Inside the Granville Cinema in Ramsgate, the ceilings are falling through, the smell of damp is heavy in the air. Debris is scattered on the floor, mould climbs up the walls and buckets sit around the building full of the rainwater that poured through the roof during the last bout of bad weather.
The lights don’t appear to be working in parts of the building and dust sits in thick layers across much of the remaining furniture.
There are issues with the plumbing and the piano backstage is covered in filth, although musician Ned Cartwright demonstrates it is all in working order as he plays the keys.
Despite the rundown condition of this building, which was listed as an Asset of Community Value in 2019, members of the Kent Film Foundation say there is a wealth of potential and rebuild and refurb plans are ‘doable.’
The freehold for the building is owned by Thanet council. The council took formal possession of the venue in May last year after the impact of covid left the Granville Theatre Ltd team – who had been running the site – with no option but to relinquish it. The venue had been shut since the start of the pandemic.
In October 2021 Thanet council invited expressions of interest from eligible community groups to become the new owners the theatre.
A submission from Kent Film Foundation was rejected as not meeting the relevant criteria. The group wants to create a new arts centre with workshop space, cinema, theatre, a bee-friendly roof terrace, the town’s first organic restaurant – and a new name The Sandcastle.
Plans include workshop space to continue with youth film clubs and to create a new youth theatre and youth orchestra in partnership with Pie Factory music , increased cinema screens and new theatre space.
The plans for construction of the building were for a £3-£5million “Green Build” design.
However, at a council meeting in March Cabinet Member for Economic Development Cllr Reece Pugh said: “The KFF submission did not provide adequate designs or costings for refurbishment of the building and lacked proof of funding and a realistic business plan.”
He also revealed a survey in 2017 had identified some £152,000 would be required for internal works and, in addition, another £250,000 would be needed for roof repairs.
Kent Film Foundation says no indication of the criteria and ‘scoring card’ areas were given and there was no feedback to help them edit their submission accordingly.
The site is now being marketed by Miles & Barr Commercial with all offers to be reviewed after the June 27 deadline.
Kent Film Foundation intends to submit a bid. The group is backed by numerous local organisations, such as Ramsgate Festival and the Ramsgate International TV and Film Festival, and is being supported by the Theatres Trust and the Cinema Collective. The group is also being advised by Kevin Markwick, a highly regarded cinema operator who runs The Uckfield Cinema and did podcasts for Radio 4’s The Film Programme. He also reopened the Birmingham Electric Cinema recently.
Jan Dunn, from KFF, said: “We are looking at it as a shell. We want to rebuild and extend, to include a café and have a bench in the foyer with a movable lid so we can hold community cooking classes.
“We want to split (the main auditorium) into two, 80-seat cinemas and bring in an exciting theatre company residency.
“We will start from scratch and revamp. Our builders who went around with the architects say the main issue, which can be solved, is air flow. The roof is obviously damaged but we will be removing it during the rebuild.
“There are dressing rooms and spaces, it is a good venue and the shell is very useful.”
KFF hopes to give new life to the Granville site as a major arts centre, enabling activities for the community, film workshops and the ability to bring in income which will keep themselves and other Ramsgate groups sustainable. They say there is an abundance of experience and relevant skills between all the interested partners to make the project a success.
Among those visiting today was Rob Kenny from the Cinema Collective. The collective is a group of five people with industry backgrounds who came together with a shared interest of helping more communities own and run their cinemas.
Rob said: “We were formed at the end of the pandemic mainly because we felt the move to community owned and run cinemas rather than out of town multiplexes.
“The Granville is a fantastic building. Many buildings are too small or restrictive but this building has so much scope not just for cinema screen but for use by community groups.”
After the KFF application for the acquisition of the building was rejected, the public rallied in support by setting up a petition through change.org which has gained more than 5,500 signatories so far.
Residents also organised a public ‘wraparound’ of the building with some 1,500 people turning out on a weekday afternoon to support the proposals that Kent Film Foundation and partners have for the building.
Actress and Ramsgate resident Brenda Blethyn is patron of both KFF and the Granville Theatre.
Earlier this year council leader Ash Ashbee said: ““The council has a duty to all its residents to ensure that any community group looking to take on a public building can fully demonstrate that it can do so. This includes a full business case with confirmation of funds as well as the financial and skills capability to ensure that the project will succeed and have a long term future to benefit all of the wider community.
“These processes exist both to protect those looking to take on a building for the future with the associated maintenance and running costs. As a council we have a governance duty to ensure we achieve best value, both financial and social, for a public asset that would otherwise be sold.
We recognise that the Granville Theatre is a location that holds fond memories for many local people. It is really encouraging to see the huge amount of positive local support for the project and for an asset that we all want to secure a positive future for.”
A potted history of the Granville
The building began its life as the newly-created Granville Concert Enclosure with a partial roof and windbreaks in 1914, upgraded with a new canvas awning in 1920. The building’s primary purpose was in offering a summer season Concert Party. This was a music-hall mix of musicians, singers and comedy acts.
In 1924 it was given a new roof offering “now complete shelter from the wind and rain” and a new name as The Granville Concert Pavilion .
The old Granville Pavilion was damaged beyond repair in World War Two and was demolished. The New Granville Theatre, as it was originally known, was designed by architect Mr W. Garwood at a cost of £13,100 and every usable brick from the old building was brought back into use, with new blocks being made in the town.
The theatre was declared open by the Mayor of Ramsgate Alderman Austin in June 1947.
Films were first screened from May 1986 on Sundays only, initially using 16mm projection equipment with 35mm later installed, becoming a full-time cinema from 1991. In 1997 two cinema screens were approved and the Granville Cinema was redesigned by Rowlett & Taylor of Broadstairs, retaining one screen for dual theatre/film screenings.
The Granville is Ramsgate’s last remaining cinema of the three that used to be in the town, including the Odeon and the King’s cinemas, and it is the town’s only theatre building.