A £1.1m scheme to bring a dedicated cinema back to Marlborough has been unveiled by two local businessmen.
Former antiques dealer Orlando Harris and investment banker turned film producer Bob Benton have purchased the Congregational Chapel – built in 1817 and home to Marlborough Parade Antiques Centre for 31 years until it closed in 2016.
The chapel was located for Mr Harris by commercial property agent Andrew Stibbard of Stibbard Property, who negotiated the purchase.
On Saturday (November 11) the businessmen unveiled their plans for the beautiful but faded Grade II listed building. The 2,000 sq ft chapel will be renovated before being fitted with a cafe – and licensed bar if permissions are granted – and 100 tiered seats cascading from the mezzanine floor to ground level.
Finally, the building will be soundproofed and kitted out with a state-of-the-art projection and sound system.
Mr Harris – formerly proprietor of the Blanchard Collection in Froxfield – said he hoped The Parade Cinema would have three or four showings a day. Mother and baby shows, classics matinees, themed screenings, live screenings of opera and theatre from London, and even a film festival would sit alongside the latest blockbusters.
Meanwhile, the space would provide an additional venue for small musical acts and the town’s festivals, including the music festival and the festival of Literature, he said.
Mr Benton said that while the entire project was being underwritten by the company he and Mr Harris formed – Image Cinemas Ltd – they were keen to hear from private investors. The project will be entirely financed privately – no public funding would be sought, he added.
Plans for the renovation – designed by Bob’s son Tom Benton of Sanchez-Benton architects, whose recent projects include a spa building in Hampshire, the crypt of Christ Church Spitalfields and the Garden Museum in Lambeth – were put out to consultation ahead of the submission of a planning application.
The plans were welcomed by members of the arts community, especially Kennet Valley Arts Trust, which has been fundraising and campaigning for a cinema and arts centre in the town for more than a decade.
The town has been without a dedicated cinema for more than 30 years, although movies aimed at a mature audience – including live broadcasts of opera, ballet, and theatre – are screened at the Town Hall. The former Marlborough Cinema was housed in the Grade II listed former Corn Exchange, now home to Waitrose supermarket.
The businessmen said that Marlborough would be the first of several market town cinema ventures for Image Cinema Ltd.