BRIDPORT’S iconic Electric Palace Cinema has been operating on a knife-edge and needs help.

But directors Peter Hitchin and his daughter Gabrielle Rabbitts who have been working unpaid, vowed it wouldn’t close.

It is re-launching its Friends’ scheme and has asked the town and district councils for support.

The South Street venue is now a charity and can apply for grants alongside non-profit-making organisations.

Celebrity patrons like Julian Fellowes have agreed to charity fundraisers – he will be hosting a Downton Abbey event in June.

He said: “The Electric Palace is a real, living piece of cinema history.

“It is Dorset’s good fortune that it should find itself in Bridport.

“We are extremely lucky to have inherited it and we should do everything in our power to make it safe for future generations to enjoy.”

Mr Hitchin said people didn’t realise how much the big name acts took for coming – at least 80 per cent of the door money.

He said: “That leaves us with not a lot of money to pay the overheads. Also, unlike most venues we get no funding from the local authority and we exist on a shoestring, having to hire in a PA system for each event and all the lights.

“The only way that we have survived so far is by Gabby and myself working unwaged and subsidising the venue because it is dear to our hearts.

“We are addicted to the Electric Palace and are determined to make it flourish with the help of our brilliant Bridport audience.

“When many venues that have had the benefit of hundreds of thousands of pounds invested in them are closing it is remarkable that we have survived as long as this with no visible means of support.”

The first fundraising target is £ 5,500 to buy lights, then £20,000 for an in-house sound system.

Mr Hitchin added: “But we don’t want to give the impression that the Electric Palace is threatened with closure. That is not going to happen.”

Fellow director Gabby Rabbitts added they would love to hear from anyone with suggestions of benefits friends would like to see.

She said: “Like everyone else we are struggling.

“Every penny counts and we have really been on a knife-edge for quite a long time.

“The Electric Palace audience, have become famous among comedians and bands that visit the venue. They say they love coming to Bridport because they receive a better, warmer and wittier reception than anywhere else.

“In order that we can continue to attract top acts we need to offer them good facilities.”

MP Oliver Letwin said: “The Electric Palace is a wonderful part of Bridport's astonishingly rich cultural life and, as a local charity, it deserves support. I am keen to find some way for it to acquire a loan - so it can make some small investments which would assure its future."

Bridport town councillors on the finance and general purposes committee last week agreed to write to West Dorset District Council in support of the Palace’s application for funding.

Town clerk Bob Gillis said: ”The Electric Palace is a very important venue for the town. It brings in a lot of people and generates a lot of money for the restaurants and hotels.

“It also caters for local groups like the pantomime players and other community events.”

Coun David Tett said: ”I would like to feel that at some stage in the future we would be able to support the Palace ourselves.”

Membership forms for becoming a friend are available from the Tourist Information Board.

The historic art Palace cinema closed without warning in March 1999 after operators Reeltime Entertainment said they found corroding steelwork on the balcony.

At the time it was owned by Trudy Byrne, the Sussex based widow of cinema magnate Miles Byrne and there were numerous ideas of how to save the building, including the town council running it as a trust.

Behind the scenes negotiations came and went until finally it was bought by Peter Hitchin in 2002 and embarked on a long and tortuous road to get it re-opened.

He has tackled a kaleidoscope of bureaucratic red tape, listed building consents, survey controversies, planning hurdles, restoration wrangles, building regulations, grant and licence applications, to bring his vision of the cinema into focus.

The cinema finally re-opened in 2007.

Last year it was voted runner-up in the UK’s Best Small Live Rock Venue.


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