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The much-loved historic cinema has been battling to survive coronavirus restrictions which have seen its capacity reduced by more than 50 per cent.
And, although manager Martin Fol says the fund-raising of the local community – individuals and businesses – has been a huge help, the economic reality is it can’t exist solely on donations and needs audiences to fill its seats again.
Since it reopened on July 31 with a programme of new releases and classics, and new safety measures in place including a socially-distanced seating plan, the Plaza has struggled to get audiences in.
“Weekends are usually our busiest time but on Sunday we had fewer than 100 people all day, for 16 film screenings, and that’s no good for us,” says Martin.
“People locally have been really generous with fund-raising, they’ve been amazing, and that shows us how well-loved the cinema is and how much people do want to keep it.
“But we can’t exist on goodwill and on fund-raising alone, we need people to come in and watch a film and support us that way too.
“If we tell people we’re in trouble then they say, ‘we can’t let the Plaza close’ and if we shut the doors tomorrow there’d be an outcry, but realistically unless audience numbers improve that could happen.”
Martin says the cinema team spent weeks preparing for reopening, including putting in hand sanitisers, a protective screen in the foyer, reducing payment to one till, and introducing a one-way system.
Seating in the two smaller screens was reduced from 92 seats to 44 and the larger one went down from 596 to 235 to allow for blocks to be left empty, meaning masks only need to be worn in communal areas, not while watching films.
Bookings can now be made over the phone and will soon also go online and so far, those cinemagoers who have returned have all been impressed.
“We’ve had over 200 reviews on Facebook and not one has said they felt uncomfortable or unsafe, everyone has given us a great review, but I think some people are still nervous about coming back.
“We just want to reassure them that, with the new rule of six, they can come here safely and we need them to if we’re going to get through the next few months.”
A GoFundMe page raised £18,000 and when the cinema suffered three vandal attacks in a matter of weeks, where lighting was smashed, a further £1,000 was added to that total.
But Martin says with the end of furlough approaching, all those funds could quite quickly go on paying staff wages.
“Without the local businesses and the community who’ve rallied round us we’d be in trouble now because there’s such a cost to just showing a film, with fees to the distributors and our own bills to cover.
“At the moment, the Plaza employs 14 people, including part-time, and we don’t want to go back to the old days of just having volunteers.
“People were really generous by supporting the Just Giving campaign and that will supplement the wage bill from October, plus we have a contingency fund to pay for the upkeep of the building, but there’s still all the other day-to-day costs.
“Our own fundraising is £45,000 short of where it would normally be, just because we haven’t been able to put on as many events, so it is a worrying time.
“We are putting in an application for help from the British Film Institute, we’ve started our bid which will take us about four weeks to get prepared, but there’s no guarantee we’ll be approved for that.
“We know how much we’re wanted here, and that gives us the inspiration and determination to keep fighting, but we really need practical support and for people to feel confident to come back to us.”
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