Pensioner shares her fond memories of the Grand Theatre

Jean Buckland from Banbury remembering her days at The Grand Theatre. NNL-151124-164735009
Jean Buckland from Banbury remembering her days at The Grand Theatre. NNL-151124-164735009

A Banbury pensioner has gone back in time to relive memories of her past at the town’s former Grand Theatre.

The building in Broad Street has been lying dormant for many months but following an article in the Banbury Guardian last month, readers are desperate to see the once popular landmark return to its former glory as the place to go in Banbury.

Jean Buckland from Banbury remembering her days at The Grand Theatre. Jean is on the right in this old photo in her uniform. NNL-151124-164848009

Jean Buckland from Banbury remembering her days at The Grand Theatre. Jean is on the right in this old photo in her uniform. NNL-151124-164848009

Jean Buckland worked at The Grand from 1944, when she was aged 14, until 1952. She even met her husband-to-be Peter while he was an aspiring photographer who went on to become the first snapper working at the Banbury Guardian.

Now 85, Mrs Buckland, of Deacon Way, has recalled her memories working at the Grand to her granddaughter May after seeing the Banbury Guardian, and is looking to set up a reunion to meet up with former colleagues.

She said: “The story really touched my nan’s heart, made her eyes sparkle and her memory clear again. Her memories of her years at The Grand are as clear as day, she repeats her stories of her eight years there constantly and she states that they were the best years of her life.

“My nan recalls accidentally leaving the back door open at times so people could sneak in, handing out ice creams at intervals and so on, she has diaries of the years that she worked there and she noted down the films that were played each day that she worked. Her favourite film that was shown and which still is her all time best movie is Gone With The Wind.

“She was wondering if perhaps a Grand reunion could be organised with colleagues who used to work there.”

After the building was cloesd as a cinema more than 50 years go it was also a bingo hall for 30 years.

Its internal decoration is still intact and the cinema’s project is still located at the top of the building. It was also re-opened for one night only back in July as it staged the town’s first drama and heritage festival, which was organised by the Banbury and Suzette Neptune.

But in October last year planning permission was granted by Cherwell District Council to partially demolish the Grand and convert it into flats and shops, despite objections from campaigners.

Speaking to Banbury Guardian, Terry Andrews, a former member of Banbury Cross Players said: “One person said it would be a good idea to turn it back into a theatre and everyone agreed.

“The Grand is an amazing building and if there was a nucleus of people and businesses who got together and said let’s start fundraising it could be an amazing thing.”

> Banbury residents have also been expressing their interest in helping restore the Grand Theatre back to its former glory.

The Banbury Guardian has been inundated with letters from readers about the idea to bring it back as an arts venue after it was previously Wonderlounge bar and before that Chicago Rock Cafe.

The building has since remained empty and among those wanting to see the cinema restored is Sharon Green, who runs her academy of theatre and dance and is also a director of Odyssey Theatrical Productions. In her letter in the November 5 edition, she said: “I know I am speaking on behalf of a lot of people from a range of different groups, societies etc, with a common belief; that there should be a proper theatre in Banbury.

“There is so much up-and-coming talent across Banbury and the surrounding area – these young people deserve a venue at which they can develop the skills needed to take their talent to the next level.”

Liz Hawes of Horton View added: “This town has for far too long lacked a large entertainment venue. Of course it is difficult to raise funds for such a big venture but with the will of people like Sharon [Green] and others it can be done.

“Come on Banburians. Let’s get behind this exciting possibility of having a theatre which will attract the big names and shows while also being available for the many excellent local drama and musical groups. I for one would be happy to contribute in fundraising and volunteering to achieve turning the Grand into a venue of which Banbury would be proud.”

Amanda Bryant of Byfield said: “It would be great to have the former Grand Theatre back at its original purpose, most especially as a theatre. but arts of any kind would be a welcome cultural point in the centre of this lovely historic market town.

“It appears that is a structurally sound and I, probably amongst many, would support fundraising for this project. Let’s see it happen soon!”

> The chairman of Banbury Civic Society has said it is up to the community to see if they can make a viable scheme to re-open the Grand Theatre.

Rob Kinchin-Smith described proposals to turn the building into shops and houses as unviable but said that the venue has got lots of potential.

He said: “It was purposely built as a theatre or venue. While it does not have a stage as it was once a bar it has a massive space for entertainment. It is a huge empty space and would be a terrible waste for it to not be used to its potential.

“Mentor Inns, who own the building, are very sympathetic to any proposal that would make it viable. The ball is in the court of the Banbury community to come up with a scheme and if so it would be something the civic society would like to be involved with.”