New cash injection saves cinema at risk

A project to restore one of the country’s oldest Grade II* Listed cinemas has been saved from collapse after a £550,000 cash injection.

The renovation of the Electric Palace in Harwich was put on hold in January after contractors found small amounts of asbestos in the roof which, due to its location, was going to cost more than the project contingency fund.

But now, after being put on the Heritage at Risk Register and attracting the help of Historic England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, work has restarted – and the Grade II* Listed building is set to open to the public in the summer next year.

David Looser for the Electric Palace Trust said: “The restricted roof space made it impossible to carry out a survey in advance of the works starting and after the roof tiles were removed, we discovered asbestos debris in previously inaccessible spaces and the work was halted.

“While there was a contingency sum within the main project this was insufficient to meet the additional costs and despite our best efforts to date, it looked like the Electric Palace Cinema would be forced to close for good.

“The Trust are very pleased to be able to publicly announce and thank both Historic England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their significant contributions towards the additional costs of the capital works, without which we would have been unable to continue.”

Historic England has granted £300,000 while the National Lottery Heritage Fund has added a further £245,000 to the pot. The Fund previously gave the project £650,000. A further £70,000 is set to be raised by the Trust with a public crowdfunding campaign later this year.

The funding will allow the building to be removed from the Heritage at Risk register, once works are complete.

The extensive historic plaster ceiling renovations on the 105-year-old building are required by the building insurers to meet the guidelines issued by the Association British Theatre Technicians (ABTT).

This followed an incident where the plaster ceiling in Apollo Theatre London collapsed injuring 76 people in 2013, and much smaller pieces of plaster fell from Ipswich’s Regent Theatre in 2011, when no-one was inside.

The renovations will include redecorating the auditorium, replacing electrical equipment and enlarging the stage.

The Trust has been supported by project architects Nicholas Jacob Architects and project consultants Spires Heritage.

Senior architect at Ipswich-based NJ Architects Loriana Jaconelli said: “This is a remarkable historic landmark which was in desperate need of renovation to secure its continued operation and enjoyment by the local community for generations to come.

“We have been delighted to have been involved in this from the start.

“Thanks to the extra funding, we have employed a specialist company to remove the asbestos and this will be carefully monitored throughout, the Health and Safety Executive will be informed of the planned works prior to commencement. All this will be done safely and efficiently.

“The restoration can then progress and this will ensure the buildings survival.”

The Electric Palace is one of the UK’s oldest purpose-built cinemas.

It boasts a silent screen, original projection room, ornamental frontage, an open plan entrance lobby complete with paybox, a small stage and dressing rooms.

Mr Looser for the Trust said: “The Electric Palace is not only of local interest but is also a building of national significance in the history of cinema in the UK.

“Over the years the building has received a lot of support from the local community and has managed to secure sums of money through various campaigns, donations and funding opportunities.

“But now we believe the cinema will be properly protected for future generations and will be reopened to the public in 2020 for events and screenings once again. We are also delighted, with the assistance of the Heritage Fund, to be running a range of exciting community projects to widen our audience and local appreciation of this much valued part of Harwich’s heritage.”

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