BFI invests £6.48 million to grow audience engagement, with details announced for 17 projects across the UK

BFI National Lottery Audience Projects Fund aims to secure 4.67 million admissions over three years with a focus on audiences representative of the UK population.

13 April 2023

Oska Bright Film Festival team at OBFF Awards

Details of the first awards from the new BFI National Lottery Audience Projects Fund are published today. A total of almost £6.5 million will support ambitious, audience-facing independent UK and international film and broader screen activity of national scale from April 2023. A combination of long-term funding over three years, through to support for short-term projects, will meet the fund’s objectives of growing new audiences and engaging audiences who are representative of the UK population.

The Audience Projects Fund has been designed to be flexible and broad in terms of the audience facing activity it can support. Thirteen awards are for multi-year projects running until March 2026; recognising the importance of long-term stability for the exhibition sector, and enabling long-term and strategic audience development interventions to attract and retain new audiences. The funding supports six venues, four festival and specialist projects, and three audience development organisations over three years, as well as four awards for short-term activity.

The 17 projects combined aim to generate 4.67 million admissions UK-wide. These initial awards from the fund see work to deliver against priorities to support inclusive activity, grow underrepresented audiences and have a UK-wide impact. The awards represent support for 203,846 screenings, of which 91,357 will be accessible screenings (45%); the average number of accessible screenings per project is 50%. Of the 17 awards, 11 are to organisations based outside of London and South East England, although all awarded projects will have activity outside the region. 

Ben Luxford, BFI’s Head of UK Audiences, said: “As we kick off our new BFI National Lottery strategy, we’re proud to support these organisations to focus on the necessity of growing new audiences, to celebrate and champion fantastic screen culture and enrich communities across the UK. Our National Lottery funding is for public benefit, so we are working with projects which have demonstrated a strong commitment to reaching and welcoming audiences who are currently underserved by their activities. These projects also demonstrate the variety of activity and organisations we can support through the fund, which I hope inspires future applicants.”

StoryTrails Brixton Library

Multi-year awards (April 2023 to March 2026)


Broadway Cinema awarded £480,000, for ‘BROADER

Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema will pilot targeted marketing initiatives and partner with community organisations in order to develop audiences that currently have low engagement with the venue. 

HOME awarded £555,000, for ‘Re-building a diverse audience’ 
Focusing on opening up the venue to a greater range of audiences that are representative of Manchester’s population, funding will support increased partnership working, changes in working practices, and new programming/marketing initiatives.

Phoenix Leicester awarded £270,000, for ‘MyPhoenix 2026’ 

Phoenix will rebuild its audience following a large capital project, Phoenix 2020, extending its reach to new, young and diverse audiences through a newly created outreach role, new partnerships and guest curators as well as an increased commitment to access to ensure more people in Leicester have access to a breadth of film.  

Queen’s Film Theatre awarded £270,000, for ‘Priority Audiences’ 

Belfast’s QFT will undertake a comprehensive audience research project to better understand its audiences and their relationship with the venue. It aims to use it to engage more diverse audiences in its programme, and will invest in the expansion of its young audience initiative, LUMI.  

Showroom Cinema awarded £480,000, for ‘Another Country’ 

Sheffield’s Showroom will change working practices and activities in a long-lasting and meaningful way, with a focus on increasing young audience numbers and broadening engagement with local communities, especially those from disadvantaged and socio-economic backgrounds with traditional low engagement.  It will also look to build their audience for relaxed/accessible screenings.

Watershed awarded £585,000, for ‘Rebuilding audiences better – with inclusion at the centre’ 

Bristol’s Watershed will develop and test new marketing and promotional initiatives as part of a cinema communication strategy to engage younger and more diverse audiences in its programme.

Festivals and special programmes

Arts Alive in Shropshire and Herefordshire awarded £180,000, for ‘Flicks in the Sticks – Reaching Out…’ 

The Festival will appoint two new part time roles (Audience Outreach and Digital Marketing) to engage new audiences in specific areas across Shropshire and Herefordshire through new and innovative marketing approaches. 

Reclaim The Frame awarded £420,000, ‘Reclaim The Frame With Me’

Focusing on those that are currently underrepresented amongst Reclaim The Frame audiences, there will be a significant focus on reaching a wider audience across the UK. Growing its impact across the nations and regions, the funding will also support new approaches to marketing, promotion and outreach.

