On 29 June 1997 Eugene Chaplin gained national media coverage over the Dome when to many people’s surprise he was not out of the frame but still trying to get funding for his scheme.
The headline in the Financial Mail on Sunday declared: “CHAPLIN’S BOY PLAYS THE BIG SCREEN HERO.”
“The old man would have been proud. Eugene Chaplin, son of screen legend Charlie, has decided that the show must go on. Despite a major setback for his plans for restoring one of Britain’s finest cinemas, the Dome in Worthing, West Sussex, to something surpassing its former glory, he is resolutely pressing ahead to raise the money.”
“Worthing borough council is already enthusiastic about his plans for the 86-year-old listed building, which include a four-screen cinema, conference centre and children’s theatre. But the Heritage Lottery Fund has refused a £400,000 grant because the rescue scheme with the council involves a commercial partnership.”
“Now he is writing to around 30 major companies and organisations in Britain to propose long-term sponsorship or equity deals. He has visited Britain several times in the past few weeks from his home in Vevey, Switzerland.”
“ ‘I’m disappointed because the building needs complete renovation before we can consider investing the £1 million needed for redevelopment,’ says Chaplin, 43. But we still plan that the Dome will become our flagship for a number of developments of old cinemas in the UK, similar to others we are involved in in France, Italy and Ireland’.”
In November 1997 the council put the Dome back on the market, yet again, because the borough could not afford to maintain it. This was the third time in HOW MANY years.
The West Sussex Gazette reported on 6 November 1997, “Worthing’s Dome complex, containing England’s longest continuously running cinema, has been put back on the market because the borough council cannot afford to keep it up.”
“The decision to sell the complex was taken at a council meeting earlier in the year and tenders will be accepted from now until September 1998. The Edwardian cinema has had a troubled recent past, with all attempts to find buyers for the complex falling through.”
“The latest disappointment came in the shape of Eugene Chaplin, son of the star of slap-stick comedy Charlie Chaplin. Eugene Chaplin Entertainment Holding Ltd’s plan to turn the Grade II listed building into an ‘edu-tainment’ centre did not proceed.”
“The council is now looking to sell the whole complex, including the café and bingo hall. Failing that, it would accept a substantial market rent or a commercial return provided its repair and refurbishment can be secured without the cost falling on the ratepayers.”
“The last comprehensive survey of the building in 1988 identified extreme degradation of structures and finish throughout the complex.”
“The council spent more than £334,000 on refurbishing the Dome, making it safe, weathertight and generally keeping the property in use. Subsequently, emergency works to provide frontage to the structure have been carried out following the discovery of the severe degradation of the steel beam.”
“Head of technical services Cliff Harrison said, ‘It will cost in excess of £1 million to bring it up to a state of the art cinema. The basic repairs are less than that, but if someone is going to take it up and make a going concern of it they are going to have to spend a lot of money’.”
“ ‘The renewal of the roof alone, which is the next urgent job, will cost in the region of £80,000 to £1m’. The council could not justify these expenses and decided that it did not have the resources to repair and refurbish the complex itself.”
“Although all offers are being encouraged, the council would like to see the cinema continue at the complex while this remains commercially viable. However, it feels it is not its duty to provide commercial cinema in the borough, although it will encourage its provision.”
“As the complex is a Grade II * listed building, the amount of alterations the council can make is limited. Any application received by the council would have to be referred to the Secretary of State for his approval before permission can be granted.”
“Chris Slade, vice-chairman of the Worthing Dome Preservation Trust, said, ‘We are looking forward to the sale happening, and the long term benefits it will bring to the theatre. We are hoping for something solid rather than the sporadic moves it has had in the past. We are looking forward to the future and believe that it can be positive’.”
Due to ill health, Rob Blann had to resign as chairman of the Worthing Dome Preservation Trust at this time after having thrust the campaign forward for almost a decade, giving way to Nick Young as the new chairman.
The Trust called a public meeting at the Gordon Room on 26 March 1998. Under the headline “Trust raps town hall”, the Worthing Guardian of 2 April reported thus: “Worthing borough council has been rapped by the Dome Preservation Trust for not supporting the Trust’s public meeting in the Gordon Room.”
