Venue Case Studies

Case Study: Thurrock Film Festival

How did I come about establishing Thurrock Film Club? 
I had lived in London all my professional life but moved to Grays, Thurrock, in 2016. I was hit with the reality that there wasn’t very much on offer that was creatively exciting, challenging nor culturally diverse. Yet Tilbury is an important port in Thurrock with a fascinating history. Here, Queen Elizabeth I roused her troops to defeat the Spanish Armada. Here, a large group of Afro-Caribbeans arrived on the Empire Windrush to contribute to Britain’s post-war recovery and where many people from the Commonwealth arrived to study, work and live. Indeed, Thurrock’s motto is “Along the Thames to all the peoples of the World” which reflects its role in world trade and communication. 

This inspired me to establish Thurrock Film Festival in 2018, originally called TIC Film Festival, TIC standing for Thurrock International Celebration. There had been a Thurrock International Film Festival previously but this had ceased to exist shortly after it was established. I had to rise to the challenge! In my bones, I felt that a film festival could pull together the different local communities by screening lesser-known narratives and to encourage inclusivity by doing so. But I had no experience of running a film festival. 

I tend, however, to dive into things without too much thought as I am a great believer in the abstract and the informal. The one thing I could count on with any assurance was the support of Mark Allinson, then Arts Manager of Thameside Theatre, our only local theatre which had a great film technician on the staff. Everything else was indeterminate. I have been a freelancer all my professional life. I was familiar with the undertaking of new projects without parameters, diving into the unknown. This factor of risk was what triggered survival, and it has, fortunately, more often than not, worked out for me. 

Having taken this step. I plunged into exploring all possibilities, trying this and that, discovering hands on what would or would not work, disregarding the dangers and pitfalls, meeting and listening to different communities, to absorb their zeitgeist, and, above all, to be ignited by what I was discovering. I seesawed between the daunting and the thrilling, all the time clinging tenaciously to the affirmative. 

After two years, with some actual experience of running a film festival under my belt, Covid struck – just as I was brimming with ideas I was itching to branch into. Enforced isolation followed but a whole new digital world opened up before me! I was now totally engrossed with the concept of extended reality.

Released from lockdown, I was anxious to race on. 2021 was a stop-start year for unlocking. We were all faced with unsettling brief moments of freedom and being unceremoniously dragged back into dispiriting detention. Mark Allinson had left. Still, I was determined to resurrect the festival in one of the brief moments of liberation. I was able to hold an open air cinema in Grays Town Park where I had the very generous support from Tina Holland, the Chair of Friends of Grays Town Park, at a time when grabbing hold of any friend one could find was a bonus! I rebranded the Festival to Thurrock Film Festival and screened four family outdoor features with heritage Bata shorts and an eclectic online offer. You can ascertain whether I was successful or not if you take a peek at our 2021 programme

Then unlocking truly swerved into action in 2022. At the Film Hub South East forum in April of that year, it was great to come together with FHSE members, officers and Essex Film Collective. At that event, I met and forged a great affinity with Anupma Shanker, a highly intelligent film curator who had worked with top flight film companies in India and who, much to my delight, agreed to join the Thurrock Film Festival team as Film Curator. She is an incredible support and stimulus. How fortunate was I to have found someone with whom I could converge with on so many cultural experiences. 

Then FHSE had a meeting with me to discuss helping me grow my team. I was a little cynical at first because such enticing considerations have been presented to me before. But blow me down! It turned out to be a proposition of considerable weight! FHSE acted upon their intention. And that gave me the fillip to forge ahead with my ideas! 

Why We Started This Work

Now we have finally arrived at Thurrock Film Club! Upon the rebranding of Thurrock Film Festival in 2022, I felt it was important to build audiences throughout the year, and not just at Thurrock Film Festival. Also we had some great young volunteers at the Festival and, one of them, Alan Bright, just happened to demonstrate an appropriate keenness in film, marketing and running of the Club. Being only 17 at the time, he was a bit fazed by my tentacled approach but he responded to everything I threw at him. It was clear to everyone that he was taking everything in his stride and growing each day of the Festival. His mum from Jamaica, Toya, was also a stalwart volunteer and dad, from Nigeria, runs his own business. Alan had the mindset to flourish. 

Alan, Toya and myself received confirmation from Tina that she would love to host Thurrock Film Club at Grays Town Community Café with our pop up cinema equipment. The Café, although small with a capacity of only 30, is an important venue because we could update regulars and passer-by about screenings. Thurrock Film Club could begin in October 2022, shortly after the August Thurrock Film Festival was over. We were fortunate in securing the In Dreams Are Monsters fund from Film Hub Midlands for our horror season Look Again!

With five international horror flicks secured, we launched Thurrock Film Club and were on our way. But that wasn’t all. I asked if Alan would be happy to form a Young Film Programmers group now that we had a Club and could screen films chosen by the YFPs. Again, Alan grasped the opportunity, achieving great success. 

Alan and I also formed the umbrella Film Thurrock somewhere along the line, in which to encompass Thurrock Film Festival, Thurrock Film Club, Young Film Programmers and a further exciting venture, Film Thurrock Productions. 

And so we have it. That was how how Thurrock Film Club came about. 

Our Planning and Approach

In January 2023, with the help of the YFP Network SE and BFI Funding we established a YFP group at South Essex College which we paid Alan to facilitate to making it truly youth-led. This meant Alan getting some training and resources from the YFP Network and then planning a series of live and online workshops to teach the basics of film programming and recruit a small team to help run Film Thurrock. He worked with 14 other students from the college, with support from the film department staff at South Essex, and they have programmed 3 events for Gray’s Town Cafe including JoJo Rabbit for National Holocaust Day and plan to launch a YFP strand at the upcoming Film Festival in August. 

The 10 week hybrid course combined sessions that were in-person taking place on Monday afternoons, and then for accessibility another online session each week to continue the discussion and learning. We worked closely with the college, getting free room space and the teaching support of Cathy Mayo, Head of Film Studies, making the sessions run smoothly, and making it easier to recruit because the in-person sessions were programmed during college hours as part of compulsory enrichment time for the group of 1st year film students.   


The main barrier we faced was getting the YFPs to come along to the screenings at Grays’ Town Café. While we did recruit 3 who will go on to be part of Thurrock Film Club, many of the group living in Southend-on-Sea did not feel confident enough to travel to Grays Town and commit to the project on a Saturday morning. The significance of threshold anxiety, travel costs and confidence levels of the 16 – 18 year olds meant that the progression opportunities to go to Gray’s Town Café, let alone the offer of BFI Southbank and the Future Film Festival events in London were not taken up, but this is not surprising and we are working to build on this first project, sustaining the group so that this trust and commitment from the students can grow. 


The highlight of the project was making it happen completely youth-led, with FHSE taking the risk on us to employ Alan as the facilitator and really influence and advice on the structure and content of the programme, to suit young people’s preference for informality and flexibility. The larger group were fully involved in the programming of our final screening of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ and learnt a lot from the overall experience with great feedback to Alan and the tutors. We are now planning a way to continue with a smaller volunteer group to join the team over the summer term creating a youth strand within the wider Thurrock Film Festival in August. 

Hi Ching, Creative Director, Thurrock Film Club 

Scroll to Top