By Libby Marks

Hexham’s Forum Cinema has reopened its auditorium after asbestos forced a month-long closure over the summer.

The asbestos was discovered by the building’s landlord, Wetherspoons, but only affected the upper floor, occupied by the cinema. As a result, the majority of the venue closed to the public whilst specialists carefully removed the harmful material.

The closure represents an interesting end to a year in post for general manager, Mike Ashmore, who took over management of the independent cinema last September.

“Obviously the closure was very disappointing for us and our customers, but it was it right thing to do,” Mike said. “Undisturbed, asbestos poses no risk. But if it is disturbed and particles become airborne, they can be very dangerous. The safety of our visitors is the most important thing, so I’m delighted that we’ve safely managed the situation and are open for screenings again.”

During the closure, other venues in Hexham rallied round to satisfy the demand for film screenings in the town. Hexham Abbey, The Vault, and Hexham Community Centre all played host to films that had been licensed to The Forum, making sure residents didn’t miss out on the movies. The Queen’s Hall also stepped in and saved the day for students at Dilston College, who had their graduation booked at The Forum.

“One good thing coming from the closure has been the way Hexham’s community has come together to support us in our time of need. There’s a real sense of partnership between the different cultural venues, who all want what’s best for the town. There is definitely scope for working together more closely, to maximise the impact that we can have in the regeneration and reinvigoration of Hexham.”

One thing that Mike is keen to make better known is that the profits from the cinema are ploughed back into community, making Hexham a better place to live and work.

“Not everyone realises that the cinema is owned by the Hexham Community Partnership. Each year, thousands of pounds raised through ticket sales are invested in the community. Last year was a bumper one and we were able to give £18,000 to the partnership to invest in local causes. When people choose to see their films at The Forum, they’re not just supporting the cinema, they’re supporting the community too.”

Mike joined the cinema after working in some of the best known cultural venues in the North-East, including Beamish Museum, the Great North Museum, and the Auckland Project. His experience in historic buildings and facilities management means he wasn’t phased by the asbestos.

“You never know what you’re going to get when you’re a manager in this sector, especially in older buildings. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with asbestos but hopefully it will be the last,” he said.

“We’ve got so many exciting things in the pipeline, including the Tyne Valley Film Festival in March next year, so we don’t want anything else holding us up.”

The closure couldn’t have come at a worse time for The Forum, as the summer season is traditionally one of the busiest for the cinema.

However, audiences are coming back now the cinema is open again, and many have said how much they missed the venue when it was closed.

“We don’t just show films,” Mike said. “We screen live performances of national theatre and ballet, we host talks on topics from silent movies to climbing Everest, we give young people the chance to see films they’ve made on a big screen.

“We’re all about opportunities and experiences that people might not otherwise have. You can see everything from the latest blockbusters, to the RSC and Bolshoi right here in Hexham. People really value that.”