“Thursday’s meeting was called by the Trust to launch its bid to acquire the listed-building cinema, with Lottery help, when the council considers offers in September. The Trust, which aims to run the building as a multi-entertainment centre, wanted the council to back its efforts. But only one councillor, Andrew Garrett (Castle ward), attended the meeting, although there were council officers there as observers.”
“Trust committee member Dan Thompson told the Guardian that money was now rolling in to the Trust’s appeal. Thanking everyone for their support, including the town’s two MP’s, Mr Thompson said: ‘It is great to feel that we do have the town behind us, if not the council’.”
“Council leader Brian McLuskie said the council had to be seen to be even-handed with all the bidders.”
The Herald’s report, published on the same day, took a somewhat wider view and spoke about “Ambitious plans to convert Worthing’s Dome Cinema into a ‘People’s Palace’ offering education and entertainment facilities” and the transformation of the listed building “was highlighted as a possible keystone project for the redevelopment of Warwick Street south.”
Again the council took a bashing. “Lottery cash will be the key to any scheme getting off the ground and the Trust cannot rely on town hall support. Trust chairman Nick Young explained council officials had told him that as the control of the cinema was currently open to bids, it would be unfair on other interested parties for them to throw their backing behind one application.”
“He told an audience of more than 50 people, ‘It is very much about promoting the town and would become part of the heart of Worthing – something very badly needed. However, we cannot even approach the Lottery without having council backing because they would not look at it’.”
“Mr Young also indicated Charlie Chaplin’s son Eugene was still interested in the project, but would be unable to finance it on his own. There was general outrage from the floor that the council was not doing more to preserve part of the town’s heritage.”
Things were moving forward and some four weeks later, on 30 April, the Herald carried a very positive report on the Trust’s current work: “People’s Palace plan gets a good reaction. A committee and two sub-committees have been set up by the Trust to start putting its business plan into action.”
“Business and media representatives were reported to have reacted positively to the business plan when it was unveiled at a meeting on Monday evening. The sub-committees will now be looking at the marketing and financial aspects.”
“From the Trust, Dan Thompson said more people were being sought to join. ‘This is very much a community-based group. Our plans involve huge sections of the community,’ he said.”
“He encouraged individuals with skills ranging from plumbing to marketing to get involved. ‘We want the Trust and the Dome to be Worthing’s Trust and Worthing’s Dome’.”
During the summer of 1998 the West Sussex Gazette reported on the fresh bid to restore the Dome. Under its new name, the former Worthing Dome Preservation Trust projected a bright future for itself and for the Dome.
The Trust had now renamed itself the Worthing Dome and Regeneration Trust and was hard at work on a bid to buy the cinema from the council. The hope was that the bid would eventually lead to a £2 million renovation and restoration package.
Dan Thompson, a trustee, said, “Changing the name of the Trust is a way of saying that past disagreements are buried. We are looking at a new and viable approach for the building. We are a fresh organisation with fresh faces.”
“We would like to go into partnership with the council, but we think that is unlikely. What we are doing at the moment is putting together our business plan and working out how much we need to bid.”
On the state of the Dome complex Dan Thompson said, “It’s a tatty building, but a lot of that is really quite superficial. There’s a lot of tidying up to do. Large parts of the building just aren’t being used at the moment.”
With its opulent plasterwork, timeless cherubs and dark-wood panelling, the Dome is widely regarded as one of the top half dozen historic cinemas in the country. It cannot quite claim to be the oldest cinema, but it can claim to be the country’s longest-running one. Dan Thompson reckoned you could extend the claim to make it Europe’s longest-running cinema, and he said that if you made it a world-wide claim few people would argue.
The Trust aimed to put in another two cinema screens, one of them a 60 -100 seater in one of the rooms off the foyer. “We hope to install digital cinema in an historic building used for a modern purpose, and the room opposite that we would hope to turn into an archive in a voluntary way with the Museum of the Moving Image (in London).”
