Owners reveal Longridge's Palace Cinema will be up for sale in the new year

A three year battle to save a historic Longridge cinema and theatre was stalled by the Covid pandemic and now the owners say they will have to sell the Palace in 2021.

By Fiona Finch
Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 1:34 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 3:22 pm
Lara Hewitt, pictured outside The Palace, Longridge
Lara Hewitt, pictured outside The Palace, Longridge

Longridge's Palace cinema will be put up for sale next year.

The news was announced today as the cinema, one of the oldest in the north west, prepared to release its Christmas Ad for 2020.

Lara Hewitt said the cinema had until now been financially supported by her late father's company Chorley based Parkwood Holdings but this could no longer continue.

The cinema has been closed due to the Covid Pandemic, but prior to closure was losing some £20,000 a year on running costs alone - despite hosting many popular events ranging from comedy nights to a book club in addition to showing films and staging other live events.

Lara, who ran the cinema with the help of to part-time managers, who were made redundant during the pandemic, 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."

Faced with the financial reality of the impact of the pandemic on Parkwood Lara said there was no choice but to sell.

When her dad Tony Hewitt bought the cinema in December 2017 the intention was that he and Lara would run it together. But Tony died suddenly on New Year's Eve 2017. Lara pursued the dream of reopening and turning the building into a thriving arts and community venue with the long term ambition that it would pay its way.

But she said today: "It can't be owned by my dad's company any more. It needs somebody else financially managing it. Hopefully (I) can pass on the baton. "

Last year's Palace Christmas ad created by Lara attracted much praise and featured on TV. This year's, due to be released later today, will begin with art copying life as Lara explained: "It starts in the present day with me packing my boxes to leave the cinema because we are having to sell and it shows some of the story of the first owner of the cinema. When I put the ad on it will be explaining that unfortunately the Palace will be looking for a new owner in the new year. It'll be the last ad unless I come back in some other form to work at the Palace - never say never."

She added that the story of the first cinema owner is fictional.

Lara suggested there could even be interest from the local community in running the venue as a community interest concern.

She said :"We're not in a rush to sell. It doesn't matter if it is on the market for a good long while, while we try and find someone who will use it for cultural or community purposes."

She added: "The Palace was never owned by me personally but by my dad's company and this year my dad's company has survived but barely. They've had to make half of their staff redundant. They've had to take a very large Government loan. Before Covid they were financially subsidising the Palace and they don't have the money to do that any more. I certainly don't. So what do you do? It needs to find someone who can do that. It's a very different situation to when my dad wanted to buy it. My dad was alive. There was no Covid. Things have just changed."

She continued: "I've loved doing the cultural events and the stuff with children and plays and making the films but I'm sure there's somebody out there that's better at the business than I am and also if I was to take that on I wouldn't be doing any of those other things any more - that's maybe not my calling in life. I'm not the world's best administrator or entrepreneur but I'm good at cultural stuff, at making films."

She estimated that the historic Palace building needs half a million pounds spending on it with the alternative being facing annual bills of some £20,000 for repairs. She added: "It needs some renovation. It's a big building."

But the doors are not firmly shut. Lara revealed that The Palace would reopen for some fundraising events for her new film The Palace Diaries which she is making for Christmas 2021. She said: "It's going to be fabulous. It will premiere at The Palace of course this time next year."

Lara said: "I would say that 100 per cent we will reopen and do fundraisers for the film "

These occasional fundraisers will range from the chance to hire the cinema for a Palace Party to having a photoshoot with make-up on the Palace stage. Details of these events and how to buy them will be revealed in a separate crowdfunding appeal for backers of The Palace Diaries film. The crowdfunding will also be highlighted in a short film and details will appear on a new website ThePalaceDiaries.com as well as on the Indiegogo crowdfunder website.

Whether the Palace can reopen in the medium term as a cinema remains uncertain, particularly amid the pandemic. Lara said: "In the longer term at some point next year we will be putting it up for sale. I don't know whether we will reopen in the meantime because it (re-opening) doesn't happen overnight."

* 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 role. It reopened May 2018 after a five month renovation project .

*To see the crowdfunder film made by The Palace Longridge and Three Dogs Films click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-X4lgRLjME&pbjreload=101