Volunteers ‘kept in the dark’ over future of Royston Picture Palace

There are no films being advertised beyond June at the Royston Picture Palace.

There are no films being advertised beyond June at the Royston Picture Palace. - Credit: Archant

Volunteers at Royston Picture Palace feel they are being “kept in the dark” about the cinema’s future amid films not being advertised beyond June and the manager taking redundancy – but the town centre manager has said the venture will continue.

Royston town manager Geraint Burnell. Picture: Clive Porter

Royston town manager Geraint Burnell. Picture: Clive Porter - Credit: Archant

One volunteer told the Crow of their concern about the community-run cinema’s future as its website usually shows schedules for films months in advance. When they queried this with the Royston town manager Geraint Burnell and others, they said they felt they didn’t get a clear response.

The volunteer, who did not want to be named, said: “We’re all worried that we’re going to lose our cinema.

“All we had was an email along the lines of ‘to give you advance notice that as part of a reorganisation in the summer to reduce overheads, the cinema manager – the only paid member of staff – has been offered redundancy’.

“We were told this was to reduce overheads as part of a reorganisation, but in the same email it said that we’ve had another record-breaking year. so we’re getting mixed messages.

“The manager provided all the technical support, booked films, sorted out leaflets and more. We don’t know who is booking films now or what’s going on – it’s all gone quiet, and the public has no idea what’s going on.

“Volunteers are getting fed up and leaving because they’re not getting the support. I volunteered in the first place because it is so fantastic to have a cinema in Royston. I wanted to help keep it going and now obviously I’m really concerned like some of the others are, and we feel like we’re being kept in the dark.

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“We’re worried that it feels like already it’s going downhill. I’m giving my time for free and so are all the others, so it feels like we should really be informed of what’s going on.”

The plans for the cinema at the town hall came about as a collaboration by the town council and Royston First’s BID seven years ago.

Mr Burnell – who is the town manager for Royston First, which companies in the town pay a BID levy to which funds community initiatives – said the cinema has been dependent on the the BID for financial stability, and this funding may be removed at the end of March 2019.

Mr Burnell told the Crow: “In the circumstance where this source of funding may be removed at the end of this financial year, it is imperative that Royston First takes steps to ensure that the cinema becomes sustainable.

“Accordingly, we are focused on forming a going concern that is attractive to a long-term partner/operator who can offer economies of scale and resources beyond that of a lone cinema manager. Throughout this process our goal is to secure a future for the Royston Picture Palace. This change is hard, but we must do it to secure the long term future of this highly-valued community asset.

“In terms of films for July – these are being selected and sourced as we speak. The previous practice of listing films 10 or more weeks in advance is potentially not sufficiently flexible and, certainly in the short-term, we are wary about overextending ourselves.”

When asked why volunteers were not being given information about the cinema’s future, Mr Burnell said: “When we contact the volunteers again in the very near future, the first thing they will receive is our apology for any offence we may have caused.

“We will then invite them to come and talk to us, and share what we know at that point. However, much of the information the volunteers might like to have known has been subject to strict confidentiality, not yet agreed, or is simply, as yet, unknown.

“It is true that some volunteers have left and that we are keen to recruit in sufficient numbers to screen films over the summer and beyond.

“If too many volunteers leave, it will obviously threaten our capability to resume a broader film programme. We know volunteer co-ordinator Rod Kennedy will persevere with retaining volunteers and recruiting/training new ones in his best attempt to keep the cinema at the forefront of our community.

“In terms of support – all we can do is reiterate that Royston First remains committed to securing a future for the Royston Picture Palace for a long time to come.”