WORK at a famous building, costing up to £1million, has been completed and is set to turn it into a major cultural centre.

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Abbeygate Picture House, in the historic core of Bury St Edmunds, has been through ups and downs, including coming close to closing down.

But it is hoped new facilities following the completion of a two-year refurbishment project will secure its future for many years to come. The cinema, in Hatter Street, now has a new bar, cafe and restaurant, a function room, new toilets, disabled facilities, including a lift, and new entrance and internal layout.

Manager Pat Church, who started working at the cinema as a projectionist in 1966, said it was “just like winning an Oscar” to see the work completed.

The cinema attracts audiences from far and wide with some coming from Essex and Bedfordshire.

“We are so busy now and the work has transformed the cinema and we want to make it a complete evening out for customers, that’s the main aim and we can now do that.

“People travel up to 40 and 50 miles to visit us and we are now in a position to be a major cultural centre of Bury St Edmunds.”

Films are shown seven days a week at the complex which employs 15 staff including Mr Church.

“The work has helped secure the future of the cinema. It’s been a long time coming and the investment bodes well for us,” he added.

Opening in Hatter Street in 1924 as a large 900-seat auditorium, it was a mix of music hall, live shows, and film interludes. In 1930 a fire forced the Central – as it was known then – to turn into a full-time cinema, becoming the Abbeygate Cinema in 1959.

Not so long ago, when it was known as the Hollywood Cinema, it was earmarked for closure, but in 2010 it was taken over by Picturehouse Cinemas and became Abbeygate Picture House.

Mr Church said that going to the cinema would “no longer be a quick in and out event,” and the bar, cafe and restaurant would also be open to non-cinemagoers.

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