In November 1995 a national newspaper reported that the re-opening of The Cinema in Newton Stewart had all the twists and turns of a Holywood movie script. “An uncompromising businessman playing hardball with an important piece of real estate, the people banding together to fulfil a dream and a whole series of false denouements. Yet when the lights dim and the celluloid starts to roll the dream will have become a reality. The Cinema is back in business.”
A great deal of enterprise to say nothing of hard work went into this project and it is fair to claim that it has paid off in spades. To-day The Cinema is very much the focal point of Victoria Street and the newly refurbished exterior of this art deco building speaks volumes for the community spirit in the town and wider community which ensures that this wonderful facility continues to run at a profit and totally free from subsidy. How many other entertainment centres in Dumfries and Galloway can boast a record like that?
Persuading The Big Lottery as it was known then, Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council, Wigtown District Council and Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise to invest in the business plan painstakingly put together by a small team known as The Save the Cinema Committee was no easy task even after The Lottery Board awarded what they described as a commendable and well thought plan a grant of £350.000. The regional council chairman went so far as accusing the committee chairman of “blackmailing” them into giving them financial support. Then there was the district council apparently hell bent in building a heritage centre with a small film facility and the enterprise company stating cinemas had nothing to do with them. Only at the last minute did they accept looking after the front of such an outstanding building on the main street did perhaps fall within their remit.
The actual story of how The Cinema actually got this far started in 1981 when the then owner announced that recurring heavy losses could not be sustained and the doors would have to close. Fortunately one or two people thought to public should be invited to air their views and the resulting small meeting resulted in a collection of £200 and an appeal to the owner to allow the picture house to remain open under their stewardship with the volunteers picking up the expenses and endeavouring to keep the projectors running. All went well for eleven years until the owner decided to take the building back and make another attempt to sell it without success. One false start ended with The Galloway Gazette exposing the prospective new owner as a businessman who had spent time in prison for fraud and was days away from getting a significant grant from the district council and the second was the eventual sale to a local builder. This led to considerable anger in the town with the bulldozers set to move in and sadly in the middle of it all several important pieces of memorabilia in the building were lost. During all this time The Save the Cinema team were actively trying to find a way through the mess. The fact that they succeeded is now history and The Cinema continues to flourish due to the efforts of the staff and an enthusiastic management team.
There is no question that The Cinema is something special to Newton Stewart. A much needed asset providing it with a first class range of films, the occasional live concert, opera and pantomime and it can safely be said that it will continue to do so for many years to come. The huge growth in DVDs and home entertainment has not proved the threat that many had feared and it is a well established fact that young and old enjoy a good night out at the films.
It is particularly pleasing that not one piece of vandalism has been recorded in the sixteen years that have elapsed since the official opening in 1997, clear proof that cinemagoers appreciate that this is their cinema and deserves to be looked after. The newly completed facelift is welcomed.
Footnote: The only problem ever recorded was the need to refresh one of the comfortable seats after a local with farming connections had forgotten to change is clothes after spreading slurry!