After three-and-a-half years bringing the Wellesley cinema to its current level of success, proprietors Keith Nash and Stewart Cusack are retiring and passing the business on to Geoff Greaves, founder and owner of Merlin Cinemas. The Wellesley will be the company’s 15th cinema, all based in small towns, mainly in Devon and Cornwall.
Keith and Stewart have been running The Wellesley since 2013 when they took over its management from Reel Cinemas. This marked a return to the cinema they originally acquired as leaseholders in 1999 and rescued from a long period of decline.
During their stewardship the two owners haveinvested heavily in new sound and projection equipment and significant upgrades to the building’s fabric, both internally and externally. When they chose to retire for the first time in 2007 they sold the lease to Reel Cinemas who operated the business until 2013 when Stewart and Keith decided to take over once again in a “labour of love”.
The last three years have seen The Wellesley return to prominence in the town. The historical venue – one of only two in the region that survive from the 1930’s – has been repainted, remodelled, revamped and recarpeted. The foyers and bar are now capable of providing comfortably for the huge increase in business, from audiences returning to big screen entertainment and to the LIVE events relayed directly from the major venues for opera, theatre and ballet in the UK and around the world. The cinema has twice featured in the Royal Opera House’s Top Ten League Table for audience capacity and has put out ‘House Full’ signs 5 times – impressive for a 400 seat cinema in a small town.
In 2013 Keith Nash said, “Any money that the cinema makes will be ploughed back into maintaining and improving the fabric of the place. Whilst our projection contact means that we are obliged to show a certain number of major and first-run films each year, we also have plans to screen live performances from around the world. It’s all about both finding a niche and giving local audiences a big-screen experience in a beautiful building with a special theatre atmosphere that multiplexes cannot match.” The many members of audiences for both films and live events who have been thrilled to have access to top-class entertainment in Wellington will agree that Stuart Cusack and Keith Nash have delivered on their promise.
“The Wellesley is being left whilst it is very successful and enjoys a very good reputation. It is now up to Merlin Cinemas to build on this,” said Keith Nash.
After starting his career with ABC Cinemas and Cinema International Corporation, Geoff Greaves began his own business in 1990 by renovating the Savoy cinema in Penzance. Today, Merlin Cinemas operates 42 screens across 14 sites across the South West.
Earlier this year the UK Cinema Association honoured Mr Greaves with its Exhibition Achievement Award for his work in keeping independent cinemas alive.
The UKCA’s Phil Clapp added: “I am delighted that we are making this award to Geoff. It represents long-overdue recognition of the creativity and commitment that he has brought to the independent cinema sector. Each of his 14 sites bears testament to his personal dedication and energy.”