“We would hope to have a small museum of the cinema. Worthing and Shoreham were the first home of the cinema in Britain. We have already had a lot of interest from some of the bigger cinema companies in becoming involved with that side of things.”
“And we would also like to see restaurant and catering facilities developed. That’s just the first stages of development.”
The Trust entered a bid to the council for the Dome just before the 2 September deadline, and this was reported in the Worthing Herald the next day under the headline: “New plans to regenerate the Dome”.
As in previous attempts, the plans included adding extra cinema screens, a restaurant and bar, café and museum. But what was new was the idea of relocating the council’s information centre from the beach to one of the empty shops fronting the Dome complex.
Founder of London’s Museum of the Moving Image, Leslie Hardcastle, visited the building to study the Trust’s plans and actively advised on the way forward.
Trust representative Dan Thompson was reported as saying: “As a Trust, we finally feel we are in a position to offer a realistic and exciting approach to the future of the Dome complex, after years of false starts. We are now ready to take big steps and move into the next millennium.”
In the end only one organisation put in a bid to the council for the Dome, and that was the Trust, with a token offer of £10. The plan was supported by the town’s two MPs, who even offered to put up the cash to buy the prime seafront site in the town centre.
The bid was highlighted in the Herald of 10 September 1998 , where Dan Thompson from the Trust, was reported as saying: “The MPs have supported us all the way along our planning stages.”
“We are very excited at the moment because it looks like we have jumped the first hurdle. We hope the council are as positive about the plans as we are. Obviously if we do not get the tender we would be very disappointed but we would be willing to work with anyone who shared our basic aim of keeping the historic listed building.”
He added, “If we fail there are plenty of other run-down buildings in the town that need a bit of love and attention.”
The Worthing Guardian of 10 September ran a similar article on its front page where it stated that there had been only the one response to the council’s advertisement nine months earlier for tenders to take over the 87-year-old seafront property.
Dan Thompson, a trustee of the Trust, said, “We are now hoping to go into partnership with the council to make it a project for the millennium.” And added that an independent survey estimated that £1.6 million would be needed to realise the Trust’s dream of adding the new facilities.
The Trust had already had funding discussions with the Architectural Heritage Fund and the National Lottery. The Trust’s offer would be considered by a joint meeting of the Planning Committee and the Property Board during the evening of 17 September.
In a prominent article, published on the same day as the meeting, the Worthing Herald reported that a row had erupted between the council and the Trust over the future of the cinema. The authority issued a press release two days earlier stating that officers would recommend councillors turn down the Trust’s tender to refurbish the site.
It explained the stumbling block with the bid was it included a number of ‘unexpected’ qualifications, including the assurance that the council would repurchase the property under certain circumstances.
But the Trust hit back later in the day claiming the town hall had acted far too swiftly. Group spokesman Dan Thompson said on Tuesday, “They have given us until noon on Thursday to discuss these qualifications.”
“We have today withdrawn the repurchase qualification and I am a little disappointed that the council have put out a press release before completing discussions with us. It is a little underhand of them.”
The council’s head of estates Steve Coe responded, “We have not had any further communication with the Trust to my knowledge in writing. If such communication is received it will be considered.”
Nevertheless, officers recommended the deadline should be extended and the Dome be remarketed.
Worthing mayor David Chapman, ironically Chris Chapman’s brother, argued the council should work with the Trust to make its bid work, and he felt the Trust offered a real possibility of retaining the Dome in its present form.
One week later on 24 September, the Herald reported, “A cloud still hangs over Worthing’s Dome Cinema as council members rejected the only bid submitted. In the latest round of the on-going fiasco, the Trust has been given a further eight weeks to re-submit its plans.”
Many councillors feared the one-inch thick document, submitted by the Trust, did not contain enough detail and so could not support it. Party members voted against each other, with supporters of the plans including Mayor David Chapman and Tory leader Steven Waight.
At the opening of the specially-convened meeting of the council’s planning and property committees held on 17 September Mr Chapman said, “There is little doubt that funding for this project will be available for the Trust. They have put thought and effort into their proposal and I believe they deserve our support.”
