Off the Bench, a volunteer organisation, has announced plans to re-open The Ritz cinema in Lincoln's High Street. Once a bustling hive of entertainment for the city, it has lain dormant for 15 years. Reporter Ryan Butcher visited the building as work begins to bring the cinema back to life...
Crisp packets and cigarette ends from the mid-90s litter the dusty floor. The big screen and seats, which have been filled by thousands of people over the years, have long-since been ripped away.
But thanks to Off the Bench, a Lincoln-based volunteer organisation, all that is about to change.
After months of searching for a new community project, the group has announced it is to breathe new life into one of Lincoln's best-loved jewels and return The Ritz cinema to its former glory.
Off the Bench hopes to re-open The Ritz as a 480-seat community cinema later this year, after a refit estimated to cost around £750,000.
It will show the latest Hollywood blockbusters, alongside cult favourites, old classics and foreign films.
And with its standard ticket price already set at £4.50, it will come as comfort to those disappointed by the higher prices at Lincoln's Odeon – which the Echo revealed last year to be the most expensive Odeon outside of London.
The Ritz will also play host to theme nights, showing everything from the Twilight saga to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with fans of the films encouraged to dress up as their favourite characters.
The adjoining Wetherspoon pub will remain unchanged by the development, with Off the Bench focusing on the currently disused upper circle and projection area.
Builders are already on site measuring-up before work begins. A whole host of relics from times gone by have already been unearthed – from the projectionist's journal to letters to staff.
Maaike Veenkamp, the project manager from Off the Bench who will oversee The Ritz redevelopment, told the Echo that she hoped the reopening would unite the local community.
She said: "The idea to reopen The Ritz first started on a neighbourhood walk around the Park Ward area while we were thinking of ways to tackle anti-social behaviour.
"There's a large migrant population in this area and we wanted a community hub to bridge the two communities together.
"We have builders in at the moment, surveying to see how expensive the work is going to be. In the meantime we're already in the process of gathering funding and looking for help from local residents and businesses as well.
"We've had an absolutely phenomenal response so far from people who actually want to come and volunteer and get the place up and running again.
"Our aim is to open to the public at the end of 2012 but it's all going to depend on how much help we get.
"The idea behind The Ritz is to keep it cheap and affordable. And with the introduction of things like theme nights, we'll hopefully make going to the cinema more of an event again. Cinema fans will be able to dress up and watch their favourite film, making it something people will actually look forward to.
"We'll have the old classics and Disney films and things like that, but we also want to show the latest blockbusters as soon as we can get them. But it's a viewer's choice cinema and people will be getting what they actually want to see.
"With the response we've had, we also want to use the space as a live entertainment venue as well and have everything from comedians to live bands.
"In terms of the appearances, we want to restore The Ritz to its former glory and keep that retro look, but we'll be holding a community project meeting to get people in and find out exactly want they want – everything from colour scheme to design.
"There are so many old memories attached to the place and everyone has a fond story – there's no other venue like that in Lincoln with all that history. We just want to breathe some life back into The Ritz and make it something for the whole community to enjoy – not just a commercial cinema."
Sixty-three-year-old John Mann, from Birchwood, is one resident who fondly remembers The Ritz in its heyday.
He said: "I first remember coming to The Ritz back in the 1950s and 60s. I even saw King Kong the first time round when I was in my teens.
"I've seen a lot of live entertainment and bands there before as well. Everyone in Lincoln has fond memories of The Ritz.
"I think it's absolutely fantastic that its re-opening as a cinema and everyone I've spoken to agrees – especially if they restore it back to how it used to look.
"I'll certainly be volunteering to help out where and when I can once its up and running again."