Bold £5m plan to restore Garston Empire

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Outside the old bingo hall, formerly known as Garston Empire. Pic © Sarah Almond JMU Journalism

An ambitious £5m plan to restore the former Garston Empire back to its ‘glory days’ has been launched.

The historic site most recently served as a bingo hall before its final closure in 2009.

Now, local entrepreneur, Tony Murray, is aiming to not only re-open the building, but also return it to the theatre it originally opened as.

The James Street premises requires a multi-million pound refurbishment before the scheme can go ahead, but Mr Murray is optimistic than this can be achieved.

Mr Murray told JMU Journalism: “The idea is to get it back to its original condition as best we can, with all its beauty.”

Even though £5m has been given as an estimated figure for the project, he admits that this is only ballpark amount.

The idea started in July after Mr Murray uploaded a Facebook post on a closed group he created called ‘Friends of Garston Empire’.

He said he was looking for people in the community to spare their time to give innovative ideas to get the project up and running.

YouTube: Sarah Almond 

He said: “We have over 1,000 people on the group, and many have helped clean it and share it online.”

Progress is being made, but admittedly, Tony said now everything is on hold until the next key step takes place.

He added: “The prime object is to take ownership. We can’t do anything at all until we do. The current owner is happy with the price given but the building will have to be surveyed to make sure it is safe, and then take the keys. Once that happens it will move a lot faster.”

Currently, the disused building’s said that he is happy to sell the site to Tony, otherwise it will go to developers and eventually turned into a block of flats.

When asked about why he has decided to now transform this boarded-up hall, he told JMU Journalism it was inspired by the work done to regenerate the Hackney Empire in London.

Mr Murray said: “I pass Garston Empire over and over again, and one day I thought ‘Why can’t we do what Hackney Empire has done?’ It’s offering so much to the community.

“We’re wiping the dust off it, and we will turn it from rack and ruin into something glorious.”

YouTube: Sarah Almond

About Sarah Almond, JMU Journalism