However, his views were not shared by, among others, Liberal Democrats Sheila Player, Brian McKluskie, Bob Clare and Peter Bennett, as well as Tory Simon Craghill.
Council leader Mr McKluskie said, “We have been here so many times before. Much as I sympathise with the Trust and I was very impressed by their proposals, in its present make up I find it difficult to have confidence in their ability to raise sufficient funding. We are quite prepared to work with the Trust and give them advice and as much support as possible.”
Dan Thompson, from the Trust, said, “This is like setting an exam where you are given the paper back, told what mistakes you have made and then given another chance to resit it. We are very pleased we have this opportunity and look forward to working with the councillors, whose support for us was shown at the meeting, and the officers.”
Then out of the blue, in October 1998 a leisure development company announced plans to redevelop one of Worthing’s ‘eyesores’, the rundown Teville Gate shopping centre by Broadwater bridge; and this was welcomed in many quarters.
The front page of the Worthing Guardian of 15 October 1998 was filled with this news, and the headline declared: CINEMA FOR 2000. A nine-screen multiplex cinema and entertainment centre could be opened on the site with a total of 1,800 cinema seats, plus two family restaurants, a large retail unit and a new multi-storey car park, plus extra surface parking.
But the Dome Trust had been doing its own homework on the viability of different numbers of cinema screens for Worthing. Spokesman for the Trust, Dan Thompson, insisted its own plans were unchanged, and that the Trust’s business plan indicated that there was doubt about the viability and continued success of a ‘real’ multi-screen multiplex in the town.
“From this it is calculated that with a combination of the Dome’s intended three screens and the Connaught’s two, there would be sufficient to serve Worthing’s cinema-going needs adequately.”
The Herald came out on the same day with a headline: DOME DEFIANT IN WAKE OF PLAN, although Dan Thompson conceded: “Obviously the cinema could affect our plans for the Dome. However, the Dome is unique, special and has the history and heritage that puts it far above any commercial complex.”
“The Dome will still be supported because the people of Worthing realise how important it is to the town. Any town can have a modern multiplex, but not every town can say they have a Dome.”
Many townspeople had hoped that an earlier plan by another developer to create a multiplex on the site of Durrington’s Centenary House would have gone ahead, but as there had been so much objection from nearby residents the proposals were withdrawn when they were called in by the Environment Secretary.
The new Trust resumed weekly tours of the historic Dome Cinema complex in October, for there had been a lengthy gap since the original Trust had held theirs. Tour guide Dan Thompson offered film fans the chance to see some of the hidden gems of the building: including the stage, 1936 film projectors and the old ‘penny entrance’ box office.
By this time the Bingo Hall above the cinema had closed and the Rendezvous Café to the east of the cinema entrance had also been vacated, thus allowing vacant possession of the entire Dome complex.
The Trust’s lottery fund application took a lot longer than anticipated as a colour feature in the West Sussex Gazette of 14 January 1999 revealed: AMBITIOUS PLANS FOR A MAJOR CINEMA REVAMP.
“Worthing’s historic Dome Cinema could be restored to former glories under exciting £3 million plans unveiled today. The Worthing Dome and Regeneration Trust is hoping soon for news that the council has accepted its bid to buy the freehold.”
“But in the meantime it is going public with its ambitious vision for a restored Dome. By the end of the month, the Trust will have submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £2.5 million towards the projected overall cost.”
“If all goes well the work could start later this year, heralding an 18-month closure which could see the Dome re-emerge as a major tourist attraction not just for Worthing but nationally.”
Dan Thompson, vice-chairman of the Trust pointed out that its present condition was a cause for grave concern. It was on English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ register, and it was recognised nationally that a solution had to be found.
“It is a building that is deteriorating. The architect has just prepared a report on the building. Once that becomes public, then some of the other bidders for the building will realise just what a big project the whole thing is.”
“The building is basically safe, but the front of the building has suffered from wind and rain over the years. We would be looking at taking that down and rebuilding parts of the building from scratch.”
