Venue Case Studies

Depot, Lewes

Depot Cinema is a state-of-the-art 3 screen venue in Lewes which was an early pioneer in running a young film programmer group.

Why We Started This Work

We have an older demographic in Lewes and wanted to attact young audiences to us and offer something different from Brighton cinemas where many of the 16 – 25s are more naturally drawn.  Therefore, we run our group with 16-18 (A Level / college) age range for a number of reasons.

One, as a facilitator and teacher I have experience with this age group through my film teaching jobs and, two, I also like working with this age group. They are usually just discovering their cultural identity and starting to explore films independently, on their own terms. Also, we are also geographically close to another YFP group running at Fabrica in Brighton who work with an older age group of 20+ and so it works well to complement each other not compete for young people when we are recruiting each year. Part of the remit of the program is (inevitably) YA engagement. My angle on approaching this is through developing film appreciation within the group, with cinema being just one slice of any young person’s film experience. Some films they program naturally have a younger (Twilight) or wider (Fargo) audience. A love of film can be infectious

Our Planning and Approach

The group runs alongside the academic year, Sept – June. I originally intended to run as a year long course, i.e. students sign up for the year and finish after our take over day in June / July. Previously students for the group had all been 2nd year students. I had many wanting to continue last summer so I let them carry on, it seemed a shame to wave them goodbye when they were enjoying the group. They were also first years, so had another year at college so could carry on. Some students were second years and so were off to University and so moving out of the area. Also having too wide an age group might pose problems with group dynamics (a key influence on a successful group!); there can be a big difference between 16 and 18+ years olds, their lifestyles, independence etc…. It can raise safeguarding issues too if you mix 19 year old adults and 16/17 year old children.

I recruit from local colleges, there are 3 big ones nearby, one in Lewes and two in Brighton (30min bus ride or 15min train ride away). I visit the colleges and pitch the group. I know teachers in each one and work in one of the Brighton colleges myself. This info also goes on our website and onto our dedicated young programmer page in September when the college year is just starting; they are all eager students then. I set a couple of questions for them to answer and email me and then use these as a basis on picking students for the group. I try and choose a range of film tastes and go for a balanced gender split. 

My first drive I received more applications from girls than boys, so have had a 70/30 split in favour of girls. I don’t have access to ethnic and LQBTQ+ info, unless they share that via their application. For the second year I let encouraged existing club members to recruit a few more to fill up the group. They designed a flyer and posted at their own colleges. We went through the applications together, I trusted them enough to be professional when doing so, and discussed who would be a good fit for the club; what skills we now needed in the club for example. I have always received far too many applications than needed. First recruitment drive I picked 13 from 30 applications. My advice would be to find out who the film / media teachers are if you are looking to recruit from local chools/colleges/universities. The school office is a good start here. Recruit skills not students. Think about what you need, artists, marketing, film nerds…. Don’t recruit too many! I found a maximum of 10 worked for me.

We meet weekly, term time, 5pm -7pm (more often it’s 7:30 or 8:00) on the same day each week, currently Wed as that’s one of my scheduled days to work at Depot. Not finishing too late so travel is easy. We hold monthly, term time only, screenings, early evening (5/6pm) on the same day as we meet. Some are outside this, dictated by theme, eg family screenings on Sat morning family slot or our one-off take over day (June) where the group screen 3 films and have events such as music or quiz. This take over day works (should work) as a culmination of what they have learnt along the way about choosing and marketing films for their (YA) peers. 

A typical session will be a loose agenda set by me and might include: marketing for upcoming screenings, choosing next films (the most fun bit) and themes, trips for us to go on as a group. I’ll pitch the online training here too. Mostly I’ll ask them what they think they need to do, or want to do this session; I aim for them to lead sessions and my role to steer them when appropriate. I will usually start the session and then find a reason to leave them alone for a 15 mins or so to get on with stuff. I find if I’m floating around too much they will wait for me to lead, as is the learnt behaviour from years of school. Currently they also have a ‘what I watched this week’ slot, where they swap reviews and talk films. As we have a restaurant on site I get chips and finger food for them and encourage them to get a cup of (free) tea or coffee or other soft drink. This is great for social engagement. 

We run YFP screenings just like our usual screenings at Depot, but the YFPs take more responsibility for marketing the screenings. They’ll write the copy too. I also encourage extras relevant to each screening, where possible. I remind them they need to be able to sell an experience that is more special than sitting alone on their sofa / bed at home. The group always introduce the films, and themselves, at the start. We’ve had Q&As (a highlight was a Q&A with the author of My Policeman, who helpfully, lived on the same street as one of the group), quizzes and even a Mini Oscars ceremony supporting screenings so far. What have been the main barriers to success and the best highlights?


Some of the main barriers we have faced include the young people’s confidence to push themselves into doing events. Sometimes everyone’s excited by something but then only a few turn up on the night to actually run the event, age can play a part here as they are still young and sometimes coursework deadlines or exams can interfere with commitment, so I try to get them to think about that when planning screenings. Not everyone attends every week. My response is that those that attend get to make the big decisions. Although sometimes others join us via the group’s social media chat. Most are involved most of the time. I had the issue at first of having too many in the group. A few dominated most of the meetings and this led to some feeling they didn’t have a voice; they did leave the group in the end. This has been less of an issue when I capped at 10 this year, with mostly weekly attendance or 6/7. This year when a couple left for college commitments we recruited a few more just before xmas. This worked very well. But it’s also OK if things don’t work, but it’s important to pull apart why. In our first year we cancelled a screening and had another barely pull in double figures. This forced the group to really think about ‘branding’ and what the group were about and what they wanted to screen. It worked in some way as we haven’t cancelled any more screenings and have had good audience figures. There’s no secret to a sell-out film screening, otherwise every film would be packed, right?


Those that come regularly love coming and enjoy the social aspect and feel part of something special, or so they say conversationally during the meet ups. We had a Q&A with the screenwriter of ‘My Policeman’, which was a great confidence boost to all concerned and they organised it themselves. I helped liaise with our tech team. Each screening so far this year has been popular, so they have found their identity. This will come to an end with new people joining after summer, but that’s the nature of the scheme. 

We found that it was important to plan films / book in films early to have time to plan marketing and events. Book 2 or 3 films in advance. Earlier in the scheme we were working a few weeks in advance each screening which made it difficult to formulate any events as we (they) always ran out of time. They need to lead any events otherwise it should be their group not mine so it’s also good to encourage them to think about what they think they can cope with, rein in too grand ideas and make it realistic and achieveable. Smaller break out groups, to pick films or work on tasks is good. If they try to decide as a whole group it can take ages. Give responsibility to different people for different screenings in regards to film choice and supporting events.

 As with many group activities you are reliant on group dynamics, which you can’t always control as you don’t know who kids until they join! Creating a social atmosphere works to counter this; it is not school and there is no assessment! I’ve seen a noticeable increase in confidence in the group and strong friendships develop each year – providing that social space in our cinema has generated lots of loyalty and made Depot feel like somewhere they belong!

 Anthony Gates, Education Manager and YFP Facilitator

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