The Lexi Cinema has long been a stalwart on the Kensal Rise scene, but how does it help improve the quality of life in South Africa too? We look at the charitable approach of The Lexi Cinema

Sometimes things are meant to be and the story of The Lexi Cinema falls – or perhaps is blown – into that category. After opening her front door to a tornado sweeping her street, little did Sally Wilton realise that some good would come out of the wrath of nature. ‘Being hit by a tornado in December 2006 meant everybody got to know their neighbours,’ Sally remembers. The incident united the Kensal Rise community, which secured undeniable support when Sally introduced the neighbourhood to her dream, The Lexi Cinema.

Sally, who considers herself as a true ‘Kensal Riser’, has lived in the area for 25 years. Spending her days in Queen’s Park and enjoying the occasional evening pizza at Sacro Cuore, Sally had a passion of her own to bring to the area. After seeking inspiration from the creators of Kino, the first UK digital cinema, and enjoying classic cinema trips to The Gate and The Coronet in Notting Hill, she was more determined than ever. ‘The dream started in 1992. I love film, the idea of going into a beautiful space, the lights going down and the film coming up; it just seems like pure magic.’


The Lexi Cinema is a shining light of the Kensal Rise scene

The dream Sally had was one that required dedication. ‘The hard work was beyond what I expected, it took a really long time to let people know The Lexi Cinema was there. I spent two years sticking things through people’s letterboxes until I broke my own ankle.’ One tornado later and the community was fully behind her as she acquired a building just around the corner to her home in Kensal Rise. ‘When we were doing the building work, local people would just come in and ask what we were doing. People were curious and very supportive.’

The Lexi Cinema prides itself on originality and donates 100% of their profits to charity. ‘I was lucky enough to be very successful in my previous business and I wanted to give something back to my local community,’ Sally explains. The Lexi Cinema’s profits are donated to The Sustainability Institute for Lynedoch, a village in South Africa that Sally visits every year. ‘I wanted to see if it was possible to twin with another community in another part of the world, just so we could see the common threads.’ Queen’s Park Community School are also helping Sally in supporting the charity by offering exchanges for children between London and South Africa. ‘Teenagers in London are just the same as those in South Africa. Lynedoch stay in contact every couple of weeks.’ Sally’s generosity has so far made a big impact in Lynedoch, helping with many projects and facilities, ‘We’ve created a baby unit and a crèche for slightly older children, as well as vegetable gardens and some info structure work on the village too.’


The Lexi Cinema’s founder Sally Wilton with some of the children of Lynedoch in South Africa

However, Sally has not stopped at The Lexi Cinema. After deciding it was going incredibly well, she wanted to spread The Lexi Cinema’s fundraising message to a wider audience. ‘We couldn’t build Lexis all over the place, so we thought we would take The Lexi Cinema out but in a portable form.’ This is where the idea for pop-up cinema The Nomad was born. ‘People like to be outside in the summer and they don’t go to the cinema as much, so we thought we would capture that audience and pop up in gorgeous places around London.’ The Nomad covers a number of res­idences such as The Hox in East London once a month on a Sunday afternoon, and also works with The Royal Parks Foundation at their ISIS centre in Hyde Park.

Sally dedicates her time to helping others, but there are also those that help her. The Lexi Cinema is run solely by a pool of around 50 volunteers, all of whom are from the local community. ‘They do anything from one shift a month to two or three. They do it for all sorts of reasons: some do it for the charity, some to meet people and some do it because they love cinema.’


The Nomad at Brompton Park Cemetery

In the midst of special events and screening films, opera and theatre, Sally felt the time had come to refurbish The Lexi Cinema. ‘I knew nothing about running a cinema when I started, but since then I have learnt that we should have had a really big bar!’ Previously people have had to queue for their drinks and take them back into the cinema. ‘We are extending and converting the alley into a long, thin and very gorgeous bar, as well as improving our toilet facilities and creating a little snug.’ Sally is hoping the opportunity for film pre-drinks will increase business, ‘the proof will be how it works over the next year in terms of increasing bar sales.’ Let’s hope this proves to be The Lexi Cinema’s very own force of nature.

Read here why The Lexi Cinema makes it into our top ten luxury cinemas

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