Prestatyn’s 21st century Scala Cinema and Arts Centre

Construction on the brand new Scala building began during February 2007, and the new cinema infrastructure was handed over to Denbighshire County Council on Monday 22nd of September 2008. Following time for additional technical installations, snagging and staff training, Prestatyn’s all new Scala Cinema and Arts Centre opened to the public on Friday 13th of February, 2009.

The building designs were created by London-based architects and urban designers Burrell Foley Fischer LLP, and were commissioned by Inglis Todd Consultants, on behalf of Denbighshire County Council. The Stage 1 Feasibility Study was completed in February 2002 and was positively received by all concerned. In September 2003, following a competitive selection and tender process, Inglis Todd Consultants and Burrell Foley Fischer LLP were appointed to progress with the Stage 2 Feasibility Study. The design of the new Scala Cinema and Arts Centre was developed in tandem with the development of the cinema’s Business Plan, separately commissioned from Inglis Todd Consultants. The design brief stressed the importance of the new Scala Cinema and Arts Centre, contributing to the vitality and viability of the town centre and its regeneration. Burrell Foley Fischer LLP are to be commended for their quality and thoughtful designs which make excellent use of space. It is clear from browsing the plans, that Prestatyn’s Scala Cinema and Arts Centre was indeed designed to help transform and regenerate the town. Included within the new Scala’s plans were a wide range of modern facilities intended for local businesses, schools, communities and associations to use as comfortable, easily accessible and centralised meeting rooms. Two cinemas, theatre production stages, a Tourist Information Centre, a retail shop unit and a relaxing café/bar which overlooks Prestatyn’s High Street were also included. The new digital Cinema, the first version of the Scala to be constructed in the 21st century, was capable of screening the latest films and cinema releases, as soon as they became available.

Prestatyn Scala Company: Not For Profit Trust

After opening the new building in 2009, Prestatyn’s Scala Cinema and Arts Centre was not directly managed by Denbighshire County Council’s Tourism and Leisure department, but was instead run on behalf of Denbighshire by a professional trust, the ‘Prestatyn Scala Company’, a corporate ‘not for profit’ Company Limited by Guarantee, which was similar in fashion at the time to Prestatyn’s Nova Centre and Rhyl’s Pavilion Theatre. Later on 29th January 2015, Denbighshire County Council confirmed that the Scala’s Board had agreed in principle to hand back the building’s lease and the keys following a formal request from the Council’s legal representatives and the council was in a position to be able to seek serious expressions of interest from experienced cinema operators to re-open the venue as soon as practically possible. The venue had sadly hit turbulent times and reportedly had outstanding debts of around £180,000 by the time it closed in January 2015.

New leaseholders: Rob Arthur and Aurora Leisure Ltd

On 5th March 2015, Denbighshire County Council and Prestatyn Town Council announced that the award-winning Aurora Leisure Ltd, were the new leaseholders of the Scala. Aurora Leisure Ltd was established in 2012 by Mr Rob Arthur who had extensive experience in the UK and International Cinema sector for the past 21 years with companies including Vue Entertainment, SBC International Cinemas to senior executive and operational management levels. Mr Arthur was previously Managing Director of Apollo Cinemas, overseeing an estate of 14 cinemas and 83 screens including Rhyl until its sale in 2012, and had extensive cinema opening and operating experience in Taiwan, Portugal, Romania, United Kingdom and Ireland as well as many other cinema and leisure development projects. Aurora Leisure Ltd had re-opened and established a community cinema in similar circumstances in Thurso, Scotland’s most northerly mainland town, after a successful campaign to support the development of a digital cinema. Thurso screened up to 12 films or events per week from two screens, as well as operating a bar & kitchen and regularly hosting conferences and community events. At the time, the Thurso cinema business employed 20 members of staff and had won several awards, including Scottish Edge and Screen International Awards. The intention was to have the Prestatyn Scala open again by the beginning of April 2015, with a view to being fully operational by mid-May 2015. Rob Arthur, aged 46 at the time, said via local press that he was aware there was a “high level of expectation” and he promised to create jobs for people from the area and to hold a public meeting, prior to re-opening the doors of the Scala Cinema and Arts Centre. On 29th June 2015, it was announced by DCC that plans to re-open the Scala were well underway, and it was hoped that the venue would be up and running by 3 July 2015. As an extra special kickstart, the cinema would now boast state of the art Sony Digital Cinema 4k projectors, which offered four times the image quality than the previous projection equipment, and would also enable 3D films to be screened and facilitate the booking of live cinema events. After a delayed unveiling, reportedly following issues with paperwork and updating old equipment, the Scala re-opened again on 3rd July 2015. In a Rhyl Journal news article published September 2015, it was announced that the Scala had welcomed more than 10,000 customers in just over two months, since being re-opened by Rob Arthur and Aurora Leisure. However, despite initial success, only seven months later the Scala would face closure once again.

