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Montrose Playhouse: Community cinema celebrates 45,000 visitors in six months

Montrose Playhouse.
Montrose Playhouse.

A community-owned Angus cinema has welcomed 45,000 guests since it opened last autumn, despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Montrose Playhouse’s cinema opened its doors last October.

The popular community owned three-screen cinema also has an art centre with cafe bar, activity spaces and retail area.

It has since welcomed 45,000 people, much to the delight of manager Matt Buchanan.

He said: “In the first six months, we had 45,500 guests to the cinema – and countless more for community programming, private events and other activities.

“There was a 12-month projection of 68,000 guests, so we’re very pleased with how things have gone.

“The support of the local and wider communities in Angus has been absolutely amazing.

Manager Matt Buchanan and David Paton, chairman and founder of the Montrose Playhouse Project.

“People have been so positive about the facility and voted with their feet, for which we are extremely grateful.

“We are providing a really varied programme of films, events and activities, so I’m confident we will continue to grow.”

Project to bring cinema to Montrose

The development was the brainchild of local designer David Paton.

A group of local volunteers raised funds, built the audience base and worked with the community to renovate the former swimming pool.

The project began in February 2013 when Mr Paton, a big fan of film and the arts, posted a design for a new cinema on Facebook.

Within a few hours, around 500 people had ‘liked’ the post and were vociferous in their calls for him to try and make this dream a reality.

A public meeting was held and a working group quickly formed.

In September 2017, the building was bought from Angus Council for £1.

The VIP opening of the Montrose Playhouse cinema.

More than 80 DIY volunteers were then involved in stripping the building back to a shell.

In March 2019, £2.26 million was awarded from the Scottish Government’s regeneration capital grant fund in a working partnership with Angus Council.

Other funding sources for the playhouse included the National Lottery and Creative Scotland, in addition to community crowdfunding/sponsorship.

Bancon Construction was appointed as the main contractor, but when the pandemic struck the site was shut.

Nothing happened for several months due to the first lockdown. The work was eventually completed in September last year.

It was April 2021 when Mr Buchanan joined the not-for-profit facility, which now has 30 staff and 10 volunteers.

Angus cinema’s ‘strong foundations’

Mr Buchanan said the vision was always for the playhouse to be self-supporting financially.

“Tough as that can be, we are confident that we will continue to deliver this aim,” he added.

Asked about the effect of Covid-19, Mr Buchanan replied: “Probably in hindsight building and opening a community cinema during a pandemic is not ideal.

“However, it has only really been on the hospitality side we have seen an impact.

Stewart Buchanan and Logan Kellas prepare cocktails in the Reel Cafe Bar at Montrose Playhouse.

“That seems to be abating now, and we have built some great guest loyalty.”

What does the future hold? Mr Buchanan says staying relevant and listening to the community is key.

He thanked everyone who has supported the project.

Mr Buchanan added it is vital the venue continues to have “diverse and compelling programming”.

“I can only see guest numbers, activities and services growing,” he said.

“We’ve opened at a tough time and over-delivered, so I have every faith that we will be able to build on our strong foundations and keep providing a great venue for Montrose and the wider Angus area.”

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