Palace cinema in Longridge goes up for sale

The pandemic has claimed another casualty - Longridge's Palace Cinema

Monday, 30th August 2021, 5:07 pm

The Palace Cinema in Longridge is to be put up for sale on the open market - just months after it was announced that it was hoped it could be run as a Community Interest Company.

Rising costs and pandemic debt mean the historic cinema will have to be sold, said Lara Hewitt, who has run the cinema since it was purchased by her late father Tony's company Parkwood more than three and a half years ago.

Lara took to the Palace's Facebook page to announce: "It is with a sad heart that I have to announce that The Palace is to be sold. I have been informed by the board of Parkwood that they are not able to proceed with the option to provide a lease of the Palace Cinema to a community organisation.

Lara Hewitt pictured outside the Palace Cinema on Market Place, Longridge

"Due to financial pressures, Parkwood need to sell the Palace in order to pay off bank loans taken out during the pandemic. Parkwood will place the Palace for sale on the open market and hopefully a bid from a local organisation will retain the Palace as a building which serves the community."

Lara and her team had worked to extend the range of activities at the Palace, one of the region's oldest cinemas, turning it into a community events hub as a well as a theatre and cinema. From a baby and toddler group to a book club, live music and comedy nights, talks and of course films, the Palace was rebuilding a loyal audience.

Lara created a cafe and bar and art gallery area and offered use of her meeeting rooms to local organisations. There was even a pantomime scripted by Lara, featuring home grown local talent and a Christmas advert created by Lara for the Palace which featured on a TV news report and went viral.

But throughout it was a financial battle with the building needing major and ongoing renovation and other costs including film hire meaning that the Palace was still not breaking even when the Covid pandemic forced its closure. The shortfall then stood at around £2,000 a month. Film hire and insurance for the Palace's projector cost some £1,000 a month.

Lara, who is also a filmmaker, had hoped to reopen the venue in September, if only on a part-time basis and had hosted recent meetings to rally and assess the local support for it becoming a community run enterprise.

But she had repeatedly warned that her late father's company could not continue to subsidise the landmark venue. Tony's company purchased the Palace with the intention that he and Lara would run it together. Tony died unexpectedly of sepsis 48 hours before the sale was concluded on January 2, 2018. His Chorley based business Parkwood Holdings specialised in leisure and also owned a few other theatres.

In December 2020 Lara said: "The biggest part of dad's company is running leisure centres and gyms for councils and they have a few theatres down south and also grounds maintenance. Prior to Covid other people's swimming lessons were subsidising our cinema. There was a time when we thought there wouldn't be a (Parkwood) company in 2021. There were about 4,000 staff in March and now there are 2,000."

She concluded her Facebook message with a note of thanks saying: "Thank you to all of you who have supported The Palace and myself over these past four years. I’m very aware that some of you have also donated to help reopen The Palace; any monies not requested as a refund will be diverted to other Longridge based community activities.

"It was a brief but wonderful time I had with The Palace and the people of Longridge."

She said it had been "such a bright and colourful chapter of Longridge (and my) life." adding: "I will miss it very much but I know that not everything has to last forever to matter, and this mattered."

For our most recent reports on the Palace see here and here

* The Palace was first a weaving shed, then a music hall. It then becme a venue for variety acts and film shows, before having a new life as a bingo hall. It became a cinema again run by film fans Dorothy and John Williamson, prior to its sale to Parkwood.

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