Demolition begins at historic Chorley cinema and bingo hall

Demolition is under way at Chorley's historic Odeon Cinema and Gala bingo hall this weekend.

Sunday, 15th August 2021, 12:01 pm
Updated Sunday, 15th August 2021, 1:27 pm
The former Odeon Cinema and Gala Bingo hall is being demolished this weekend. Picture by Boyd Harris

The landmark building in Market Street, which first opened as the Odeon in 1938, is being reduced to rubble as part of redevelopment plans for the area.

The derelict building is now owned by Chorley Council after Buzz Bingo surrendered its lease last summer as part of a nationwide closure of all its bingo halls due to the coronavirus.

In its heyday, the 'picture palace' could seat 1,500 people and drew thousands of moviegoers each week before shutting its doors in 1971. It then enjoyed 50 years as a bingo hall before closing its doors for good during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown.

The former cinema as Gala Bingo in October 2016. Picture by Boyd Harris

Ian Robinson, manager of Chorley Theatre, is one of many local residents who said they are sad to see a part of Chorley's history razed to rubble. But he says the site has "lots of potential".

He said: "As a theatre and film lover it’s always sad to see a great venue like this close down and be demolished, and we think of the thousands of people who had a great night out there.

"We’re looking to see if we can provide bingo at the theatre to fill the gap. It would be great if the area becomes a multi-use event space.

"The Christmas lights switch-on would look great in front of the Town Hall, and there could be specialist markets or outdoor concerts there. There’s lots of potential."

The former Odeon Cinema and Gala Bingo hall is being demolished this weekend. Picture by Ian Robinson

Keen local historian Boyd Harris, from Chorley Historical Society, visited the site yesterday as demolition crews began tearing the building apart.

Boyd said he has fond memories of visiting the Odeon as a young boy in the 50s and 60s and recalls the magic of watching Hollywood epics on the silver screen.

He said: "It's sad when a familiar building is neglected and becomes unsafe but I’m a realist and know some buildings can’t be saved without vast amounts of investment.

"The Odeon wasn’t a nice building on the outside but for me it's magic was inside as I used to go there as a young lad in the 1950s. The films were so exciting."

A damaged but precious picture of the Odeon Cinema Club (known as the Mickey Mouse Club) from June 1957

What are the plans for the site?

The Council has previously voiced plans to create a "multi-use space" in its place and had put forward a bit to the government’s Future High Streets Fund to help transform the site.

“To be successful, in what could be a multi-million pound investment, we would need to have a site that is ready to go," said Council leader Alistair Bradley when demolition plans were submitted last year.

He added: "I’m sure most people will know we had been looking to transform the site into a place that would really benefit the town centre and help it adapt to the changing habits of shoppers and visitors and this opportunity now allows us to look again at those ideas.

The former Odeon Cinema and Gala Bingo hall is being demolished this weekend. Picture by Ian Robinson

"I appreciate there are happy memories in the building for a lot of people but it’s not really fit for purpose in the modern age and would need a significant amount of work doing to it to get it back into shape.

“I think that’s why it’s even more important we look to the future and create something exciting in that area that will help the local economy to recover and attract new businesses and visitors once the pandemic is over.

“This pot of money from the Government is for projects like this that would look to turn town centre sites, which are a burden, into something that would help the economy recover from the pandemic.

"To be successful, in what could be a multi-million pound investment, we would need to have a site that is ready to go.

"So, notwithstanding the reasons mentioned earlier and the poor state the building is in, if we get on with preparing the site for redevelopment it will give us a much better chance of securing a significant amount of government funding."

Why the building could not be saved

The site of the Odeon cinema and bingo hall in Chorley's Market Street was previously home to the original Town Hall, which was built in 1802

Councillor Bradley said: “Detailed surveys revealed significant amounts of asbestos and a multitude of other problems – essentially the building was in danger of falling into serious disrepair and becoming a public health hazard – and to try to do anything to adapt it or remodel it would be extremely expensive and not give us what our town centre needs.

"The cost of running the building is probably one of the reasons Buzz Bingo had decided to close its Chorley site as I would expect it would be one of their busier venues."