It’s a Lancashire hidden gem with big ambitions: Nicola Adam visits the nostalgic delight that is Longridge’s historic Palace Cinema
The lights dim and as one, with a slight sprinkling of taken-aback laughter, the audience nonetheless rises obediently for a rendition of the national anthem.
Then they sink back into their red plush seats, china mugs of hot tea and glasses of wine in hand, to wait for the main feature to begin.
Next the film lights up the screen, but this is no flickering projection from the early 1900’s, instead the latest box office hit Mamma Mia 2.
And this is the adorable Longridge Palace.
The historic little cinema, located in a row of terraced properties on Market Place in the grey-stoned Ribble Valley town to the east of Preston in Lancashire, is a nostalgic throw back to the picture-houses of old England where experience of watching a new release was a sacred ritual, long before the advent of streaming, box-sets and the ubiquitous Sky.
Recently re-vamped with an eye to preserving its quirks, the tiny foyer is a far-cry from those in the anonymous, impersonal, conglomerate-owned multi-screen affairs that dominate out of town retail parks
Instead, affable cinema-goers stream one by one past the picture of a young-looking Queen - it is the Palace after all - to a single counter where they queue to buy tickets, sweets and popcorn as well as home-made hot drinks under the eyes of silver-screen Queens from days gone by.
No banks are broken here - prices are reasonable and come in around the £6/7 mark while a cup of tea is just around £2 - it’s not just the surroundings that are nostalgic.
A retro-colourful and equally well-priced ice-cream counter beckons the children (and the big children) and this is not just the only way in which the cinema makes a fantastic day trip for young families.
Those making an evening of it head to the atmospheric and tiny boutique bar next door, really an extension of the foyer counter, where they sink down into a cushioned and blanketed seats for a drink amid the film-themed knick-knacks.
Or if so inclined, they grab a bottle of wine and glasses, and head the few steps into the cinema itself.
There is no doubt that for those behind this microcosm of history, the Palace is a labour of love.
Originally constructed in the 1860’s as a weaving shed and later converted into a music hall, roller skating rink, bingo hall and cinema, it is one of the oldest surviving cinemas in the country
Preserved dutifully by its 82-year-old owner - Dorothy Williamson - for 41 years before her retirement, she was keen to let it go as a going concern when she put it on the market in July 2017.
But mainly she wanted it to remain a special place for Longridge and was desperate not to lose its cinema status.
Now led by new owner/front of house manager Lara Hewitt on behalf of parent company The Parkwood Group, and following a five-month refurbishment, it reopened in May.
It did not all go to plan initially.
The Parkwood Group purchased the cinema with the original intentions of Lara running the business alongside her father Tony, but he sadly passed away in December last year
The initial opening, originally mooted for March, was delayed as a result of extra work to the building and weather delays as a result of the Beast from the East.
Dry rot and asbestos issues were tackled because as Lara, 36, told the Post at the time, “The building would simply have fallen down if we hadn’t.”
But now, following a successful re-opening in July, the Palace retains the magic Dorothy wanted but with added oomph.
The new team is gradually building on the idea of a cultural hub, with plans to build upon its potential for art and film classes, dance classes and stage productions.
A book club is underway and many other projects planned as the team concentrate on building upon the main cinema building.
There is creativity at work here, the cinema has featured its first art gallery and screenings are put on specially for babies and young children.
The cinema itself shows a range of new releases, classic, foreign arthouse, documentary and children’s films, it is also wheelchair accessible and has sensory packs so people with autism can enjoy movie-going any time.
It’s a gem but it it needs the support from the wider community to avoid rolling the credits any time soon.
Look up The Palace Cinema website HERE