Penrith Cinema


Rory has hailed the saving of Penrith cinema as a ‘triumph of community action”.

“Save Penrith Cinema” was launched in January when its owners announced that the long-established cinema was to close and be re-let in a matter of months. A vibrant campaign brought hundreds of supporters into the streets, formed a community-purchase committee and raised 120,000 pounds in two months. Rory – who has helped the community action group by personally negotiating with the owners, launching the pledge, and building a website for the campaign – heard from the vendors, Graves (Cumberland) Ltd, on Friday that they would no longer close the cinema. Instead, they have agreed a 10-year extension to the current lease.

Rory said today: “I am absolutely thrilled that the campaign to save Penrith Cinema triumphed. It is a triumph for community action. Graves have acted with generosity. A community has fought for, and saved a much-loved local asset. This is a victory for the communities of Penrith and Eden – for their determination and optimism – and an extremely well-run campaign by local volunteers. The time and energy that people have volunteered has been inspiring. I am honoured to have been able to play a small part in supporting it and I’m looking forward to many more years of film viewing at the Alhambra. This is a community asset that none of us should ever take for granted, and I couldn’t be more pleased for Penrith.”

Vince Hughes of Graves (Cumberland) Ltd, said ” Closing both Penrith Cinema and the Opera Bingo Club was never a decision we wanted to make, but after a number of years of trying to turn around the fortunes of the latter, we were forced to take the very difficult route of closure and, at the time, the most viable business opportunity was to let the building as a whole.  However, following the overwhelming campaign led by the Save Penrith Cinema Group and the community of Penrith we are now hopeful that there are other opportunities for the site and can see a future for the building which will include encompassing a cinema for a long, long time to come. ”

Ruth Parker, Chair of the ‘Save Penrith Cinema’ campaign group, said: “The Save Penrith Cinema Group are absolutely delighted with the outcome.  The people of Penrith and the Eden Valley who signed the petition, marched on the streets and pledged their money to save a cinema in the town made their voice heard and it has been listen to by Graves Cumberland Ltd who will now be working with the Save the Cinema Group to keep the cinema in the town and find an appropriate tenant for the ‘bingo’ space.  A number of people have over the past few short weeks worked very hard to persuade Graves to think again, and a huge thank you must be given to the enormous amount of work and time they have given to this campaign.  Another big thank you goes to Rory Stewart and his team who have given time, support and practical assistance in making this outcome the success it is.  Without all the help of ordinary people we would not be celebrating today, so well done to all who have been involved to achieve this fantastic result.  And lastly for the little girl who wanted to see the last Harry Potter film where she saw all the others – you will be able to now….and so will I!”

Alan Towers, the current Cinema operator, said: “I am delighted to have been contacted by Graves (Cumberland) Ltd about a new ten-year lease on Penrith’s Alhambra Cinema. The strength of feeling of local residents took me by surprise – it probably took everyone by surprise! – and the willingness of local people to demonstrate that the local population cared so much about the cinemas and wanted them to continue was quite overwhelming. Very many people who have worked very hard deserve praise for this successful outcome; from the Save The Cinema campaign team, Rory Stewart M.P. and his team, all the local people who were willing to give of their time and money to achieve a successful outcome and also Graves (Cumberland) who were willing to listen to the arguments and change their decision to benefit the local community. With all the weight and support, I hope and expect that the cinemas will remain well-loved and well-used for very many years to come!”

Rory plans to help organise a fancy-dress parade to celebrate the victory.





On Saturday, I was amidst the joyful and unsettling reality of the cinema demonstration, teetering on a stage above a crowd of perhaps six hundred. Some protesters stood beside the police, holding banners, as solemn as at a picket-line. The group by the toy-shop were funereally quiet; but from the Co-op came a sprinting whooping posse, in neon bodysuits, leaping on the stage like circus tumblers. Children were singing and old men had that astonished, happy expression which I associate with a successful wedding. When I invited people to buy a share in the cinema, fifty voices shouted ‘yes’ in unison and we raised £9,000 in nine minutes. Dawn, who was leading the march, dressed for the second week as Darth Vader chanting “Save our cinema!”, seemed to harness the shared faith of the crowd, and its incongruous insurrectionary energy.

