The Regent has become Blackpool’s People’s Cinema.
PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 August 2017
Blackpool is well known for its traditional entertainments, but it keeps up with the latest trends too. Jo Skorecki, vintage stallholder at the Regent, introduces the resort’s newest independent cinema.
It has long been famous for fresh air and fun, sticks of rock, kiss me quick hats and donkey rides on the beach. But while Blackpool’s traditions still help bring the tourists in, the resort is also riding the wave of the current trend for all things retro.
The growth in popularity of vintage styles and fashions has led to a shift away from the mainstream and a surge in interest in independent cinemas. In Blackpool, the Regent has become the town’s People’s Cinema.
The Regent was opened with great ceremony in 1921 by Alderman J. Collins, who had been presented with an inscribed golden key for the purpose. Designed by local architects, it was billed in the Evening Gazette as ‘Blackpool’s perfect cinema’. With a domed tower covered in white terracotta tiles, the outside of the building was dressed to impress. However, by the early 70s the Regent had become a bingo hall, to be followed by snooker. The interior underwent several alterations through the years. Eventually, the building fell into disuse, and was left to decay.
In 2013, the Regent went up for auction and was bought by local entrepreneur Rick Taylor.
‘I’m always looking for my next challenge, and this definitely qualified!’ he laughs. ‘I had planned for an antiques centre, but once I took stock of the building, I realised I had a real piece of history on my hands.
‘Blackpool sometimes gets a bad rap, but in its heyday it was pioneering. There are buildings all over town with a story, and we need to hold on to them. It became a mission to get the Regent up and running again, while keeping hold of the original features.’
Originally a farmer, Rick had no experience of restoring buildings. He has done the work painstakingly himself, with his friend Mark.
‘We just got stuck in, and worked it out as we went along, he said. ‘There were holes in the roof, damp everywhere, it needed all the electrics doing. I even had to take the downstairs floor back to my barn to dry it out. It was a complete wreck, to get it this far has been a great achievement.’
The restoration of the cinema has been the final part of the project; the first area to open was the ground floor of the antiques centre. This has now grown to become a rummager’s dream: three floors of everything from traditional antiques and collectables, to vintage clothes and original craft. The stallholders are diverse but passionate about their own subjects and right behind Rick when it comes to preservation of the building.
Steve Withers, owner of Stevie’s Antiques and Collectables, spends most days at his china stall and has watched the work in progress. He said: ‘It’s fantastic really, especially when you consider that Rick and Mark have done it all themselves. It’s another piece of Blackpool’s heritage preserved for the next generation. Most of us here are collectors of some sort; handling these objects from the past, the history is right there with you. It brings it to life.’
Since opening last year, the re-named People’s Cinema has been quietly growing its audience. The idea of the cinema was never to compete with the big players; you won’t find the latest films or big blockbusters. Instead, suggestions for films are posted on the cinema’s Facebook page and put to the vote.
The traditional red plush seats have adjoining tables, and originally there were ten couples’ seats on the back row. These proved to be so popular that Rick has recently installed another eight at the front.
Matt Holder is in charge of the diner at the back. He sells snacks, along with a range of soft drinks and alcohol. During the day, he also runs the teashop in the antiques centre, with the help of family. He explains: ‘We’ve kept prices as low as possible and people really appreciate that. I’m busy with the teashop during the day, but being part of the cinema is a bit special. It’s a great atmosphere up here. The staff keep threatening to find me a 1950s usher’s outfit, but luckily it hasn’t materialized.’
In-keeping with the finest of seaside traditions, the latest venture is a bingo night which began in March and was hosted by the flamboyant drag queen Vicky La Plume.
Rick still has plans for the building. Eventually he would like to restore the original stage, which is behind the retractable cinema screen. ‘I’ve got a good feeling about this year,’ he said. ‘There’s always the next challenge to look to, but we’ve put the hard graft in, and I think this is the year we really take off.’
For listings and more information, go to theregentblackpool.co.uk