Big Oak Timbers From Little Acorns Grow

Okay, so I VERY rarely stray out of the confines of Greenwich, but when I do it’s because it’s something that I think is truly magical, truly worthwhile and truly brilliant. And today’s post ticks all those boxes as far as I’m concerned. And it’s not THAT far away…

Readers with memories better than mine may remember the post about the Sands Cinema Club, a free screening club run by Olivier Stockman, the film producer/director/guru for whom celluloid runs in his very veins (an odd image, but stay with me…)

Olivier is obsessed by film. He loves it, and the more obscure the better. You only have to go along to his Tuesday evening institution, sink into the tatty collection of armchairs and watch him thread up the projector (or, more often these days, stick a DVD in the tray) to see that.

But this wonderful little club is only a sideshoot of what Olivier Stockman does, a little personal hobby. His REAL work is the Sands Film Studios, the daintiest, cutest and funkiest little production house you’ll ever see. He rescued the Victorian Grice’s Granary warehouse in Rotherhithe – a mere stroll up the Thames Path or a quick trip on the 188 – back in the 1970s when the area was a wasteland of – well, not very much, really, and turned it into a proper, working film studio with sound stages, workshops, the lot.

And over the years it’s made some pretty fabulous productions – from Little Dorrit to Bright Star, and its famous costume studios, also on-site have clothed blockbusters such as The Duchess, Atonement, Marie Antoinette, Young Victoria and, er, Burke and Hare (I didn’t say they were all good…) This year will see Bel Ami and Anonymous as productions Sands has had a South London hand in.

The other brilliant thing the place has is a giant picture library, with millions of fantastic images, from costume to local history, all open and free to the public. If you go there, you can often see the costumiers at work, embroidering a natty waistocoat or sewing beads on a ball gown, all under the fabulous low-slung original oak beams.

This place doesn’t just feel magic, it IS magic.

So – why am I writing about it today?

Because for every dream there’s someone who wants to turn it into a nightmare. And Olivier is experiencing the classic cauchemar. The owner of the building has decided he can make more hard cash out of kicking out the studio and redeveloping the lot as luxury flats.

This, however, is NOT a call to arms to sign a petition or picket the evil developer. Olivier has come up with a solution that might just work and the Svengali in me is really rather excited about it.

This is not a failing business that has to be propped up. Sands has plenty of work, it just doesn’t hold the darn freehold. So Olivier is creating his own version of community shares – not a giant stock-market thing, just a simple way of getting people to help him buy the building’s freehold, become part of the movie business – and actually get return on their investment.

He’s keen not to go to giant investors who might be only too happy to put up the cash – and then dictate corner-cuts that would ultimately ruin his unique place in the market. He’s not using a broker and would prefer lots of small investors. The returns look pretty impressive. Vanessa Redgrave is already sold and is one of a growing number of local people sinking a small amount of cash into a local, flourishing and – let’s face it – romantic – business.

It’s all being done properly, administered by HMRC and because this is just the sort of thing the government wants to do – encourage investment in small businesses – there are a number of rather attractive tax breaks – not least a 30% tax credit.

I’m not the best Phantom to explain all the heavy financial details  so at this point I’m going to  give you some links. I am probably the world’s worst financial advisor – but I love this idea with a passion. An independent view of the project is available here

To arrange a visit or receive the share offer document, contact Olivier Stockman on 020 72312209 or email him at

The studio will be open for potential investors to look around this Saturday 30th July. More info on the website

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2 Comments to “Big Oak Timbers From Little Acorns Grow”

  1. Benedict says:

    What a great idea! I can see enormous potential for this in all kinds of areas….

  2. Wendy says:

    This is a brilliant idea. I visited Sands Film Studios a few years ago as part of Open House weekend and it was a truly amazing place. It would be terrible for it to close.