As we drove through diluvian conditions to a public meeting on Sunday to hear more of ambitious plans to bring a city centre cinema in St Albans back to life, it is fair to say I travelled more in hope than expectation. The team behind the cinema restoration campaign need to raise £1million before the middle of January to buy the site and a further £2million to restore the 1930s building to working order. Given the current economic climate and my perception that most people consider Blu-ray rather than box office to be the future of film, I suspected the meeting would attract only a small crowd of civic do-gooders and that I would be forced to skulk in a quiet corner until such a time as it was polite to slope off home.
But as we arrived at the venue for the meeting, The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted, a large crowd had spilled out of the main auditorium into the foyer area. [I would like to put a number to the crowd but it was impossible to get into the main hall area and the business of the meeting had to be relayed to us outside via a public address system]. People listened with great interest to how James Hannaway, the man behind the success of The Rex, hopes to secure funding to restore the cinema in London Road, St Albans, to its former art deco glory, bringing a welcome catalyst for regeneration to a part of the city which has fallen into sorrowful neglect since the cinema closed in the early 1990s.
As someone who grew up in St Albans and has a nostalgic fondness for the London Road cinema despite its unprepossessing exterior, I have my fingers crossed that Sunday’s enthusiasm can be transformed into tangible support. As Hannaway said, that could mean large cheques now or simply buying a ticket when the cinema opens again. There are many obstacles ahead, but when the cinema does re-open (let us be positive and say when rather than if) then I will be in the queue for my ticket to the stalls and a little piece of history.