Keswick Alhambra Young Programmers

Carol Rennie – Director, Keswick Alhambra Cinema

About the group

The Keswick Alhambra Young Programmers scheme has been a tremendous success: just under 20 sixth formers from our local state school formed The Alhambra Cinematic Society (ASC), with ca 5-8 pupils meeting weekly in school on Wednesday lunchtimes, selecting and promoting 16 films in a five month period: two seasons showing one feature a week in two (or more) slots (Wednesday 4.30pm and Saturday 7pm), the first being mostly ‘catch-up blockbusters’, the second ‘Classics: films we were too young to see on the big screen, and/or that our parents wax nostalgic about’. One film was selected by other pupils from the school: the Alhambra Cinematic Society held an ‘open day’ for all pupils, with an offer of free popcorn for the screening of the film that the attendees picked to show (it was the new Spiderman!)

The ASC designed and put up posters around the school, and were given free rein over the
Alhambra’s Instagram account. They attracted much younger profile audiences than we do for our normal film programme (58% of tickets were sold to under 24s). They also engaged with two ‘cultural film’ initiatives we invited them to help us programme: a 1920s
collaboration with Keswick Museum, and three features put on as a ‘Fringe’ to the annual Keswick Film Festival.


The group has been running for 2 years now and the project was funded by Film Hub North from the Film Exhibition Fund pitch pot. The Alhambra received £6,000 for the first year and £3,000 in the second to continue the group.


The primary aim of this initiative was Developing Young Audiences in our culturally under-served, rural, generally-skewing-elderly population in Cumbria in the North West of England – hoping to permanently grow our younger audience through the agency and initiative and marketing of this group of young programmers, engaging them and their peers in our cultural offering.

We spent a number of sessions with the Young Programmers discussing how to engage audiences with cinema, discussing our own marketing and advertising, and helping them understand the need to look at the demographic of current and potential audiences, strategies for ‘stretching’ people’s comfort zones and introducing them to new genres. We introduced them to the range and diversity of films available and explained the considerations an independent cinema undertakes when programming. They then focused on how they could reach their own audience of peers with their own programme.

We also aimed to introduce the young people to the range and diversity of jobs there are in the cultural/film industry, through telling them about how and who we work with (distributors etc), through engagement with ‘cultural film’ by introducing them to the FAN Young Consultants and the marketing packs they have developed, through engaging them with local film director and producer Max Newsom, through invitations to ICO screening days, the Keswick Film Festival, and through projects conducted with other local partners (eg the Keswick Museum).

In terms of training, work experience and skills development, we offered the group the opportunity to engage with us in any area they wished, if they wanted to use the cinema as part of any project they had to do for school – e.g. for business-projects etc – they did do marketing and advertising (producing posters, taking over our Instagram page to advertise their screenings).

Alongside this programme, we employed a Kickstart employee (Nov 21-April 22), who by definition is an unemployed young person on benefits: we engaged our 19-year old in all aspects of our business, and one of his shifts coincided with one of the Young Programmer film slots – it was our Kickstart  employee who designed the poster for the Fringe programme at the Keswick Film Festival.

What went well?

  • Real engagement with/from the pupils – they met and had sessions with us (cinema owner-operators Carol and Jonathan) and our staff (John Porter), learning all about how our cinema operates and getting feedback on their films’ performance, as well as a seminar on 1920s film with local film director and producer Max Newsom and a zoom with FAN Young
    Consultant Rebekah Taylor from Derby Quad, introducing the Marketing Packs – they were
    offered free tickets to Kendal Brewery Arts Films by Women Festival (organised by FAN Young Consultant Gabrielle Jackson), and one of our YPs attended the Nov online ICO
    Screening Days c/o our programme.
  • Tremendously successful ‘buzz’ on the occasion of the 1920s event screening.

What would you do differently?

  • Open the scheme to all age groups – we were restricted to sixth formers due to covid ‘pupil bubbles’ in the school at the time – there are interested pupils at different levels in the school.
  • Reduce the number of films they are going to programme to give them more time to plan and ‘eventise’ the films they put on (they want to do assemblies, visit form groups etc, have more time to work on posters and Instagram posts for their films)
  • Be a little more directive/prescriptive in helping introduce them to ‘cultural film,’ encourage them to put on more diverse films.

How important is the group to your organisation?

We are continuing this weekly lunchtime club and hope the Alhambra Cinematic Society will continue as a permanent group at the school, programming films at our cinema, with us applying for funding to do special events and bring in specialised expertise as and when (we have just been successful with the Pitch-Pot scheme to enable us to continue to capitalise on local film director and producer Max Newsom’s input this next summer term)

We think it is going to really help us embed knowledge among our local young people about what an incredible community asset they have in Keswick’s historic gem of an independent cinema – not many towns of just 5000 people can boast a two-screen cinema, where people have so much scope to work with us, flexibly and cooperatively screening things they want to see! We’re sure it’ll bring the pupils and their families to us in much greater numbers than in the past (particularly as we’ve been so done up over the last year– we’re now a very desirable location, with the best toilet décor of any we’ve seen, fabulous retro cinema-reel lighting features, not a 1960s throwback experience