“It’s an exposed setting, and the techniques that they used to build it in those days were fairly primitive. It has been suggested that the whole building was only supposed to last about 40 years.”
Bids for the freehold had to be in by the end of December, and the Trust was confident that theirs would be chosen. The Trust believed that it was the only charitable trust among the bidders, a status which brings huge advantages when it comes to attracting funding.
“We have got the Worthing Borough Council’s lottery officer helping us, and we have got a lot of support from Worthing Borough Council for our plans. The council could back us, but they are still in the marketing process.”
The Trust’s bid to the council was again £10, and they hoped to know from the council by the end of the month. The Heritage Lottery Fund application should be in by the end of the month too.
On the same day as the feature was published the Trust launched their Dome 2000 scheme which aimed to get 2000 people to join up at £20 a time. To promote this scheme a leaflet was designed by Chris Slade explaining the scheme and why it was needed. The patrons of the Trust at this time were Dame Judi Dench and the Duke of Norfolk.
To show people the heritage within the cinema, Dome tours were given every Saturday by Dan Thompson, for which another leaflet was designed by Chris Slade.
One week after the West Sussex Gazette Dome feature, the Worthing Herald of 21 January 1999 reported that four potential developers had expressed an interest in taking over the historic Dome Cinema, with the front page headline: LET BATTLE COMMENCE.
At this stage the council had refused to reveal the names of the interested parties but the Herald found out that three of the hopeful developers were:
• The Worthing Dome and Regeneration Trust
• The Chapman Group
• City Screen – a major cinema development and operating company which owned cinemas throughout the country.
It was also rumoured that a developer was in talks with Stagecoach Coastline over plans to purchase the bus company’s Marine Parade depot and transform the building and the surrounding area into a leisure development.
City Screen co-director Lyn Goleby said that because the refurbishment was so expensive, their bid was reliant upon grant assistance from English Heritage or other funding agencies, and that they were happy to work alongside the Dome Trust.
Chris Chapman confirmed that if his group did get the Dome they would not keep it as a cinema. He felt sure that within the next couple of years there would be a multiplex built somewhere in Worthing and he couldn’t see people visiting the Dome when there is a cinema showing nine films not far away.
The Chapman proposal to change the use of the cinema auditorium conflicted with English Heritage’s view that the auditorium should be kept as an historic cinema, and the prospective change of use would result in a public inquiry.
Worthing council’s view on the Chapman proposal was that if their offer was pursued the resulting public enquiry could result in a further delay of 18 months, and even then it probably wouldn’t be successful.
The council issued a press release on 5 March 1999 stating that following 3 surveys of the Dome complex, the council is being advised to close the cinema on safety grounds next month.
This development coincided with the recommendation at last that the council should sell the complex to the Trust, provided its applications for Heritage Lottery and other grant aid are successful. Council managers were hopeful that this grant aid would be forthcoming, and that the sale could be completed by the autumn of that year.
Following surveys by English Heritage and the Trust, a structural survey of the building revealed that parts of the steelwork supporting the roofs of the cinema auditorium and bingo hall were severely corroded.
The council’s press release was quickly followed by one from the Trust in which they stated that they were delighted that the council had chosen them above other bidders for the building.
The trust’s business plan and funding applications had been based on both the Trust’s own survey and one by English Heritage. They had not focused on the same problems as those now indicated by the council’s report.
It was unfortunate that the new facts did not come to light at an earlier stage, otherwise they could have shared and verified the same information. English Heritage arranged for a further survey of specific structural points that caused the council to re-act in the way they did.
For safety reasons the council closed the cinema and boarded it up. It closed its doors on Easter Monday 5 April 1999, leaving the town without a full-time cinema. Three surveys on the listed building had advised the council that its condition was too dangerous for it to remain open.
The closure was a disappointment and an obvious setback to the Trust. It had planned to use the building to hold live music concerts as part of its fundraising. Worthing’s Sion School stepped in to help, holding fundraising functions in their hall.
With no other plausible options available the council continued to assist the Trust in securing funds, whereby a council officer had been appointed to help with drafting not only the very lengthy application for Lottery funding for the Trust but also to help other applicants for other schemes within the borough.