Friends of the Scala Charity: A mission accomplished

In January 2016, the Friends of the Scala announced they had decided to fold.  This decision was, they said, taken because as a legally registered charity, the Friends of the Scala could no longer support the Scala cinema, since it was now a commercial enterprise. The Friends considered that this was not a sad event; firstly, the Friends had achieved what they initially aimed to do, namely the re-building of the cinema after its closure in 2000. Secondly, The Friends continued to support the Scala when it was run as a charitable company.  The Friends felt that the future of the cinema was in safe hands and they looked forward to it’s continued success. The Friends had £1,153.82 remaining funds and so donated them to the Prestatyn Carnival Committee. Ownership of the Friends of the Scala’s website returned to be the property of Prestatyn resident Graham Smith who had created and maintained it over the years with Friends’ Secretary, Daniel Graham-Jones. The Friends charity agreed that the website’s history and information should ideally be retained and so ownership was transferred.

Another new beginning

On the 12th April 2016, a Rhyl Journal newspaper article was published announcing that the current tenant of a Prestatyn cinema had put forward a proposal for a new operator to take over, just nine months after taking it on. Mr Arthur, had been criticised by cinema-goers for not showing “blockbusters and top grossing films” such as Kung Fu Panda 3 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In September 2015, Mr Arthur had reassured cinema-goers that the future of the Scala cinema was “safe” after his complex in Thurso had shut its doors. Mr Arthur had been striving to find funds to keep the Thurso business afloat.

Merlin Cinemas

The new operators of the complex in Thurso were announced as Merlin Cinemas, who would also take over Prestatyn’s Scala Cinema. Merlin Cinemas streamlined the business to help make it more sustainable. Merlin subsequently have been able to acquire the latest cinema blockbusters, which enables local residents and visitors to better support the Scala. Today, the Scala continues to be cherished by visitors and residents alike, and continues to play its part in the continuing and successful regeneration of the Welsh seaside town of Prestatyn.

Building plans for Prestatyn’s new look Scala Cinema and Arts Centre

The following plans were kindly supplied to the Friends of the Scala by Anna Joynt of Burrell Foley Fischer LLP and are available in the popular PDF format.

High Street Elevation

The architect’s impression of the Scala Cinema and Arts Centre, with the front of the building as seen from street level. The design restores the famous large window arches.

Night view of street frontage

A representation of how the Scala will look during night time.

Ground Floor (PDF)

Ground floor plans include:

  • Retail shop unit
  • Tourist Information Centre
  • Box Office with Cash ATM’s
  • Dressing Rooms
  • Green Room
  • Meeting/Community Room
  • Studio Theatre
  • Storage areas
  • Sheltered goods-in delivery area

First Floor (PDF)

  • First floor plans include: Café/Bar with adjacent meeting room
  • 150 seat Cinema
  • 151 seat dual-purpose Cinema/Theatre
  • Staff Room

Second Floor (PDF)

Second floor plans include:

  • Projection and Control Rooms
  • Projectionist’s Rest Room
  • Office
  • 2 Meeting/Community Rooms (can be used as extra dressing rooms, if required).

Third Floor (PDF)

Third (top) floor plans include:

  • A lightly decked and railed outdoor terrace
  • Reception
  • Large Meeting/Community Room
  • Store room and Plant Rooms.
With grateful thanks to Anna Joynt of Burrell Foley Fischer LLP Architects and Urban Designers ©2003 Burrell Foley Fischer