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Old studio transformed into a cinema was "labour of love" for Barnes Couple
Call them brave, ambitious or crazy - but for Barnes couple Lisa and Stephen Burdge, selling their house to buy the Edwardian Olympic Studios and restore it to its former glory as a cinema was a risk worth taking.
The couple, both 46, now live next door to the Olympic Cinema, which opened this month after four years of planning, gutting, building and a shed load of hard work.
“It’s been amazing,” says Lisa who admits the project involved a lot of labour, “no room apart from the main studio was where it was,” she explains, and as any guest to Olympic Studios will see, it is much more than a cinema.
The couple worked hard to create a cafe and dining area on the ground floor and open up the windows which were bricked up when the building, built in 1906, was used as a recording studio by Virgin and later EMI.
“When we opened it up and got the light through those windows it really was a pivotal moment,” smiles Lisa, “what went on here musically was amazing but it did mean it was lost to the community and now we have brought it back.”
In its heyday, Olympic Studios saw the likes of U2, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles record tracks and albums there and now Lisa and Stephen rent the house next door where the artists used to stay.
When it first opened more than 100 years ago under the name Byfeld Hall it was an entertainment centre for the local community.
Although the bioscope, an early form of cinema was one of the first of its attractions - early audiences were treated to footage of King Edward VII’s funeral and the hall was used for a variety of entertainment activities.
It ran as cinema until 1966 when it was converted to the Olympic Sound Studios, with room enough to house a 70-piece orchestra.
Today, as well as two cinema screens, Lisa and Stephen are working with record producer Chris Kimsey, who has helped them with the acoustics, to re-open a recording studio in the building within the next six months.
Lisa says: “It’s really lovely that the recording studio is coming back.
“Even if local bands from the community just want to come in and play some tracks then they can.”
Community support meant the project had immediate backing from the people of Barnes, who were keen to see the building restored to its former glory as a cinema.
Stephen, who coincidently works as a movie poster designer, is grateful for the support people showed towards the project, which meant the couple could give something back to the community.
“It’s been a labour of love,” he says, as he walks through the community cafe and dining area to the upstairs members’ bar where wall lights acquired from an old cruise liner down in Devon light up the open space.
“It’s taken four years but everybody has been so supportive from day one - the local people, the local council - everybody,” says Stephen humbly.
Attention to detail can’t be faulted, from the plush red seats in the screening rooms to the striped sweet counter selling treats even down to the clary sage and lemongrass hand wash in the bathrooms - care and attention has been injected into every inch of the project.
It’s no wonder the Olympic Studios has attracted visits from Gary Lineker, Heston Blumenthal and Tim Rice in its first weeks of opening.
The Olympic Studios is open every day from 8am to 11pm and shows a mixture of latest releases and classic films as well as 3D movies.
Stephen says: “When the building came up for sale there were lots of people were looking at it.
“There were people who wanted to turn it into flats or a supermarket but it has such an amazing history we thought it would be a shame to let that happen - so we decided to save it.”
For more information, visit: olympiccinema.co.uk.