After 88 years, the country’s longest continuously running movie-house – Worthing’s Dome Cinema – passed into history that week, with no definite re-opening date in prospect.
But Dome supporters were confident that the end-of-an-era feeling would soon herald a bright new lottery-funded dawn. The Trust was hoping to hear by the autumn whether its bid for £2.8 million was successful.
To mark the closure, the Trust staged a “going dark” event comprising tours of the building, a guitar recital and a screening of the British film Plunkett & Macleane. It took place on the evening of Easter Monday, complete with a tombola bar and a grand raffle.
Dan Thompson, vice-chairman of the Trust said it went very well, “We had around 500 people in. There was a very good atmosphere, a very positive feeling. We now wait for our structural engineers and building people to work out what the next move is. We would hope to be open some time in the autumn if at all possible.”
There was some debate between the council engineers, the Trust’s engineers and English Heritage as to how unsafe the building was. But the council had decided to close the building (which they still owned) because one of the key roof trusses was badly corroded.
In the meantime, the Trust and the council guarded against further deterioration. All ground and first floor windows and doors were boarded up, a comprehensive intruder alarm installed , security guards made a presence and council staff made daily visits.
Some background heating and ventilation continued to be provided to protect the fabric and contents of the building during its closure – all at a cost of about £8,000, which was met from the Council’s existing property maintenance budgets.
On 15 April 1999 it was reported in the West Sussex Gazette that the vice-chairman of the Trust, Dan Thompson, had stepped down, within days of it closing down on safety grounds. He said it was sad to see the dome boarded up but he felt it was now a neat time for him to resign and move on to other things.
He added there was no bust-up in the background. There were differences of opinion, he added, but nothing more than you’d expect in any organisation.
The previous week, the council agreed to transfer the Dome to the Trust, subject to the Trust attracting positive results on their funding applications to English Heritage for £200,000 and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Trust was hoping to hear by the autumn whether their bid for £2.88 million of lottery money had been successful.
At the beginning of October 1999 the Trust was successful in gaining a Stage 1 pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Worthing Herald of 7 October devoted its entire front page to the exhilarating news.
Years of uncertainty surrounding the future of the Dome looked likely to end, when the Fund made an interim grant of £42,200 to help finance the Dome project’s development costs, with a possible grant of £1.75 million in the pipeline.
Stage 1 agreement recommended, subject to the approval of more detailed plans and projections, that £1.75 million should be awarded to help the Trust meet the costs of a complete refurbishment of the 1911 Grade II* listed building.
News of this success opened up two more awards: £200,000 from English Heritage and £20,000 from Worthing Borough Council.
The new Trust chairman said that all this, plus further fund-raising, will ensure the Dome will benefit Worthing as a cinema, restaurant, arts venue and as a focus for social events well into the new millennium. “We are thrilled we have got the stamp of approval. It is a wonderful result, and I really think now that the future of the Dome is assured.”
A detailed application by the Trust, with help from the borough, in particular lottery officer Paula Welland, had meant regular visits from representatives of both the Lottery fund and English Heritage.
Historical buildings expert David Walker, a Lottery buildings and land panel consultant, deemed it “a building without parallel in the United Kingdom.”
The Trust had great plans for the complex but its priority was to re-open the cinema as soon as possible. It was expected that the council’s £20,000 should allow this to take place mid-December, with work to be done to regain lapsed licences and ensure health and safety standards are met beforehand.
They said, “Even before it reopens at Christmas, we will be giving the Dome a bit of a make-over to make it feel as if it’s a building that’s loved again!”
Confirmation of the grant meant that the council would hand over the Dome to the Trust on 9 November for the nominal sum of £10 plus VAT.
Leader of the council, Tim Dice, said that it was good news for the Dome and for Worthing. The council had worked positively and pro-actively with the Trust to help secure this first stage of Heritage Lottery Funding.
