Harborough Cinema was previously called Octagon Films. Here is the history of how Octagon Films got started…
There has long been a need for a cinema facility in Market Harborough since the Ritz closed its doors in 1978. Cinema-going audiences have grown five fold in the UK in that time and urban cinema is now becoming an important part of community life for small towns like Market Harborough.
Back in 1995 Mike Lee, Vice Principal Community at Welland Park Community College (WPCC) which is a middle school that also has extensive adult learning facilities, proposed that the Octagonal Hall, on the college campus be developed to provide a cinema and performing arts facility.
In March 1996, the Welland Trust, a local charity, was formed as a vehicle to raise money for this project. A year or so later it was obvious that the National Lottery would not provide the several million pounds that would be required for the Octagonal Hall development. Mike Lee then had the idea of providing a digital cinema in the Community Lounge.
A number of the trustees, who were particularly interested, decided to form a society under the auspices of the trust and called it . . . OCTAGON FILMS. A survey commissioned at the time, showed that 75% of the people would use one or more of the facilities to be provided very frequently, and the most popular new facility would be a cinema. The survey also indicated, that local people, would be willing to financially support the project by a regular giving programme.
Accordingly, Octagon Films decided to involve the community in raising funds towards providing a cinema for Harborough and launched the Curtain Raiser scheme, whereby some 9O17 residents in Harborough were sent details of the project and were asked to contribute on a monthly basis, over at least a two year period . . . More than £34,500.00 has since been raised from 161 people.
The Curtain Raiser scheme was vital, because, it gave the project a funding springboard. It was necessary to show real evidence of local support, in order to be successful with applications to specialist national charities and the Lottery.
The result was that an award of £33,691.00 of Lottery cash for the cinema was received from East Midland Arts. This award was specifically aimed at the development of a small cinema that was seen by EMA as part of an audience development strategy, with the objective of moving the cinema facility to a larger venue depending on public demand. On the 19th August 2002, Octagon Films had its first film showing, in the newly refurbished community lounge on the Welland Park College campus, which offered a 50 seat cinema with VHS DVD formats, surround-sound projection onto a 3m x 1.75m screen.
Audience numbers quickly developed to the point, in 2004 where a new larger venue was required. The original idea, to move the society to the Octagonal Hall, which has a seating capacity of 300, was felt to be too ambitious in terms of attracting sufficient members and audience levels to make this particular venue viable for Octagon Films. The total membership at this point was approximately 240 , and the average attendance at a film showing was only 29, having shown some 70 films and had 2040 admissions. Christine Mitchell had the idea of transferring the cinema to the Harborough Theatre as an alternative, and this occurred in October 2004.
The theatre gives a number of advantages to the membership, it has a much larger auditorium with 117 tiered seats in an air conditioned environment, also an induction loop to help those with hearing aids. The theatre also has a separate lounge and bar area, where members can enjoy a drink before a performance. The central town location of the theatre means easy access and also there is plenty of parking. Since it started, Octagon Films has achieved well over 50,000 admissions. It currently has a membership of over 700 members.
YOU NOW KNOW WHY WE WERE CALLED . . . OCTAGON FILMS
The Harborough Cinema Rebrand
In 2022 it was decided to rebrand our community cinema as Harborough Cinema.
If you are interested in the history of the actual theatre building that we occupy then click on this heading
Harborough Theatre stands in Church Square, adjacent to the magnificent parish church, Saint Dionysius, and the Old Grammar School. There have been buildings on the theatre site for centuries, including The Green Dragon, an old coaching inn with a dodgy reputation and, allegedly, the ghost of a murdered customer, which haunts the theatre.
It is appropriate that this building is the home of make-believe. The inn was demolished in 1935, and replaced with a fake building. Although it looks like an old merchant’s house from the Elizabethan period, with stone walls, mullioned windows, leaded lights and stout oak doors, it was, in fact, constructed as a cycle-shed for the corset-makers in the nearby factory! The Managing Director’s office looked out into Church Square, and he insisted that the new building be designed to resemble an old town-house to disguise its rather mundane purpose and to provide an attractive frontage in this pleasant square.
Market Harborough Drama Society has been presenting plays here since 1947, initially hiring the first-floor hall as a performing space. In 1969, after a fund-raising appeal, they purchased the freehold and, above the front door, erected the Harborough Theatre logo. A modern art sculpture of Harlequin, by local artist Ralph Thurston, was mounted above the display window.
In 1980 more fund-raising enabled the creation of a true theatre auditorium with raked seating and a proper lighting box. More recently, adjacent premises – public toilets and a small shop – were acquired. The frontages were maintained, the toilet entrance being replaced by a two-storey glass and steel display area where the Harlequin sculpture now sits proudly in its upper window. Behind these, the building was re-developed to include a lift to the auditorium.
The Theatre now boasts an 118-seat auditorium with wheelchair position, a smallish stage and a film screen; a 50 seat studio theatre which doubles as a lounge with bar and kitchen; and, filling every nook and cranny, the dressing rooms, workshops and stores needed by a complete practical theatre.
The most recent addition is an office, on the corner of Church Square and Factory Lane, which gives the Theatre a contact point with the busy town centre.