The next day, I was worried that we had all been simply carried away into something very risky. I had helped convince Graves, the owner, to let us bid, but was the price right? How was this whole thing going to be managed? I cleared my Sunday afternoon and arrived in the Methodist Central Hall, expecting a meeting of half a dozen. But there were forty: some in jeans and weekend stubble – some in climbing gear, fresh from the hills – others dressed for the “Sunday Evening Extra”. It was a group of varied equals, from teenagers to pensioners: each with firm and different philosophies and political views. But Ruth, who I had never met before, somehow emerged as first among these equals. She ran the meeting with the crispness of a conference in “The West Wing”: assigning every task from structural surveying, to marketing, to share issues and charitable structures. She used jargon phrases, to which I have always been allergic (she talked about ‘task and finish groups’), but she used them accurately and to deadly practical effect. I could and did take on a small amount: setting up the website, finding an office space, contacting the seller. But the group took on the whole driving responsibility for the project. A teenager took over the website, an accountant immediately volunteered for the book-keeping, a council officer brought clarity and systems without ever imposing his views on the room. We’ve a very long way to go. But it’s difficult not to be optimistic when you see the people in that room. 6,000 people have already signed up to support the cinema.

If you haven’t already, please join them in signing a petition to save the cinema by signing your name here.



Rory  launched the fundraising campaign for the Penrith Cinema by pledging to match any donations up to £1,500. He was immediately matched by local businessman Dave Harding (owner of the Angel Lane Fish and Chip shop), at a rally to save Penrith’s Lonsdale Alhambra cinema on Saturday 29th January. Dozens of others in the crowd – including Eden District Council leader, Gordon Nicolson – followed suit, raising thousands of pounds in a few minutes.

The event, attended by hundreds of supporters of the high-street cinema, brought together the Penrith and Eden community which has been given a deadline of April 30th to raise funds of £750,000 to buy the property, currently owned by Graves (Cumberland) Ltd.
Rory spoke again of the value of the community asset and said: “Everybody here today, and many, many more all over Eden, want this to succeed. All the energy and the enthusiasm that Penrith has been showing has made all the difference. It makes a difference to the kind of deal we can get, and to the negotiations with Graves. This will be a challenging campaign, and we have a lot of money to raise, but people have been calling me up in Westminster every day with suggestions of how to make this work. There is a lot of serious practical, concrete work to be done, but let‘s make sure we can buy this asset. We mustn‘t lost the fun and energy and enthusiasm that the people of Penrith and Eden are showing each week, and it‘s because of that energy that we are now in a position to really join together, raise funds, and buy this for our community to enjoy for years to come.“

On Sunday 30th January Rory also attended a meeting of the steering group – led by  local consultant Ruth Parker, Dawn Coates of QEGS and Adrian Lochhead of Eden Arts – to help formulate the community campaign, to which Rory has also contributed support on finding an office and establishing a website.



Update on the Lease Situation at the Alhambra:

Rory spoke to Vince Hughes, one of the directors of Graves, on Friday 29th January. He explained in some detail the financial information and the offer he had received, but on a confidential basis. I encouraged him to talk to his Board about sharing information more widely. He expressed interest in principle in the possibility of allowing the community to buy the premises and in giving a fixed period of time in which to come up with an offer. I have just spoken to him again, and he has this morning been given approval by his Board to extend the period of time in which to form a campaign and raise funds to April 30th 2010. He is offering an outright sale of £750,000, however they will not consider a lease. I have written to the Save Penrith Cinema Steering Group with this information.



Please support our bid to save Penrith’s  Lonsdale Alhambra Cinema

The hundreds of protesters, who I joined outside the Cinema on Saturday were amazing. There was real verve, energy and exuberance in the streets. I never thought I’d see so many people (still less end up standing between Darth Vader and Borat).

I love the cinema – and love watching films in it – like so many others. It is a vital element of energy and culture in the center of our town.  I have received dozens of emails, letters and phone calls from constituents angry about the proposed closure, and asking for a positive solution. There was a  meeting yesterday. We’d like, with the support of local organisations and perhaps also the district council – run the cinema ourselves. I proposed the community buy-out of the cinema in the House of Commons, yesterday, as part of the debate on the localism bill. But if we are to make this work, we need to harness all the energy of hundreds of people together, and plan, push and act.

We are told that the cinema is a profitable enterprise, and clearly it’s a business that really matters. I’d like the council to restrict its function as a cinema, (and not as a pub), get people to contribute, run it as a community asset and make profitable returns. We‘ve seen this approach work elsewhere in the constituency: such as with the Old Crown pub in Hesket Newmarket.

I have written to Graves Cumberland Ltd to find out more detail on the closure, to discoverwhether a new lease, on behalf of the community, is possible and to see if there is anything else we can do.

The rally on Saturday was really well-run, and the energy of everyone who came out in the rain to show their solidarity was extraordinary. Please go to the cinema in the coming weeks. Show how much you enjoy it. Encourage you friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to go. If you haven’t already, please join Richard E Grant, Eddie Izzard and nearly 3000 others in signing a petition to save the cinema by signing your name here.

And if you are willing to play a more active role in the campaign, please contact me directly