By LymeOnline editor Francesca Evans
MARCH 22 2016 – a day that has gone down in Lyme Regis’ history as the day we lost our beloved Regent Cinema.
It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon – and I remember that because the blinds were pulled down in my office at St Michael’s Business Centre to stop the glare on my screen as I put the finishing touches to that week’s edition of the View From Lyme Regis, just about ready to send to print.
I can’t remember what the front page story was – whatever it was, it was quickly forgotten when a call came through to our office from one of our regular informants, Derek Hallett.
“Any idea where that fire is?” he asked.
“What fire?” I replied, as I pulled up the blind. And there is was – unmissable but almost missed because of the glare on my screen – thick plumes of menacing black smoke rising above the rooftops of the town centre.
I dropped the phone and charged out of the office in a flash along with Dad – he, an experienced hand at covering such dramatic events; me, not quite so used to that nervous flip of the stomach.
As a small-town journalist, it’s a strange feeling you get when there’s some kind of disaster, emergency or accident on your home patch.
The adrenaline pumps through your body – this is your patch and you want the story first; you know it’s going to be a big but, living in tight-knit town, you also prepare yourself for the likely scenario that it’s going to affect people or places you know and and love.
Still unclear where the smoke was coming from, Dad and I sped up to the top of town in our office car, but could only get as far as Silver Street as the high street had already been blocked off by police.
We sprinted down the hill with cameras around our necks; the hairdressers gathered outside their salon joking as we passed: “Pip’s running, it must be serious!”
And it was serious. As we reached the top of Broad Street it became clear – Lyme’s 1930s Art Deco cinema was in flames.
Shoulder to shoulder with many other residents, we watched stunned and speechless. The Regent was a place of childhood memories, of those formative teenage nights out, of first kisses and young love.
Residents cried in the street as they watched the flames take hold of this building so full of history, and gasped in horror as the roof collapsed, seemingly just metres behind one of Lyme’s brave firefighters who was tackling the blaze on a ladder.
As the first press on the scene, we called back to the office with all the basic information we could gather to get the story up on our website as soon as possible.
After taking some more photos and eyewitness statements, I headed back to the office for a real ‘hold the front page’ moment.
Half of that week’s edition had to be re-jigged at the last minute to accommodate the story that would become one of those ‘where were you?’ moments for Lyme residents.
Will be ever get our beloved cinema back?
Over the days, weeks and months that followed the blaze, shocking photos revealed the true extent of the damage – the auditorium completely destroyed but the Art Deco frontage thankfully saved.
The site was cleared, boarded up and then everything seemed to go a little bit quiet.
Who would have thought five years later we would still be wondering, will we ever get our beloved cinema back?
No official statement on the progress of the cinema rebuild has been released from owners WTW-Scott Cinemas since August 2019, when it was suggested that the cinema could be rebuilt with two high-quality apartments to offset the costs.
The statement said: “At this stage, we continue to work on designs for a potential rebuild of the cinema in Lyme Regis.
“Given the building’s listed status, the high costs of construction and the relatively low potential turnover of a single screen cinema in the area, any such rebuild has to be both architecturally and financially viable.
“We recently briefed the local authority on a range of design options and our current position, one option of which was a reinstated single-screen cinema with two high-quality apartments at the rear to offset the extremely high build costs.
“We continue to explore this, and other options.”
Since this last statement, the cinema industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with auditoriums across the country closed for much of the past 12 months. No doubt this will have further complicated plans for the future of the Regent.
Will it ever rise from the ashes or will it become the next Three Cups?