Case Study: Eldon Street HSHAZ and Parkway Cinema


"The whole project has lifted our status within the town, I now feel that we're part of the community." (Rob Younger, Parkway Cinema)

Image: James Mulkeen


  • New and ongoing partnerships developed between the Cinema and Barnsley Council and Museums
  • New and ongoing partnerships developed between the Cinema and high quality local artists
  • Broadening of the size and makeup of the Cinemas audience
  • Recognition of the unique offer of the Cinema as a rare place to view 70mm and 35mm film, as well as having the largest stage and seating capacity in Barnsley.
  • Raised profile of the cinema among the Barnsley public
  • Restoration of the character of the Cinema to earlier 1950’s iteration



Since 1908, there has been an entertainment venue on the site of the Parkway Cinema on Eldon Street, starting with The Empire Palace of Varieties Theatre which was also home to a school of performing sea lions in 1911. The theatre was then turned into The Empire Super Cinema in 1920 with sound being installed in 1929, the cinema was renamed The Gaumont in 1950 and despite a fire that saw the building destroyed, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1956. It was then an Odeon from 1960 until it closed in 2005 before being bought by Rob Younger and Gerald Parkes in 2007. Research by the HSHAZ shows that this patch of ground on Eldon Street has attracted the performing and theatrical arts longer than first thought with at least two temporary wooden venues in place in the 1800s, the first named Royal Queen’s Theatre and the second Gaiety Theatre, which were connected to travelling entertainers such as circus performers and variety shows.

The community venue now specialises in showing 35mm and 70mm films, hosting live stage shows, showing event cinema, and mainstream film. It is one of only 6 venues in the UK to specialise in 70mm film, making it an asset of huge cultural value.


It was understood early on in the HSHAZ project that the Parkway would be excluded from financially benefitting from the funding available to other businesses on the street due to the age of the building. Nevertheless, the ambition was to ensure that this key asset on Eldon Street was included in the overall offer of the programme.

There is competition from Cineworld in Barnsley (which opened in the new Glassworks development in 2022) and a more challenging landscape for cinema overall since the pandemic. And so, the aim was to raise awareness of the unique offer the Cinema provides for Barnsley, build understanding of its rich history, and make this cinema the community hub that the owner had ambitions for it to be.

As the project progressed there was a further determined ambition from the Barnsley HSHAZ team to restore the historic character of the building.


Below are some of the many ways in which the Cinema collaborated with the HSHAZ team over the course of the project.



Simon Armitage/LYR performance event

LYR performing at Parkway Cinema. Image: James Mulkeen

The 2022 residency of Poet Laureate Simon Armitage culminated in an event in September of that year. During the event Armitage’s LYR band performed original material inspired by the heritage of Eldon Street and this event also acted as the launch of a publication of poetry anthology which was the result of a competition put out by Fusion (Barnsley’s LCEP and another HSHAZ partner) to local schools inspired by the poet laureate’s residency.

The Simon Armitage Poetry Competition provided an opportunity for learners to engage in high-profile cultural opportunities that they might not ordinarily have had access to, from having their work judged by another nationally renowned local poet Ian McMillan and Barnsley’s Poet Laureate Eloise Unerman, to having their work displayed alongside that of Simon Armitage.

Born in Barnsley in 1949 – felt the soul of Barnsley here at the Parkway Cinema tonight, thank you. (Survey response 2022)


On request of the Cinema, the HSHAZ worked with them and Barnsley Archives to uncover historic imagery from the Parkway site as part of their 15 year anniversary celebrations. This was collated alongside Cinema owned archival material and transformed into a set of two murals now in place in the lobby of the cinema. These have attracted much interest from Cinema audiences and brought to the fore the rich heritage of Parkway Cinema.

Tegwen helped us with some really large murals…we made this collaboration, and people absolutely love coming in and looking at those. And they'll start to ask questions. What's that? What's that? The best thing happened only a couple of weeks ago, a fella came in. I've known him for years but I didn't realise his mum used to work there. He looked at a picture, and said, ‘that's my mum’…we'd identified all but her. I couldn't believe it. He came back with some of his family a couple of days later, to look at this this picture. (Rob Younger, Parkway Cinema)

Changes to the building

Via lengthy negotiations with Historic England it was eventually agreed that the Cinema could receive HSHAZ funding to restore the exterior of the building. Some of concrete elements of the infrastructure had started to crumble and were becoming a danger. While Historic England usually don’t fund illuminated signage, they were persuaded that the reinstatement of these features would add historic character to the building and overall animate the street, which is has proved to do based on the positive response from the people of Barnsley.

The thing that’s generating more interest than anything is the readograph sign. People stop stare and take pictures of it because they can’t believe that there's a cinema with a readograph sign…And they absolutely love it…it's a massive part of  the culture of the building. There was one there when it opened, it was there until the 90s… And I just love it. I think it's so quirky. At Christmas, I put on there ‘merry Christmas, you filthy animals’. And the amount people that will go past laughing, pointing and taking pictures was amazing. (Rob Younger, Parkway Cinema)



The Parkway Cinema now has a strengthened relationship with Barnsley Museums and Barnsley MBC. For example, they are currently working with Barnsley Museums delivering more projects for the community in the DCMS funded ‘Know Your Neighbourhood’ project, aimed at creating volunteer opportunities and supporting people who are at risk of chronic loneliness. Their work bringing isolated older adults into the Cinema has benefitted the end users while also benefitting the Cinema by extending awareness and increasing audiences even for regular showings. Bringing new audiences to the cinema has also brought new walk-in customers to neighbouring businesses before and after these showings, according to recent verbal feedback from other local business owners. Putting on live shows has also set a precedent for further similar activity, demonstrating to the Cinema owners, local artists and arts organisations the capabilities of this venue, and brining more vibrancy to the overall offer on the High Street.

‘Palace Of Varieties’ Image: Ben Tolkin

A lasting and significant change for the Cinema was its purchase by the man who has been running the Cinema since 2007, Rob Younger. Rob states that, although the HSHAZ did not fund the purchase, the funds that were made available through the scheme restore the buildings gave him the confidence to make the purchase. This asset is now back in the hands of a local party with strong links to the local authority, the local community and local arts organisations, and a vested interest in its success.

We do more cultural programming now. We did a Gary Clarke Dance Company event [‘Palace of Varieties’] with the council. I was amazed at the effort put into that, I was also amazed at how good it looked and the response we got from people coming to see it…The guy who did the light and sound, it was all with our kit but he made it look better than I've ever seen it look. Afterwards Gary asked us if we’d have them back and I said of course we would. The problem for us would be that you can't do it without funding, and this is something that's new to me. [But now] we've got someone saying, ‘if you put this show on, we'll cover the costs’ and it was like a breath of fresh air. (Rob Younger, Parkway Cinema)

Rob Younger (owner of the Parkway) with the Mayor of Barnsley at the Ballad of Eldon Street BBC Radio 4 Listening Party. Image: James Mulkeen