A GROUP of volunteers who set out to relaunch a traditional cinema in a market town, despite a downturn in the industry, are celebrating 20 years of reversing the venue’s fortunes.

The Ritz Cinema, in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, now attracts more than 20,000 movie-goers a year, almost double the number of users than when it was relaunched in March 1995, following the closure of the Studio One picturehouse.

The volunteers group was formed after about 100 residents attended a public meeting, where it was decided to reopen the cinema, which was first launched in 1912.

The cinema’s chairman, John Potter, said: “There was such a groundswell of public enthusiasm to keep the cinema open and it was clear there were enough people to get it off the ground.”

On the day of the relaunch, queues formed along Westgate for screenings of The Lion King and in the first year the cinema attracted about 11,000 movie-goers.

The cinema, which attracts its largest audiences for English-made films, was initially run through a partnership between volunteers Thirsk Town Council, but after a year of returning a profit, control was passed to volunteers.

Mr Potter said as all the profits are ploughed back into the cinema the volunteers had managed to replace the screen and improve the seating, the sound system and decor.

Mayor of Thirsk, Councillor Janet Watson, said: “It is a fantastic asset for the town, which is well supported by the community and also brings a lot of people into Thirsk.”

The cinema, which will screen series of films to mark the Tour de France and the centenary of World War One this summer, is marking the anniversary year with an exhibition of work by its artist in residence, Ann Kilvington, at Thirsk Library.