A year to save Lancashire's historic Palace cinema - but will new Community Interest Company attract enough volunteers?
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Come September the Palace Cinema in Longridge, near Preston could open its doors to the public again.
But that prospect depends upon a willing team of supporters coming forward to help steer its trial year as a Community Interest Company.
Filmmaker Lara Hewitt, who has run the cinema for the past few years, has announced that The Palace Longridge Community Interest Company has now been registered at Companies House.
She said: "We need people to now run the cinema and we especially need people who can help with fund raising and manage the business and accounts side. There's potential for it to open. It will be trialled as a CIC for a year but now the community needs to take it on if they would like to do so ... I'll have to step back. I'm looking for other people to run it,"
If there is not sufficient interest to run the Palace as a CIC it will be put up for sale.
Her late father's company Parkwood purchased the cinema in 2018 and had been subsidising it as Lara and her team worked to build up income and welcome community groups, organising events ranging from live music to a book club. Despite its increasing popularity the venue had not yet broken event and was losing up to £2,000 a month before its doors had to close due to the pandemic lockdown..
Lara wrote on the Palace's Facebook page: "The Palace has so much potential but she will need a lot of investment, both financially and in terms of time, from the community if she is to be run by you guys. If it doesn't work out we will put her on the market. But first of all we will give this a chance. All we can do is try.... Now the hard work begins. Can you be a part of it? It is my hope that Longridge and the various supporters of The Palace can pull together to reopen our historic venue from this autumn."
She continued: "I won't be taking a wage from The Palace any more and therefore can't work anything like full time on this, and my dad's company will not be running it but will loan it (for free) for a year to see if, with my help and guidance in the first instance, the community can look after our lovely treasure chest. But I warn you: it's a big challenge. "
Now Lara is drawing up a list of the many jobs it takes to run the venue which also boasts a small cafe/bar, exhibition space and meeting room. She pledged: "I will captain the ship as best I can until such time as she's safely afloat and another captain presents him or herself."
She plans to hold bi-weekly sessions beginning on Tuesday, July 13 and Thursday, July 15. to help get the CIC operational.
She said: "There is money that needs to be raised, accounting systems put in place, tills and card machines that need to be purchased, walls that need painting, sweeties that need buying, training to be undergone, volunteer rotas to be established and there are hopefully friendships to be formed too. I stress we are NOT yet officially open as an organisation but I am happy to host appropriately distanced planning meetings in the auditorium for now."
In particular she says the Palace needs: "people who could be a bookkeeper or accountant for her, write funding bids, build her a new website, liaise with Longridge, Ribble Valley and Lancashire councils, help be on or run a marketing team for events, manage volunteers, do some painting and decorating, work some late evenings when there are busy films or events, liaise with schools, run fundraisers locally, programme films and events, be an ambassador to connect with and collaborate with local businesses, clean beer lines and swap kegs over, deal with blocked toilets, dodgy radiators, tiles in gutters, the odd mouse, mystery damp patches and the other things that happen with a hundred and sixty year old building,help with projecting films."
* The Palace first opened in the early part of the 20th century as a music hall and cinema and later became a roller rink and bingo hall before reverting to its cinema/theatre role. It reopened May 2018 after a five month renovation project.
* Lara recently heard that her film about Brexit and loss entitled Goodbye Europe has been selected to be showcased at this summer's Chichester International Festival. Her film Datsche is available to rent on Amazon.
For more on plans for the Palace and the background to Lara's decision see here .