Group aims to save cinema, theatre and bingo hall

The Rushden Ritz Theatre Presevation Group has more than 1,000 followers on its Facebook page

A community group has been set up with the aim to buy an art deco building that was once a cinema, theatre and bingo hall.

The Rushden Ritz Theatre Preservation group hopes to buy the former Flutters Bingo and Social Club, in Rushden, Northamptonshire, that closed on 19 December.

The Ritz opened in 1936 as a cinema and was also used by local theatre groups to stage musicals and pantomimes.

It is for sale on the open market for £625,000.

Peter Woolley, from 2 Fat Ladies Leisure and the former manager of Flutters, who leased the building, said it was a “difficult decision to close”.

He said it had been a bingo hall for three decades but with bills going up and trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, it was an “uphill task”.

The building was then returned to its owners, he said.

The BBC has approached them for comment.

“We tried our very best to keep it afloat,” Mr Woolley said.

The inside of Flutters Bingo in the 1970s

A view of the Ritz stage in the 70s, set up for bingo…

Flutters bingo in 2012

… and a similar view in 2012

Reg Challinor, who was creating a community interest group with Matt Bass and Matt Green with the aim of running the venue, said: “With the increased footfall into the town, it could be of great benefit to the local economy.”

He hoped it could be a multi-purpose building for use as a cinema, theatre, conference and wedding venue and to be used by community groups and schools.

“With the right acts we can attract people into the town,” he said.

“We could find local restaurants to produce cinema and theatre menus, and whilst children’s activities are on, the parents can walk round the shops and have a coffee.”

He said the group was having a meeting with Rushden Town Council to have it declared a community asset which would give them six months to raise the funds to buy it.

Rushden Town Council confirmed it was looking at that “possibility” and a visit had been planned.

A nomination would have to be sent to North Northamptonshire Council, who would then decide whether to grant the building community asset status or not.

The protectors of the Ritz cinema in the 1970s

Roger Barnett said the venue’s projection box needed to be “cleaned up”

Roger Barnett worked there in the 1970s and 1980s as a projectionist and assistant manager.

He would like it to remain open “in some form” as it had “one of the largest stages in the country”, but he feared the costs would be too high.

“I think it could be used as a multi-purpose venue for bingo, nightclub, small-scale theatre for local clubs, indoor market.

“I would like to see the projection box cleaned up and restored as a show case.”

The Foyer of the bingo call in the 1970s

The Royer of the building in the 1970s with many Art Deco features still on show

Mr Challinor said: “The ideal situation would be for us to get an investor who would buy the property and we would lease it back.

“If we did get it, it would be fantastic; we’d be over the moon to be able to bring this facility to the people of Rushden.”

The old seating in the Ritz in the 1970s

Seats for bingo remained in the stalls and seating for the cinema was in the gallery

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