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Prescot Palace cinema building

Positive step forward for Prescot Picture House restoration

by Lisa Bennett

Plans to restore the former Prescot Picture Palace cinema have taken another positive move forward as Knowsley Council has entered into an exclusivity agreement with The Cinema Group.

Over the next 6 months The Cinema Group will carry out detailed work, including engagement with the local community, with a view to developing a business plan to operate the building.

During 2021, the council and expert cinema consultants, The Big Picture, led the search for an operator to bring the derelict cinema building back to life and to become an integral part of the council’s ambitious plans for Prescot.

Following a thorough selection process, The Cinema Group proposed the most financially viable plan to restore and reuse the exiting auditorium and for two additional cinema screens. Their proposal also included the least invasive treatment of the historic auditorium area, which is considered to be one of the best secular historic interiors in Prescot.

The Cinema Group is a Private Limited Company made up of experienced cinema industry professionals who have joined together for this unique opportunity in Prescot. Collectively, The Cinema Group has worldwide expertise and experience in operations, fit-out, project management, marketing, design, and architecture from creating cinema and leisure destinations worldwide.

Cllr Tony Brennan, Knowsley’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development said:

“This is really positive news for this project. The Prescot Picture Palace, in its day, was a fantastic place for local people to visit and we want to bring that back to Prescot with the renovation and restoration of the building, but also offer more to visitors.

“The Cinema Group have a successful track record in this sector, so I am pleased that they have been selected to move this project forward.

“The transformation of this area of the town and this building in particular has always been a key part of the council’s ambitious plans to make Prescot a more vibrant leisure and cultural destination and it is great to see those plans progressing.”

Chairman of The Cinema Group, Ryan Arbabi commented:

“We are delighted to have been chosen to work in collaboration with Knowsley Council to develop the former 1912 Prescot cinema building into a new leisure destination for the 21st century. We have been working extremely hard over the past year to create a community and culturally focused plan for the project, and are delighted that this was recognised by the council in its award to The Cinema Group. We now look forward to realising the vision and working with local people of Prescot to deliver something that the town can be truly proud of.”


About the Prescot Picture Palace

The former Prescot Picture Palace Cinema at 8-14 Kemble Street was established in 1912. The Prescot Picture Palace Company Ltd purchased number 12 to 14 Kemble Street (a pair of amalgamated C19 town houses) and plans were approved by the Urban District Council for their conversion into a cine-variety theatre in September of that year.

At its opening it was described as presenting a palatial appearance and ‘quite luxurious’ with the theatre seating 630 customers, which increased with the addition of a balcony around 1913. The U-shaped balcony, carried on ten pairs of columns, was accessed by a central L-shaped staircase off the foyer.

The Picture Palace served as a picture-drome, music-hall and Variety Theatre. It was operated as part of the J F Emery Circuit by 1923, renamed ‘Palace Cinema’ in 1927, and equipped with a British Thomson-Houston (BTH) sound system by 1929. In 1957 the cinema closed, and the building became a carpet and furniture warehouse. The plan form remained unchanged until the mid-1970s, although the 1920s cinema seating was removed from the auditorium and stored in the upper floors.

Around 1975 former shops (8-10 Kemble St) were purchased by Tudor Bingo and incorporated into the cinema building. Number 8 was a purpose-built early-C20 shop, with an Edwardian shopfront to the ground and first floor, and Number 10 a former C19 house converted to a shop. Both shop frontages were boarded up and modifications included the creation of internal access between the newly purchased buildings and the former cinema, and the removal of the cinema entrance entablature for a fascia sign. A flat roof extension was added to the rear of numbers 8-10 and another at the south end of the auditorium’s east elevation. Internally the east arm of the balcony was extended to the south end of the auditorium, over the stage and beneath the proscenium arch.

Coral Bingo took over the bingo club in the late 1980s and established a social club, with the loss of the shop front to number 10 for the insertion of two ground floor windows.

In 1995 the buildings were purchased by Prescot Community Church (an Elim Pentecostal Congregation), who remained in residence until 2021. Knowsley Council acquired the building in 2021 and will repair and restore the buildings with funds secured as part of the Prescot High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ).

The revival of the cinema is the single largest project of Prescot’s HSHAZ and will see the historical building restored to its former glory. The HSHAZ is jointly funded by Knowsley Council and Historic England.

About the restoration work

Manchester-based Purcell are the lead consultants on the project and will undertake the design and specification for the external repair and restoration of the building as part of the first phase of works to the building. Purcell will work in partnership with conservation accredited structural engineers Blackett-Ord Conservation, and quantity surveyors Cavendish Bloor. The works are joint funded by Knowsley Council and Historic England.

This work follows initial feasibility work by Donald Insall Architects and desk-based archaeological assessments by Dr Robert Philpott of Specialist Archaeological Services, as part of the Prescot HSHAZ.

About Prescot High Street Heritage Action Zone.

Prescot was selected as one of the 68 high streets to benefit from the High Streets Heritage Action Zone scheme in 2020. The £3.1 million heritage-led regeneration programme will see major investment from Knowsley Council and Historic England into a number of key projects in Prescot town centre.

This includes the restoration and reuse of the Cockpit House on Church Street, master planning of the vacant Kemble Street/Sewell Street site, and the grant aiding of privately owned buildings centred on Market Place and Eccleston Street.

In addition to this, the local HSHAZ Cultural Programme has recently completed Pilot Project ‘Act One: Prescot Makers and Players’ and will continue to bring various groups in and around the town together to help celebrate the rich heritage of Prescot, together with the HSHAZ national commission ‘Picturing England’s High Streets’.