With the party more or less over for Stalybridge’s nightlife, is the case for reopening the Palace building as a cinema greater than ever?
“My chances of seeing Terminator 3, are moving away from me, As the cinema, 20 minutes away, could be closing any day.
“A night club is proposed, The town has its fair share, clubs and pubs everywhere. Alternatives will be needed: arts centres, amateur theatres, town centre cinemas…
“Town centre cinemas, are more inclusive, the multiplexes are more exclusive. The former are more accessible, the latter caters for motor vehicles, And the price of popcornʼs unbelievable. The architectureʼs wholly diabolical.
“Theyʼre just sheds, although theyʼre popular, though some exceptions…”
– The Last Picture Show (Stuart Vallantine, 27 July 2003)
The Palace Cinema building in Stalybridge is set to celebrate its centenary in style. It has in the last decade been known as Rififi and Amber Lounge. Instead of celebrating its decade as a night club, or centenary as a building, it is going to see in 2013 in the same way as The Pineapple, H2O and Bar Liquid.
As a closed public house.
Before anyone assumes it has fallen victim to the smoking ban, beer tax escalator or global financial downturn, its fate lies with Tameside MBC’s Licensing Committee. After a temporary 4 week closure, it has had its closure period extended by a minimum of three months.
The choice of name is pretty ironic too. Rififi translates from French to English as ‘rough and tumble’. It is also the name of a 1955 French heist film noir. Some critics might say the heist began after American Pie 3: The Wedding was the Palace’s last film. Though it was claimed that the Palace and Metro were losing audiences to multiplex cinemas, steps towards community ownership weren’t exactly forthcoming.
Instead, Rififi reopened in its new guise by Christmas 2003, and started attracting the likes of Abi Titmuss and Wagner from The X Factor. In glamour terms, a far cry from Richard Gere being ferried around Stalybridge. The Slotworld arcade at Ashton-under-Lyne’s Metro continued till 2011. Today, the cinema building formerly known as the Majestic lies empty.
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I was concerned about the closure of the Palace, both as a filmgoer and having spent a great deal of time in Stalybridge for work and play. I thought the vertical drinking bias of its night time economy would have meant short term gain and a hideous comedown (like a session on Stella Artois instead of one on a real ale of some description). Pubs and clubs change hands and styles. The bar based monoculture allows little reason for some citizens to venture in to town at certain times if drinking’s not their scene.
For some people, a drink is no longer the be all and end all to any activity. It is often auxiliary to another one, often before or after an event. Take for example myself, who has a couple of scoops before seeing The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic.
The model I find most desirable for Stalybridge – and Tameside as a whole – is the community cinema model. It has been suggested in some sources that a film season in Stalybridge Civic Hall could be considered. This could be a precursor to sourcing more permanent premises, if the seasonal run is a success.
Closer to home, our most successful example is the Plaza Theatre and Cinema in Stockport, which has filled a gap left by 1993’s closure and demolition of the Davenport Theatre. Its catchment area not only covers its immediate surroundings, but also the affluent Cheshire stockbroker belt, Tameside and South Manchester. On the other side of the Pennines, local support has ensured the success of Holmfirth Picturedrome. Today, it is better known as a concert venue as well as a cinema.
Holmfirth Picturedrome is easy to get to by car and bus, but lacks the connectivity the Palace has. The Palace also has excellent rail links, and its fast journey times to Manchester offer greater potential as a live music venue.
The Palace would also be ideal for conversion as a multipurpose venue besides the exhibition of films. The stalls could have retractable seats, like the George Lawton Hall in Mossley. Moving the seats back could allow for standing only gigs, temporary art exhibitions or dancing. The auditorium could be used for seminars.
- Central location, excellent public transport access;
- Good alternative venue for live music where pubs would be too small;
- Wide catchment area covering eastern part of Tameside, Glossop and Saddleworth.
- Town centre rents;
- No suitable precedent in Tameside area as yet;
- Low wages within borough limits scope for profitability.
- 15 – 20 minute rail journey to Manchester offers potential for audiences living in city centre and its immediate environs;
- Could be Tameside’s answer to the Cornerhouse when coupled with closed Pavilion pub on opposite side of road;
- Alternative venue complementing with council’s programme of live events: cuts to Local Government Funding Settlement could even bridge any gaps;
- Potential for showing classic films and film seasons – lacking among multiplex chains.
- Possible triple-dip recession and resultant loss of disposable incomes;
- Economic crises likely to limit businesses’ and residents’ ability to fund venture;
- Lack of parking in Stalybridge: may not appeal to car owners enamoured with Cineworld and similar out of town provision;
- A reopened Tameside Hippodrome, particularly so with attracting live bands.
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Stalybridge Civic Hall: using the Civic Hall could only be considered a short term solution, stated earlier as a way to test the water.
Stalybridge Police Station: though vacant for some time, the former Police Station could make for a modest venue, though sufficient blacking out of the windows may be needed. Low ceilings may hamper acoustics.
The Pavilion Bar: the Pavilion Bar has been closed for some time. Recent extensions could make for a suitable 100 – 200 seat facility with a ready made bar facility available.
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Lights, Camera, Community Action…?
Stalybridge – and Tameside as a whole – needs a credible alternative to the multiplex for its filmgoers. It also needs a suitable community owned facility to complement public sector provision elsewhere in the borough. The question is, will the rest of Tameside be forthcoming enough to make that happen?
To ensure the viability of a community facility, other non-cinematic uses could be considered outside of film times. For example, the Palace could be an ideal venue for seminars, temporary exhibitions, jobs fairs (also ideally placed for the JobCentrePlus office nearby!) and brass band concerts as well as films. If a community run Palace Cinema is successful, there is scope for the reopening of the Pavilion opposite, either as another art gallery or a smaller screen.
If the Palace is off limits, the Pavilion opposite could make for a more modest alternative. Again you have the same accessibility and central position of the bigger premises.
Shortly after the closure of the Palace and the Metro cinemas, I wrote a letter to the Tameside Advertiser stressing the case for a community cinema. Though there was a couple of favourable replies the following week, nothing concrete happened. Hence the Metro Cinema – a beautiful building lying empty – whom 30 years ago played host to Fat Larry’s Band and Bryan Adams as well as Gandhi and ET: The Extra Terrestrial.
After a recent lull, cinema receipts have started climbing upwards, buoyed by the latest James Bond film Skyfall, action films such as The Life of Pi, and the film version of Les Miserables. Perhaps its time to rekindle our love of film again. Though the average price of a cinema ticket is £7.00, there is still no better way of seeing a film than on the big screen. No plasma screen television can emulate that experience.
The Palace seeing in its centenary as a cinema again? Now that would be a nice birthday present.
S.V., 15 January 2013.