Like many small towns, Thirsk lost its cinema in the early 1990s as an age of changing tastes, along with video and DVD, hit profits.
But unlike most communities, Thirsk refused to accept the seemingly inevitable end of The Ritz and almost 30 years later work is under way to prepare it to emerge from the involuntary shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
When commercial cinema came to an end in Thirsk, the Town Council worked with residents to take over the business and the move was so successful it was handed over to a free-standing voluntary organisation soon afterwards.
Since then it has continued to provide a lynchpin in the town’s entertainment offer, making enough money to keep it operating with supporting grants only necessary when major improvements have been needed.
That performance has been made possible only by a committed team of volunteers, however, with more than 50 people performing a wide range of roles to help keep The Ritz’s doors open.
During the enforced lockdown closure, they have worked to get ageing ceiling tiles replaced with modern acoustic variants – not an easy task when the cinema is screening films – and new seats have been waiting to help make customers comfortable since they were installed last year.
Many volunteers who got involved in the early days have remained in their roles, while more have joined the team.
Marc Davies has been involved for most of the cinema’s history in its current guise – though in fact it is one of the country’s oldest cinemas still operating, after opening in 1912 – and praised his colleagues.
“Volunteers are hugely important. Without them, we could not have the cinema,” he said.
“Along with the customers, they are the life blood of the cinema and it is just fantastic that so many people have been involved for a long time and still want to get it back up and running.”
Working in the cinema also provided a social outlet for some volunteers, an opportunity that had been lost during the pandemic, he added.
It is hoped the cinema will re-open in the middle of September.