In 2019 the Wellington Orbit was converted from an old bank into a fully fledged 63-seat cinema, funded by a community share issue, donations, social enterprise loans and a grant from the borough council. Over £500,000 has been invested in the arts centre.
The business was growing its audience until Covid came along. The government forced the doors to close at the end of March following many sell-out showings of films like Parasite, Military Wives, Downton and 1917.
Back in July, at the first opportunity, the doors were opened once again and despite the lost momentum, the audience is returning.
Chairman Phillip Morris-Jones MBE said: “An army of volunteers and the staff made the place Covid safe, we opened back up and hoped to pick up where we left off. Sadly, the films that we knew would be fantastic for our audience have been pulled by the distributors time and time again, making it tough to put schedules together.
“We’ve seen the effect that it’s had on the big cinema groups. For Wellington Orbit with just one screen and 63 seats reduced to 40 due to Covid, it was time to rethink what we were going to do.
"The easiest thing would be to close the doors, but we owe it to our community to do all we can to keep the project alive.”
Harry Potter Thursdays
The lack of new content from distributors meant trawling through the back-catalogue for films that could still appeal to the Orbit audience. One night at a film and marketing meeting, Harry Potter Thursdays were magicked up and the audience loved it.
Liam McClelland volunteers on the marketing group as well as at the box office on Thursday nights. He said: “We showed each Harry Potter film, in sequence, over eight consecutive Thursdays, and from day one, we knew we were on the right track.
“We’ve seen a new audience demographic, customers dressing up, and even bringing film props along to show other fans.
"Sharing the photos on our social media has been great, showing people having a great time, and really entering into the spirit of Harry Potter and the joy it brings.”
The cinema is also hosting special film nights, shining a light on cult and classic movies where the audience get a chance to talk to each other about the film with a drink afterwards. Local film-makers are also getting involved, showing their production on the big screen and having a Q&A session afterwards.
While there is no doubt that UK cinema has had a rough ride this year, compounded by the delay of the long awaited James Bond film until next year, it’s not all doom and gloom.
“Having just sold out of both our showings of the Ball & Boe Cinema Live concert, we have managed to squeeze an extra showing in for those people who have missed out," said Liam.