Carousel Project awarded £363,000, for ‘Oska Bright Film Festival’ 

Supporting two editions of the Oska Bright Film Festival plus one UK tour to showcase the work of learning disabled and autistic people. The festival will work with partner venues to ensure they welcome learning disabled audiences as well as providing mentoring and opportunities for new programmers and regional assistants.  

Tongues on Fire awarded £105,000, for ‘UK Asian Film Festival 2023-2026’

The festival will invest in additional curatorial expertise and marketing activity to rebuild audiences particularly through its Celebrating Womenhood strand.

Audience initiatives

Cinema For All awarded £520,440, for ‘Building diverse grassroots audiences through the power of affordable, local, volunteer-led cinema’

Enabling Cinema For All to support the community cinema sector to grow and expand through a number of initiatives aimed at ensuring everyone has access to a cinema experience, breaking down barriers for people in areas of low provision to engage, providing the necessary skills and resources to support cinema within the community; and support the sector in addressing their environmental impact. 

Independent Cinema Office (ICO) awarded £1,329,999, for ‘Support for screening specialised film to the widest range of audiences’ 

Supporting the ICO to deliver a number of initiatives for the independent exhibition sector with a focus on supporting venues to identify gaps in the audiences engaging with their venues and new approaches to achieve this. This includes the ICO’s Programming service, the ICO Screening Days and market intelligence.

YourLocalCinema awarded £114,000, for ‘YourLocalCinema Audience Development’ 

YourLocalCinema’s website provides D/deaf audiences with up-to-date information on captioned screenings, the funding increases this to include foreign language titles and to enable the organisation to play a stronger role in UK-wide discussions about accessible screenings.

Short-term projects (April 2023 to March 2024)

Derby QUAD awarded £70,000, for ‘New Worlds of Cinema’ 

A new marketing approach at QUAD will focus on guest programmers and community partnerships to provide new and existing audiences in Derby access to a refreshed programme of new releases, seasons and festivals.  

Flatpack Festival awarded £90,000 for up to 12 months, for ‘Open Up’ 

Supporting the 17th edition of the festival to help develop Flatpack’s working practices and programming/marketing activity in order to reach new audiences via a unique programme of screenings and events. 

StoryFutures awarded £66,000, for ‘Virtual Reality Hubs Network’

StoryFutures is establishing a Virtual Reality Hubs Network to present VR work in five cinemas and cultural venues across the UK. Up to 21 diverse, engaging VR experiences will be available for audiences by autumn 2023 as part of a wider StoryFutures immersive storytelling programme of activities which will also be available in 17 UK libraries. Funding will also support local marketing activities, packages of VR material and a workforce development programme to enable venues to feel confident in exploring new forms of screen-based exhibition.

Tyneside Cinema awarded £150,000, for ‘Tyneside Cinema Audience Development Project’

To establish a sustainable approach to audience and programme development, connecting representative audiences to the venue. Funding will help Tyneside to undertake data-driven research with the aim of designing a long-term ambitious audience development plan to reach identified audiences.

BFI National Lottery Audience Projects Fund

The BFI National Lottery Audience Projects Fund has £15 million available over the three years of the BFI’s new National Lottery Funding Plan (April 2023 to March 2026) to support the UK exhibition and distribution sector to grow audiences for UK independent film and XR/broader screen work. The open access fund will support a wide range of ambitious, audience-facing activity of national scale, including multi-year and research and development projects. It welcomes applications from organisations that are focused on increasing access and growing the engagement of audiences that are representative of the UK population.

The fund is part of a £27.6 million National Lottery allocation that the BFI has made for supporting audiences over the three years of the funding plan. Other programmes include continuing the vital work of the BFI Film Audience Network and the new BFI National Lottery Open Cinemas initiative, which aims to develop the offer made by independent distribution and exhibition and to ensure more audiences can participate.

All activity funded under the funding plan will deliver against the objectives set out in the new 10-year BFI National Lottery Strategy (2023-2033), which details what the BFI wishes to achieve in using National Lottery funding for the public and industry over the next decade. The new Audience Projects Fund addresses one of the strategy’s core objectives, seeking to ensure everyone across the UK can experience a great range of film and moving image.

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