Montrose Cinema Project Putting Success in FocusNeil Hardie
Montrose Playhouse has been pulling in guests in droves since it opened its doors last autumn.
The facility in The Mall is much more than just a place to go and see films. It is a community-owned three-screen cinema and art centre with cafe bar, activity spaces and retail area for promoting the arts, heritage and culture.
Venue manager Matt Buchanan is delighted about how things have gone since the playhouse started welcoming the public on October 6.
He said: “In the first six months, we had 45,500 guests to the cinema – and countless more for community programming, private events and other activities.
“There was a 12-month projection of 68,000 guests, so we’re very pleased with how things have gone.
“The support of the local and wider communities in Angus has been absolutely amazing. People have been so positive about the facility and voted with their feet, for which we are extremely grateful.
“We are providing a really varied programme of films, events and activities, so I’m confident we will continue to grow.”
The development – brainchild of local designer David Paton – is a registered Scottish charitable incorporated organisation.
A group of local volunteers have raised funds, built the audience base and worked with the community to renovate the former swimming pool.
The project began in February 2013 when Mr Paton, a big fan of film and the arts, went on Facebook and posted a design for a new cinema.
Within a few hours, around 500 people had “liked” the post and were vociferous in their calls for him to try to make this dream a reality.
A public meeting was held and a working group quickly formed.
In September 2017, the building was bought from Angus Council for £1.
More than 80 DIY volunteers were then involved in stripping the building back to a shell.
In March 2019, £2.26 million was awarded from the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund in a working partnership with Angus Council.
Bancon Construction was appointed as the main contractor, but when the pandemic struck the site was shut and no activity happened for several months due to the first lockdown. Bancon was able to complete the work in late September 2021.
Other funding sources for the playhouse included the National Lottery and Creative Scotland, in addition to community crowdfunding and sponsorship.
It was April 2021 when Mr Buchanan joined the not-for-profit facility, which now has 30 staff and 10 volunteers.
He added that the playhouse has an “amazing” social development officer, Caroline Farquhar.
“She has put together a programme which includes dementia-friendly screenings, relaxed screenings, baby & me screenings, a baby-massage class and breastfeeding support to name a few. She also organised Christmas films for every primary school in Montrose.
“On top of that, we have meeting/training/activity space which has hosted everything from suicide prevention training and well-control courses to hen nights, and we also host the local folk club, as well as tai chi, baby Pilates and a board-game night. If you can think of it, we’ll give it a go.”
Mr Buchanan said the vision was always for the playhouse to be self-supporting financially.
“Tough as that can be, we are confident that we will continue to deliver this aim,” he added.
Asked about the effect of Covid-19 on the facility, Mr Buchanan replied: “Probably in hindsight building and opening a community cinema during a pandemic is not ideal, but it has only really been on the hospitality side of things we have seen an impact.
“That seems to be abating now, and we have built some great guest loyalty.”
So what does the future hold for the playhouse?
Mr Buchanan said: “As long as we stay relevant, keep listening to the community and ensure we provide an accessible, welcoming venue with diverse and compelling programming I can only see guest numbers, activities and services growing.
“We’ve opened at a tough time and over-delivered, so I have every faith that we will be able to build on our strong foundations and keep providing a great venue for Montrose and the wider Angus area.
“We would just love to thank everyone who has supported us, whether by helping with the DIY SOS, crowdfunding, coming to an event or seeing a movie.
“The venue is nothing without the support and use of the communities it was built for.
“It’s been phenomenal to see so many people get behind this project and make it so successful. Thank you all.”