Lancashire's historic Palace cinema seeks to extend its community role as it fights to survive

Palace owner and manager Lara Hewitt
Palace owner and manager Lara Hewitt
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A ‘use it or lose it’ warning has been issued by the owner of Longridge’s Palace Cinema after she revealed it lost £13,000 in the first three months of the year.

Lara Hewitt says no hasty decisions will be made about the historic venue’s future, but she is hoping local residents will rally to support the venue.

Palace managers (from left): Cheryl Fell, Maria Tomlinson (with son Stan) and Palace owner/manager Lara Hewitt

Palace managers (from left): Cheryl Fell, Maria Tomlinson (with son Stan) and Palace owner/manager Lara Hewitt

She and cinema mangers Cheryl Fell and Maria Tomlinson are hoping to increase the use of the property as a community hub and events space as well as a cinema.

A Palace Ambassadors scheme is to be set up.

Speaking before the first anniversary of the cinema’s reopening after extensive repairs and refurbishment, Lara said there is still room for optimism. She said: “In order to stay open we need people to support the cinema. Financially we are struggling, but in terms of art and community we go from strength to strength.”

Lara continued: “The Palace Ambassadors scheme would be for people who would like to be involved and help to develop the Palace as a community cultural hub, anything from the community garden to dementia choir to folk nights. It’s not doing well as a cinema.”

The fight back has already begun with three live comedy nights and more to follow and a series of other live events. She pledged: “We’re going to try and do more before we do less.
“We’ll give it another 12 months and try to get more volunteers involved. But the message is use it or lose it.”

Lara said: “I have just booked The Houghton Weavers to play in July, A Dad’s Army Tribute show ‘Don’t Panic’ to play in October and a family theatre show in October and am firming up a talk from The Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen. We’re looking to book more live music, because the cinema doesn’t make money from films. We’re looking at doing weddings, Christmas parties - you can hire the whole place.”

Despite showing a varied programme of films, including mainstream and arthouse and multiple daily screenings, audiences average just 35 people, with some performances attracting only one person. Lara said: “Last week we didn’t cover our basic costs once.”

Lara pointed out that at least half the ticket cost of £6.50/£7 adults, £5.50/£4.50 concessions, goes to the relevant film company.

The Palace also acts as a venue for exhibitions, a baby group, yoga classes, community meetings, a book club and could be used for other live events. At Christmas it was the venue for Lara's acclaimed production of' Longridge Does A Christmas Carol' with a community cast. A grant has now been gained to allow dementia and autism friendly screenings and it is hoped in future, if planning permission is granted for a satellite dish, to deliver screening of National Theatre and Royal Opera House productions.

Community groups can use facilities including a meeting room free of charge. Lara, Cheryl and Maria say they will welcome suggestions from customers about how the Palace, which is sited at the top of the town on Market Place, and is one of the oldest cinemas in the region, can further meet local needs.

There are also plans for an ice cream parlour if funds can be raised for soundproofing work to ensure cinema goers are not disturbed by parlour customers. She added the Palace would also like to work with schools and young people.

Lara said it is hoped the Palace will eventually break even.

Lara and her late father Tony were planning to run the Palace as a joint project. However he died suddenly in December 2017. She said: “We’re very grateful to my dad’s company Parkwood Leisure, without it we wouldn’t be here. They are footing the bill for Longridge to have a cinema currently. We’ll keep trying, but things have to get better. This was not a commercial venture, it was a passion project.”

* Lara, a filmmaker, recently learned that her film "Datsche", which she showcased at film festivals in recent months, has been selected for distribution internationally.