Staff at Penrith’s Lonsdale Alhambra have issued a desperate plea for people to put “bums on seats” and save the cinema for a second time.
Just over a decade ago, a massive community effort helped to rescue the treasured attraction after it was earmarked for closure.
The campaign was backed by celebrities and saw large crowds demonstrate on the town centre streets.
Saved after a U-turn by its then owners, the cinema is run by Alan Towers with a dedicated team of staff who were looking forward to a bumper 2020.
“Before lockdown we were really set for a good year, probably the best we’ve had since the 2010-11 campaign to save the cinema,” said assistant manager Joe Watters.
“We had a fantastic line-up of films ready.
“The whole industry was geared to be probably one of the most profitable years we’ve ever had.
“Then COVID hit and shook everything up for everyone.
“That was a really worrying time for us because we were one of the first places to close.
“And we’ve never see the scale of fallout from distributors, film suppliers — the whole film calendar was turned on its head.”
During lockdown there were some “green shoots” with the planned release of several blockbusters. But while Tenet did hit screens, Mulan was instead moved to subscription channel Disney+.
And the industry is now reeling from another massive body blow with the release of new James Bond film No Time to Die further delayed until April 2021.
“That news has devastated the dwindling hope we had left,” said Joe. “Again, we are trying to stay positive and will be scheduling more independent films to compensate but this was a huge blow for us and all other UK cinemas.”
Indeed the UK’s biggest chain Cineworld has announced it will close more than 100 picture houses as a result, while Odeon is to scale back opening hours.
Keswick’s Alhambra is also considering an opening hour reduction.
Currently Penrith’s cinema has single figure admissions although many screenings are complete no-shows.
“At the minute it’s absolutely unviable and unsustainable because we have to pay for licence fees for every show whether someone turns up or not,” said Joe.
“For the rest of this year at least, it’s looking pretty bleak.
“At the minute we’ve got less than six months’ savings left and if business continues to shrink in the way that it is we’ll be lucky to make it to the end of the year.
“Unfortunately, we just can’t offer what people were wanting as fresh material because it doesn’t exist for anyone.”
The cinema has been offering classic movies such as Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Alien and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, family films, David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet documentary and alternative and arts productions as they encourage customers to try something different.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been confirmed for later this month and will see staff don costumes.
No Time to Die is now the theme Lonsdale Alhambra staff are applying to their own plight, Joe agreeing it’s a case of “save the cinema” second time around.
“Yes, I feel like it is,” he said. “We’re at a point now where it is do or die.
“We need more than donations this time around.
“We really do just need bums on seats. That’s what we’re saying to people.”
Using a skeleton staff, unstinting efforts have gone into ensuring the cinema experience is a safe one.
“This is where I understand that people worry. But there is absolutely no reason to,” said Joe.
“At the minute it’s way safer than going to a supermarket and safer than walking down the high street.
“Everything is structured. It’s an incredibly controlled environment. We know that we can handle this and we can do it safely.
“We’re still passionate, we’re raring to go and we’re doing absolutely everything we can,” he added.
“We just need people to take that chance on us really.”
Responding to industry concerns over the Bond delay, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Cinemas do now have ways of letting their shows go on in a COVID-secure way and I’d encourage people to go out to the cinema, enjoy themselves and support those businesses.”
Visit here to see the films being shown. Vouchers are available, as are discounted private screen bookings.