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Cineworld closes its doors after James Bond delay but founder of The Light Cinema still optimistic for venue at Bourne Place leisure quarter in Sittingbourne

The boss behind Sittingbourne 's new cinema says the firm remains "very excited" about its opening amid mass closures in the cinema industry.

Keith Pullinger, founder and deputy chairman of The Light Cinema, which is opening a branch on the new Bourne Place leisure quarter as part of the town’s multi-million pound regeneration, remains "hopeful" that it can open this year.

Spirit of Sittingbourne CGI
Spirit of Sittingbourne CGI

He said: “We remain very excited about the cinema, bowl and diner offer that we are close to completing as part of the Bourne Place project. We are confident that this will prove to be a popular amenity and a boost to the town centre for many years to come.

“The cinema industry has some difficult weeks ahead as we look to navigate the business through the lack of film releases caused by the global coronavirus impact. We are monitoring the releases and government announcements on a weekly basis and are still hopeful that we can open the cinema this year.

“Further detail will be communicated as soon as we are in a position to do so.”

It was the delay in the release of the new James Bond film which sparked problems for Cineworld.

Earlier this week bosses announced all 127 cinemas, including Picturehouse, will close today and it's thought this will leave 5,500 workers without a job until they are reopened - if they are.

Keith Pullinger of The Light Cinema. Picture: Matthew Walker.
Keith Pullinger of The Light Cinema. Picture: Matthew Walker.

Despite his optimism over the Sittingbourne venue, Mr Pullinger said cinema suppliers needed to help firms through this period.

When asked how much longer he could keep going like this, Mr Pullinger said he thought it could be only a matter of weeks.

On Monday, chief executive of Cineworld Mooky Greidinger said: “This is not a decision we made lightly, and we did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable reopenings in all of our markets.

“As major US markets, mainly New York, remained closed and without guidance on reopening timing, studios have been reluctant to release their pipeline of new films.

“In turn, without these new releases, Cineworld cannot provide customers in both the US and the UK – the company’s primary markets – with the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theatres against the backdrop of Covid-19.”

Ashford's Cineworld
Ashford's Cineworld

The chain reopened screens in Rochester, Ashford, Dover and Bexleyheath in June with strict social distancing measures in place.

No Time to Die was due to be released on November 12, having already been pushed back from April. On Friday MGM pushed it back to next spring.

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, said: “The announcement is probably the most serious blow to UK cinema operators of a number of similar announcements over the past few weeks and will undoubtedly cause a significant number of cinemas to close again.”

Despite today being the final day of trading, film fans were not rushing to the cinemas this afternoon. Within a 20 minutes window at Picturehouse today, only four customers entered the building, despite two films starting within that time.

Peter Bell, from Aldington, said he attends the cinema around three times a month, opting to watch the Silver Screen performances. He said he was disappointed Picturehouse is now closing.

He said: “It has been very quiet. A couple of weeks ago there was only three people in my screening - me and another couple.

Picturehouse at Eureka Park in Ashford
Picturehouse at Eureka Park in Ashford

“I can understand (why it’s closing), because they’ve held back a lot of blockbusters.”

Mr Bell said the pandemic has not put him off visiting the cinema. He rates Picturehouse because they reimburse for parking too.

He said it is unlikely he will travel out of Ashford area to see a film now.

Two other film fans were visiting Picturehouse to watch After We Collided this afternoon. They booked in advance online and said there was a lot of availability left for tickets.

It is probably the last time they’ll be going to the cinema for a while, adding they will not travel out of Ashford to go to another cinema.

The closures have also sparked fears for the surrounding businesses.

Damian Green, MP for Ashford and member of the cultue and media committee said: "It's a real blow, we were delighted when they added Picturehouse to the existing cinema at Eureka Park but it's obviously an international problem and not just a national one as they are also closing their American sites.

Damian Green
Damian Green

"It's a sign of how important it is to get past the current stage of Covid as soon as possible. If they are closed for only six months that's one thing, but if they close permanently that will be a huge blow for the town.

"Their intention is obviously to reopen as it's their business, but they know no better than anyone else how quickly we'll get back to near normal.

"They also don't know when studios will release their big blockbusters. I don't understand why they are waiting and waiting to release the new Bond film, because the longer they postpone the fewer cinemas there will be to even show it. I can't see how they don't realise it will hurt their pockets.

Cinemas are often complimented by other attractions and restaurants and can often be the main pull to the park.

In Ashford, the Picturehouse cinema, which is owned by Cineworld, recently opened in Elwick Place which has struggled to fill several of the restaurant spaces.

But Mr Green is optimistic about the area and said: "I think Elwick Place is going well at the moment - we've seen the recent announcements of Macknade expanding and interesting tenants moving in, so despite the crisis the area is going well.

"In the long-term, we want that cinema there as the main attraction in the whole place."

Chris Shortall, 28, from Sittingbourne, visited Cineworld on it's final day
Chris Shortall, 28, from Sittingbourne, visited Cineworld on it's final day

Chris Shortall, 28, from Sittingbourne, caught one of the last films on in Rochester today - Bill and Ted. He said: "It doesn't surprise me that it's closing, I work in hospitality and we've been hit hard as well.

"It is depressing but at the same time almost inevitable. I think it will effect the restaurants in front of it quite a bit."

Steve, from Northfleet, who was watching Tenet said: "I haven't been here for a long time, but I used to live in Medway and came here quite a lot.

"It is sad and such a shame. I think films like James Bond being delayed has really affected it.

"The problem is, the films are delayed because people can't come out to watch them, so cinemas lose business and have to shut. It's a catch 22."

"It will be hard on the restaurants especially on Friday and Saturday night.I haven't been down here for about a year and compared to then it's just a ghost town."

Steve visited the cinema frequently when he used to live in Gillingham.

A leading councillor insisted Medway will get through the worst – comparing the current crisis to when Chatham Dockyard closed in 1984.

Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), whose cabinet role includes responsibility for economic growth, says things will recover and there are encouraging signs already being shown.

She acknowledged the closure of Cineworld and the knock-on effect to other businesses at Medway Valley Park would be significant.

But she says the council has strong ambitions for regeneration schemes which will “create the atmosphere for jobs” including Innovation Park at Rochester Airport and the plans for Chatham Waterfront.

She said: “Covid has hit a wide range of businesses in relation to hospitality really badly. Certainly it will have an enormous impact on jobs and the reality is what really hurts.

“Hospitality will come back eventually and people are very resilient in that regard."

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