Business, Charity, Christchurch, Latest News | Posted: Friday, October 16th, 2020 at 11:04 am | return to news

Christchurch’s Regent Centre – 1930s’ restoration for 2020 audiences

By Marilyn Barber

The Regent Centre in Christchurch, which re-opens in November, has undergone significant restoration, to bring luxury and comfort to audiences.

The Regent Centre has undergone a transformation and will re-open on 12 November
The Regent Centre has undergone a transformation and will re-open on 12 November

Now fully Covid-compliant, the Regent Centre will open on Thursday 12 November with a recorded live screening of Michael Ball and Alfie Boe.

The venue shut along with others across the UK in March but was previously committed to its restoration project. Through customer generosity and careful management, funds have been raised over the last two years to allocate £350,000 for the work which started in late June as previously planned.

Gary Trinder, chairman of the Regent and project lead for the restoration, said the aim was to simplify the decorative scheme that had previously comprised 14 different colours to five colours to enhance the building’s original features.

A timeline of 1936 was decided upon, and the deep rose, metallic silver and gold together with black and dark brown colours are all reflective of that period.

The whole of the decorative scheme throughout the auditorium, including the foyer and staircases was undertaken by BCP Council, who tendered for the work and used local craftsmen to apply the specialist finishes from a huge scaffold that was erected in the auditorium.

A new bespoke woven Axminster carpet was manufactured in the UK by Brintons who used their historic design files to obtain a pattern from the mid-30s’ period. New seating with high-comfort Posturepedic foam was manufactured by theatre seating experts Kirwin & Simpson from Grays in Essex to a traditional design of the early 30s to be found in hundreds of cinemas that time. Leg room has been increased, particularly in the circle.

When clearing out the void below the circle, two of the original lighting fittings were found which Shipman & King installed in the late 1950s. The Festival of Britain Exhibition influenced the design of these fittings, which are now very rare in a UK cinema. Having been fully restored they have now been refitted in their original positions on the auditorium sidewalls.

Other improvements to cinema sound, auditorium lighting and the stage have also been undertaken.

Matthew Vass-White, general manager said, “The Regent Centre had become a little worn around the edges and we are pleased that we were able to continue with the restoration project through a very challenging time. Indeed, we’ve heard of many theatres and cinemas that have utilised this time to undertake many similar projects. “We have invested upwards of £10,000 in Covid compliancy equipment and doubled our cleaning operation. Our staff and volunteers are in the process of undergoing a COVID-19 training course certified by the UK Cinema Association and we’ve thought through every possible scenario to make sure that we can adapt to circumstances as they continue to change. We will be operating at a budget deficit until a national solution is found and we very much appreciate the support of our customers who continue to purchase tickets, buy gift vouchers and make donations with us.”

History of the Regent

The Regent opened as a small ‘Super-Cinema’ on Boxing Day 1931 with the film Taming of the Shrew. It was built for local entrepreneur FJ Rowley for £25,000. The Bournemouth architects Seal & Hardy designed the cinema, having recently completed the vast ‘Regent’ on Westover Road in Bournemouth, although the scheme for the Christchurch ‘Regent’ was somewhat simpler.

By the mid-1930s Portsmouth Town Cinemas controlled the Regent, and spent a considerable amount of money modernising the five-year-old building to incorporate contemporary decorative finishes.

The Regent operated very successfully as a cinema until 1973 by which time the Shipman & King circuit had become part of the vast ABC enterprise, although the Christchurch cinema was never branded ABC.

The Rank Organisation then took control of the Regent to operate as a Mecca bingo hall, which it did until 1982. Christchurch Council then bought the property and re-opened the Regent in 1983, by this time with 450 seats. Shortly afterwards the operation of the Regent was passed to a Trust.

Over the subsequent years many improvements have been made to the almost 90-year-old Regent, which last year attracted over 150,000 patrons to see films and shows alone, alongside additional customers who drop into the large foyer for light refreshments.

The Charitable Trust is overseen by a board of directors, and employs approximately 14 paid staff and 200 volunteers.

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