The Elite Cinema and Theatre - Ashbourne

A lot of local people asked us to consider turning The Elite back into a small cinema and theatre. Eventually we adopted this idea hoping it would help regenerate the town.’ - Mick Gallimore

 ‘Going to the Elite was an occasion in the early 50’s. It was always busy on Saturdays. Smart usherettes in uniform would guide you to your seats and come round in the intermission with the ice cream tray. Frank Bromwich, in  evening suit, would greet cinema patrons.’ - Pamela Woodyatt

Cinema attendance figures are recovering following Covid -19 and although some multiplex operators continue to have challenges, new boutique cinemas are still opening and being successful.

In the past 30 years, having a cinema has proven to help regenerate the town centre. Cinemas are destinations which attract people and increase a town’s footfall. Watching a film with others provides positive social benefits. Councils now embrace this and often financially support cinema projects.

An example is The Elite Cinema and Theatre in Ashbourne, Derbyshire (UK) which opened at the end of May this year. Bill Chew Architect Ltd (BCA), a well-known cinema architectural practice, was appointed by Mikijohns Enterprises Ltd, to act as cinema consultants on the project. The Elite received a grant from The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, without which this project may not have happened.

Ashbourne is a historic town, bordering the Peak District National Park. The town has a population of around 10,000 and has many historic buildings and independent shops. 

The first purpose-built cinema in Ashbourne was the Empire in 1912, seating 430 people. Around 1930, at the time of “talkies” the Elite Cinema in Market Place was opened and the Elite became the main cinema in Ashbourne, featuring Hollywood blockbusters, with the Empire showing mainly cowboy films.

Early 2020, BCA was approached and visited the site. At that time, the ground floor was a retail space and the upper was the cinema space (formerly the circle), although it had been used as a nightclub so the floor was already well insulated. 

The way the building had been modified previously presented some challenges which were overcome by moving the picture plane forward of the pros arch to create a better proportioned cinema auditorium. The auditorium is dual purpose, so a roller screen was installed. Ferco Seating installed 122 luxury seats (114 cinemas seats and 4 sofas at the rear). Sound and Projection installation, carried out by CinemaNext, comprised a Barco SP2K-7S Laser Projector, Dolby CP 950 Processor and MAG Audio behind screen and surround speakers. The screen speakers can be removed and stored when not in use. Theatre equipment was supplied by J & C Joel and acoustic wall coverings by Eomac Ltd. Light fittings were supplied by YESSS Electrical, based in Derby.

Complementing the cinema is a new bar and separate wheelchair toilet accessible from the auditorium. An external platform lift is located outside. The concessions lounge and office are sited off the staircase and existing toilets were fully refurbished and modernised.

The cinema operates from Wednesday through Sunday, showing 3 or 4 mainstream films a day. 

Odoo • A picture with a caption
Interior of The Elite Cinema and Theatre in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

Note - There is an excellent book – “A Cinema Near You” published in 1996 and written by Ashley Franklin which gives a very detailed account of the evolution of cinema in Ashbourne and other towns.

Photo Credit: ThreeSixSevenNine Photography 

Thanks to BCA for allowing us to abbreviate his article published on LinkedIn

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