News Walthamstow

Shock closure of Empire Walthamstow leaves borough without a cinema

All 27 employees at the Walthamstow cinema have been made redundant with immediate effect after the owner fell into administration, reports Marco Marcelline

Five staff who were made redundant today pose outside the shuttered cinema. Credit: Marco Marcelline

Empire Cinema Walthamstow has closed after its owner collapsed into administration this morning. The move leaves Waltham Forest without any multiplex cinemas. 

All 27 employees at the Walthamstow cinema have been made redundant with immediate effect. Empire Cinema Group’s CEO said the reason to close the cinema was because of an “extremely challenging” operating environment and a COVID related income decline.

Staff received the news from administrators at a meeting that began around 9:30am this morning. Just after 4pm yesterday employees had been informed to attend the meeting but were not told of its purpose.

Tony Nygate, John Strowger and Danny Dartnaill were appointed Joint Administrators of Empire Cinemas Limited. A representative for the administrators refused to comment to the Echo when approached at the cinema today.

Notices plastered on the cinema entrance announced the news of the immediate closure and stated that refunds for advance tickets bought online and those purchased at the box office have been automatically refunded.

The administrator plastered notices outside the cinema announcing the closure. Credit: Marco Marcelline

A weekly customer who preferred not to be named turned up to the cinema after noticing that it wasn’t possible to book films on the website. She told the Echo: “I’ve been coming since [the cinema] opened and these are some of the best staff you’ll ever find and they did not deserve this. You can’t treat people like this…I feel angry.”

She added: “There isn’t a cinema in Leyton, Leytonstone, or Chingford. I’ll have to travel to Stratford now.” 

Sami, a manager who has worked at the cinema since it opened in 2014 said, through tears, “The amount of things we’ve done for this company. We don’t deserve this.”

Underscoring the shock nature of the closure, Davina, a team member, told the Echo that the company had been hiring for new team members in Walthamstow last week, and had bought new uniforms which had been delivered to the cinema this week. The front of the cinema had recently been emblazoned with an advertisement for the latest Disney flick Elemental which had its UK release today (7th July).

The closure comes on a day of teaching strikes and through the early afternoon disappointed families with young children turned up at the cinema. Elisabeth O’Connell had booked tickets “at 10:27” this morning to see the latest Indiana Jones film with her three children before seeing it was closed on arrival. Her kids were excited to see their uncle who was an extra in the film and would now have to go elsewhere to see it, she said.

Joel Hirsch, a long-term customer and Walthamstow local, said he was “totally disgusted” with the closure and at the staff being “turfed out”. He added: “I fully support the workers here…we think they should be camping out.” Describing his reaction as being of “incoherent anger” he began to bang on the windows to demand answers from the administrators, who refused to comment when they unlocked the front door.

Joel, a long-time customer, bangs on the entrance in anger. Credit: Marco Marcelline

Another long-term customer said how she had last been in to watch Babylon on Wednesday (5th July) via the weekly over 60s club incentive which cost just £3.75. “There were loads of us [that would come to the Senior club]. It’s a shame that it’s [the cinema] gone.”

Peter Amey, former assistant General Manager, told the Echo that he had been hired in December with the understanding that he would be transferred to the Basildon Empire cinema. He added that had been explicitly told last week by Empire’s head office that he would be moving to the Basildon branch in September. Ben, former operations assistant, had signed a contract for Basildon and had been repeatedly assured he would also be moving from Walthamstow. Now they are both without a job. 

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Amey said: “The head office have all given themselves bonuses and increased their wages. None of them have lost their jobs.”

Those who have worked at the cinema for less than two years are not entitled to statutory severance pay. Those who have worked at the cinema for more than two years will receive half a week’s pay for each full year they were under 22, one week’s pay for each full year they were 22 or older, but under 41, and one and half week’s pay for each full year they were 41 or older.

Responding to the closure, Cllr Grace Williams, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, said: “We were shocked and surprised to be informed this morning that Empire Cinema Walthamstow on the Hight Street [sic] has closed with immediate effect as the Empire Cinemas group enters administration. We did not receive any advance notification of this announcement. My thoughts are of course with the staff who will be devastated to lose their jobs with short notice.”

Cllr Williams added that the council would “immediately begin to examine options for how the site can be bought back” to benefit Waltham Forest residents.

Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow, tweeted that she was “shocked that the @EmpireCinemas has been closed down with immediate effect – was there on Monday” and asked for the administrators to “urgently provide an update on what next for those who worked there”.

In a Facebook post which had its comments limited, Justin Ribbons, Empire Cinemas CEO, said that the company had been left with a “high fixed cost base and no income” after being forced to shut its cinemas over COVID related lockdowns and restrictions. Ribbons added: “Cinema attendance levels have not yet returned to pre-COVID-19 levels and the operating environment remains extremely challenging.”

The post, which was also published on Empire’s website, continued: “It has been a difficult economic environment for any business to manage through without long term damage and having exhausted all other available options for the business, we firmly believe that this process can be a platform to restructure the business and preserve as many of our cinemas and the maximum number of jobs as possible.”

Six of the company’s 14 cinemas have ceased operations today. Other than Walthamstow, these are Bishop’s Stortford, Catterick Garrison, Sunderland, Swindon, and Wigan. The remaining Empire Cinemas in Birmingham, Clydebank, High Wycombe, Ipswich and Sutton, as well as the two Tivoli sites in Bath and Cheltenham, will continue to trade, according to the cinema group. The company’s Sutton Coldfield cinema would not reopen, administrators confirmed. 

At the time of writing, Empire Cinema Walthamstow’s website continues to operate. The last film that would have shown today is Odesza: The Last Goodbye Cinematic Experience. 

If you are affected by the redundancies you can check your rights at the website.

If you have any comments or developments to share regarding this story please contact [email protected]

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