Drama ends as picture house hopes are dashed

THE curtain finally came down this week on the dream of turning the old Abbeydale Picture House into an all-singing, all-dancing performing arts venue.

Volunteers who formed a Friends group ten years ago saw the landmark building go under the hammer for the guide price of £150,000 on Tuesday and end up in the hands of a new owner who said a theatre was not financially viable, although it would be returned to an unspecified public use.

It brought to an end a campaign to revive the old picture house that attracted patrons such as Michael Palin, Peter Stringfellow and Sir Derek Jacobi and saw a range of fundraising events.

In latter years, the building has provided a home for concerts, theatre performances, rehearsals and community activities, but the Friends were unable to generate the financial support to buy the building so that they could press ahead with refurbishment and other plans.

The auction followed repossession by the bank earlier this year after the community trust running the building had been unable to keep up with the mortgage payments.

Friends chairman Clive Jacques said he was “gutted” that ambitions had fallen short, but the funds could not be secured and they were unable to join the bidding.

Over several years, a lot of people had put in a lot of sweat and toil, he said. “You think you are getting somewhere and then you get knocked back.”

At the same time, Mr Jacques said he was pleased that the building would be saved and kept in public use.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what comes out in the wash.”

Howard Greaves, a co-founder of the trust, which was set up in 2003 to steer refurbishment and to help raise funds, said: “Somebody has saved its life, which is a good result. My worry was that it wasn’t going to sell. Then what would have happened?”

But Mr Greaves said it was a “great shame” that it did not appear the former cinema would retain a showbiz connection. “At least it will live to fight another day, and who knows? In five or ten years it may be able to revert.”

Abbeydale Picture House dates from 1920 and is grade II listed, which restricts changes to the exterior and interior.

The identity of the new owner was not revealed after the auction, conducted by Mark Jenkinson and Son.

An agent for the buyer said the building “was not financially viable” to be used as a theatre, but the intention was to bring it back into public use.

“It requires a lot of renovation. The key to that is to get a grant to facilitate that. The intention is to bring the public back into the building.”

One line of immediate speculation was that the old cinema could accommodate a climbing wall.

The Friends had hoped to create a community space for arts, theatre, live music and cinema, and were aiming to launch a community share scheme, but the financial obstacles proved too great.