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Bishop’s Stortford’s Empire Cinema shuts as company makes 150 workers across the country redundant

Bishop’s Stortford’s Empire Cinema shuts as company makes 150 workers across the country redundant

Bishop’s Stortford’s Empire Cinema shut its doors for good on Friday (July 7).

Thebusiness at the Anchor Street leisure complex summoned staff to a meeting at 9.30am to deliver the closure news, which is part of a wider company crash.

Workers were told they would not automatically be paid wages owed and must make a claim.

Empire Cinema
Empire Cinema

One devastated employee, Aeden Rooney, who has just completed his A-levels at Herts and Essex High School, had been working 25 hours a week for the past five months to help fund his degree studies at Cardiff University from September.

He said that 17 team members, three supervisors, two operations assistants and the general manager of 19 years had been made redundant with immediate effect.

“We found out this morning in a 10-minute meeting and then we were escorted from the building,” he told the Indie.

Anchor Street leisure centre
Anchor Street leisure centre

“We have become more than colleagues – we’ve become a family. Today we lost our jobs, but losing our family is what has left us heartbroken.”

A total of 437 staff are employed by Empire Cinemas Group in England and Scotland and 150 of those have lost their jobs.

In a statement, Empire Cinemas said that it was “restructuring its portfolio of cinemas”, with administrators appointed to six of its trading arms, triggering the immediate closure of cinemas in Stortford, Catterick Garrison, Sunderland, Swindon, Walthamstow and Wigan and the sale of a currently closed site at Sutton Coldfield.

It operated 12 cinemas under the Empire brand and two boutique cinemas under the Tivoli name.

Staff at Bishop's Stortford's Empire Cinema took a last
Staff at Bishop’s Stortford’s Empire Cinema took a last “family” picture, following the shocking announcement that they have all been made redundant.

Justin Ribbons, group chief executive, said: “As a consequence of Covid-19, we found ourselves in a position where we were mandated by Government to close down our cinema chain in its entirety for protracted periods in 2020 and 2021, leaving us with a high fixed cost base and no income.

“Cinema attendance levels have not yet returned to pre-Covid-19 levels and the operating environment remains extremely challenging, with extraordinary levels of utility costs and rates and persistently high levels of inflation leading to increased costs and a squeeze on discretionary spending by consumers, which has inevitably created profitability issues for the group.

“The decision to appoint administrators has not been taken lightly but will give us the best chance to protect the viable parts of the business and secure as many jobs as possible.”

The remaining Empire cinemas in Birmingham, Clydebank, High Wycombe, Ipswich and Sutton and the two Tivolis in Bath and Cheltenham will continue to trade as administrators at BDO seek a buyer.

Advance ticket purchases at the closed cinemas have been refunded.

Mr Ribbons continued: “It has been a difficult economic environment for any business to manage through without long-term damage and, having exhausted all other available options for the business, we firmly believe that this process can be a platform to restructure the business and preserve as many of our cinemas and the maximum number of jobs as possible.”

Empire Cinemas was founded in 2005 following the mergers of Odeon with UCI and Cineworld with UGC. In December 2020, Stortford’s Empire was among 202 independent cinemas to share a £16m grant from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.

Since the then East Herts Council (EHC) chairman Cllr Bob Parker officially opened Anchor Street in 2000, the 95,000 sq ft (8,826 sq m) leisure complex has had a chequered history.

When it was launched it was home to Cineworld Cinemas, Cannons Health Club, PB Bowl, KFC, McDonald’s and Chicago Rock Bar and Diner.

Today, Nuffield Health’s Fitness & Wellbeing Gym, bowling alley Ace of Lanes and its sister business, nightclub Bacchus, are its only occupants.

Anchor Street was built for EHC by Citygrove. In December 2017, Kier bought the centre for £7.85m as part of its wider vision for the Goods Yard area around the railway station.

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