Suffolk’s independent cinemas issue ‘use us or lose us’ plea
PUBLISHED: 15:39 05 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:56 05 October 2020
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“Your cinema needs you – use us or lose us” this is the message from veteran independent cinema manager Pat Church after cinemas have struggled to find an audience following the relaxing of Coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Mr Church is a manager at the Abbeygate cinema in Hatter Street, Bury St Edmunds and has been the public face of the venue, under different owners, for more than 50 years and he says that attendances are the worst he can remember – in fact things are getting so bad that it threatens the survival of the cinema business.
The temporary closure on Thursday of the Cineworld circuit, one of the world’s biggest cinema chains, provided a sharp illustration of his fears. The cinema giant has confirmed all 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse sites in the country, including screens in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill, will be shutting their doors after the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, was delayed until April next year.
Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central, added: “Closures like this are devastating for towns like Ipswich. Our thoughts are with those that may lose their jobs as a result.
“It is obvious that entertainment venues cannot operate with the current measures. If government wish for the industry to survive, they will have to find another way.”
Other blockbusters, such as Black Widow, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Wonder Woman: 1984, have also been put back to 2021 as the cinema industry has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pat Church believes that audiences can help keep cinema alive. “People have got to have faith in the cinema. It is perfectly safe. We have put all the social distancing measures in place and the screens are thoroughly cleaned between performances. In a 115 seat screen we can accommodate 34 people and those people who have come to see a film have complemented us on how safe and comfortable the experience is.“We know our customers, we look after them and we do everything we can to make sure a trip to the cinema is as safe and as welcoming as it possibly can be. We need to get that message out to our friends and supporters who have not been back to see us since lockdown. You can’t beat watching a film on the big screen. Even with a full house of 34 people there is something magical about watching a film with like-minded people – you all laugh together and gasp together at the events on screen – it’s something you just can’t replicate at home.
“I don’t want to be alarmist but we are getting to a position where if you don’t use us then you will lose us and that will be a tragedy.” Abbeygate opened their new premiere screen at the end of July.
It isn’t just the Abbeygate Cinema which is being threatened by falling attendances. Neil McGlone, of The Riverside Cinema in Woodbridge, is equally concerned. He says: “Last year The Riverside had one of its best years ever with annual admissions just over 73,500. Cinemas nationwide also saw one of their best years ever for audience numbers.
“At the beginning of 2020 we also had set records for our admissions and then the pandemic hit us. When we opened at the end of July, the numbers returning were very low. The smaller independent distributors are thankfully still releasing films which we are thankfully screening and the quality of these is very good indeed but sadly people are still not coming in significant numbers to make it financially viable – ideally need about 30 or so a screening and we sometimes are lucky to get double figures. We have gone from around 6,000 admissions a month to just 1,500 - a loss of 4500.
“Now, more than any other time, is when your local cinemas need you more than ever because if you don’t support them now when they most need it they will not be here when all this is over.”
Both Pat Church and Neil McGlone are also urging the film studios to keep releasing high profile films as pushing movies like the latest James Bond epic back to next Easter sends out the wrong message to filmgoers. They want cinemas, film studios and audiences to weather the Covid storm together – that is the only way that cinema will survive.
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