New leisure destination for Colchester
- Credit: Rob Greig
It is hoped that a new cinema will transform a rundown area of Colchester into a new one-stop leisure and nightlife destination.
Backers of the new 300-seat Curzon cinema in Queen Street, which opens on Friday, believe that the cinema will breathe new life into the adjacent Priory Walk area, which has been a victim of the retail downturn in recent months with at least eight store units now lying empty. On July 12, Peacocks clothing store will become the latest store on the street to shut its doors.
“The area does need regenerating, but we feel that in two to three years, it will be very different, because cinemas regenerate areas” said Curzon’s director Rob Kenny. “Retail is going through a tough time at the moment - but specialised cinemas are having a boom time. People are tired of homogenised experiences.”
As well as screening mainstream movies on its three screens, Curzon cinema will show independent films and host cultural events. But Mr Kenny says he dislikes the term ‘arthouse.’
“Its so narrowing,” he explained. “We are different from multiplex cinemas. We filled a gap in the market for something a little bit more special.”
In Oxford, Curzon recently opened their first virtual reality (VR) experience in a cinema, with 20 headsets made available in the bar area for watching VR films. Whilst that’s not on the cards “yet” for Colchester’s Curzon, Mr Kenny isn’t ruling it out. “Cinemas always need to reinvent themselves, and we think this is the future,” he said. “People want something a little bit different.”
The Colchester Curzon in Roman House will be the company’s first venture in East Anglia but its 13th nationally, most of the other Curzons being located in London. And they hope to expand quickly.
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Mr Kenny explained: “If we find suitable locations, we want to open more in East Anglia. There are gaps in the market in this part of the country. We’re looking to open another 10 to 15 cinemas in the next five years.”
The new cinema doesn’t offer an on-site car park, but Mr Kenny believes that only a small percentage of people use cars to get to cinemas anyway.
“We don’t open cinemas in retail parks, we build in city centres because we want to be community based, and the land available for car parks in city centres is quite scarce,” he explained. But fortunately for car-users, plans are also in place to turn the old bus depot on nearby Magdalen Street into a 35-car temporary car park.
The area around the new cinema is already gaining a reputation as a cultural hub, with Firstsite arts venue and Minories Art Gallery both a stone’s throw away from the cinema.
Curzon Cinema will be the cornerstone of the new £30 million ‘food and drink-led quarter’ which is replacing the old bus station and former Keddies department store. The cinema has a rooftop terrace bar and a downstairs bar, while two other restaurant units are also set to open. “We won’t be able to accommodate all of those who want to drink and eat in our own restaurant and cafe,” explained Mr Kenny. “When we opened a cinema in Cantebury, shortly after that a new restaurant opened nearby, and then a bar.”
Mr Kenny hopes that cinema-goers will not just come to view a film, but see the area as a leisure destination where they can while away the hours. “We try to create bars and cafes where people will spend several hours. Most people want to have a drink before catching up with friends and talk about the film after. We want to create a space where people feel comfortable in.”
The area will also soon see the opening of a new 87-bed Travelodge which is set to open in the former Keddies building in Queen Street, and on the corner of Long Wyre Street and Culver Street East, The East of England Co-op has planning permission to restore the former Sale Shop building, with five restaurants, two retail units and 24 flats.
Curzon cinema will open on Friday, and on Sunday between 12pm and 3pm, all of the screens will be open playing trailers so people can come and have a look and meet the staff.