Plans were already in place for cinema operators PDJ Leisure to work with the Trust in running and overseeing cinema activities, offering employment once again. The cinema operation was to be run by Paul Jervis of PDJ Leisure, West Bromwich, who had agreed to take on the job at a low cost, so that some of the profits could go into the Trust’s funds for further development.
Major refurbishment was expected to go ahead in 2001 with a further closure for 18 months.
All large projects putting bids for cash to the Heritage Lottery Fund have to go through a two-stage process. The first-stage award means the Trust can call in experts from many different fields to compile reports.
At the Dome, more structural surveys were to be carried out, VAT experts called in, and a cinema expert was to look at the projection equipment.. Their reports and others were to be combined to create a business plan, to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund within the next year, and it was hoped by the summer of 2000.
The result of the stage two application should be known some four months later and would mean the release of the rest of the Heritage Lottery Fund money, along with a further grant which had already been promised by English Heritage.
Willing volunteers, together with some dedicated professional help, worked around the clock for five weeks and six days. They had a council grant of £20,000 to get them going but they only used half of it because so many of the team worked for nothing but love.
The Worthing Herald of 4 November 1999 stated that members of the Trust were jubilant at the transfer of ownership of the Dome for just a nominal £10 plus Vat.
Trust member Chris Slade said his reaction was one of delight; “The town has waited for this result since the building went dark in April, but it goes back even further than that.
On Friday 17 December 1999 the Dome Cinema reopened its doors to the public with a special showing of the film The Smallest Show on Earth, a film in which Peter Sellers suffers all the problems of running a small cinema.
The Trust’s Lottery grant was dependent upon the Trust raising £500,000 itself towards the restoration costs, a fact which was stressed in a large Dome feature in the Worthing Sentinel on 19 March 2002: The Trust chairman, said many people thought that as soon as the cinema re-opened in 1999 all its troubles were over. “The adventure was only just beginning,” they said. “It’s been a long hard slog actually getting the cinema up and running, and it hasn’t left much time to focus on the money which needs to be raised.”
“When we were full to capacity with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Monsters Inc, people congratulated us, as they assumed the money from ticket sales was going straight into the fund-raising pot. If only!”
“Money from ticket sales that doesn’t go straight back to the film distributor is all used for salaries and overheads. People assume that everything’s okay but, in truth, we need to start raising money as soon as we can or we could lose our grant.”
The ultimate goal was to get the whole building open to the public for the first time in a generation. Most 90-year-olds, no matter how sprightly, tend to need a bit of loving care to keep going and the Dome was no exception. The grand old lady of cinema had definitely lost some of her sparkle.
The once delightful terrace restaurant on the first floor overlooking the sea that served afternoon teas was long gone. The tower, although rebuilt, was deserted, and the bingo hall, also on the first floor, evoked the atmosphere of a graveyard, being silent and undisturbed since the last players left in the 1990s.
When the Trust took over, the outside looked sorry for itself as well. Peeling paintwork, dirty-looking hoardings and a dismal-looking arcade made the place look as though it was closed.
So the old lady was spruced up with new paintwork, the vacant-shop windows were boarded over and painted cream, and some illuminated cinema signs were put up.
On November 20th 2002 the Trust opened a second screen, the Electric Theatre, within the former Bingo hall and on the site of the original 1911 Electric Theatre. The projection equipment was funded by a grant from Southern & South East Arts. This 120-seat conversion returned the bingo hall to its original use. By this time the Trust had already re-opened the ground-floor refreshment room, turning the former junk room into the stylish Projectionist’s Bar.
The Trust passed the second stage of Heritage Lottery Fund requirements and received final approval of their £1.65 million bid in October 2003. Refurbishment works were expected to start in January 2005 and be completed by December of the same year.
The newly-restored complex was to house:-
• One large screen cinema in the main auditorium.
• Two smaller rooms for specialist cionema or conference use.
• An arts café and bar housed in the dome tower.
• A tourist information office.
• A visitor centre which will explore the history of the building and cinema in Sussex.
Michael Houghton, Heritage Lottery Fund Acting Manager for South East England said that it was a really exciting project and that they were thrilled to be able to support it.