience Network

    The BFI Film Audience Network is a group of nine Film Hubs that cover the whole of the UK, bringing all sorts of film-based organisations together to support film activities in their region. Get in touch with your local Film Hub Lead Organisation for advice about potential funding near you.

    Directory of Grant Making Trusts

    Every April, the Directory of Social Change publishes a directory of 2,500 trusts that award funding to a range of organisations.