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Ashford Borough Council takes over Picturehouse cinema in Elwick Place, Ashford, after chain ends lease

A huge cinema chain has backed out of a town centre location, six years after it opened.

Picturehouse bosses have decided to end their lease at their site in Elwick Place, Ashford, having opened in 2018.

Picturehouse Cinema in Elwick Place will be taken over by Ashford Borough Council
Picturehouse Cinema in Elwick Place will be taken over by Ashford Borough Council

The town is also home to a Cineworld cinema, at retail park Eureka Park.

Managing director of Picturehouse, Clare Binns, said it was a hard decision to leave Ashford town centre, but has thanked customers.

“It's been a pleasure to serve our customers in Ashford, and we want to thank the audiences who have visited the Picturehouse over the years,” she said.

Despite this, the site will stay open as it comes under new management of Ashford Borough Council (ABC).

“We've taken the hard decision to leave Elwick Place but know the cinema is in safe hands with Ashford Borough Council,” Ms Binns added.

“We're excited to see how they'll grow the venue and continue to show films at this beautiful state-of-the-art cinema in the coming years.”

ABC leader Noel Ovenden says he is pleased the council can keep the cinema open. Picture: Paul Amos
ABC leader Noel Ovenden says he is pleased the council can keep the cinema open. Picture: Paul Amos

By Easter, ABC will run the venue with the support of an industry specialist and all existing staff.

Until then, it’s business as usual for cinema-goers as the site remains open.

Picturehouse members will be contacted directly about any time remaining on their account and customers with pre-bookings will be notified about their upcoming ticket bookings.

ABC leader Noel Ovenden says the council has been in discussion with Picturehouse over how they could keep the entertainment venue open.

He said: “We are pleased to be able to keep the cinema operating for the benefit of our residents, wider community, town centre tenants and regular cinema-goers.”

Cineworld, which owns the Picturehouse brand, announced it was considering filing for bankruptcy in 2022.

This left cinema fans in Ashford fearing they could lose their beloved town centre site.

A few months later, it was reported that the brand could exit bankruptcy in July 2023.

Speaking at the time, a spokesperson said: “Cineworld and its brands around the world, including Regal, Cinema City, Picturehouse and Planet, are continuing to welcome customers to cinemas as usual.

“The group continues to honour the terms of all existing customer membership programmes, including Regal Unlimited and Regal Crown Club in the United States and Cineworld Unlimited in the UK.”

Ashford is also home to a Cineworld cinema
Ashford is also home to a Cineworld cinema

It came as shares had already plummeted by almost 99% over the previous five years, after being hit hard by the pandemic which forced it to close some of its cinemas.

The company - the second biggest cinema chain in the world - blamed a drop in the number of big blockbuster movies since the Covid pandemic hit with box office takings reported to be down by 32% in 2022 on 2019.

It was also announced that the Picturehouse brand would be moving forward with plans to restructure its roughly five billion US dollars (£4 billion) debt pile to allow it to exit bankruptcy.

A month before this, the group also scrapped plans to sells its businesses outside the UK, US and Ireland after potential bidders failed to meet the value desired by Cineworld’s lenders.

The global chain opened Cineworld in Ashford in 1999 and in 2022 launched its new IMAX and 4DX screens as part of a multimillion-pound investment.

Picturehouse in Ashford only opened in 2018 and was the anchor tenant on the £75m Elwick Place complex – which is owned by ABC.

It is also home to Travel Lodge, Matches and Virtual Recreation.

Cineworld also has branches in Rochester and Dover.

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