What does the future hold for the Mecca Bingo building in Southport?
Some have called for it to be reopened as a theatre, while Southport Theatre & Convention Centre is rebuilt; others would like to see it become a casino; a pub; a cinema; or a gym. The former ABC Cinema across the road was converted into apartments three decades ago. Could it become new living space?
Others called for a ‘Save The Garrick’ campaign to preserve the Grade II Listed former Garrick Theatre, one of Southport’s grandest buildings.
Situated on Garrick Parade, which runs parallel to Lord Street, the beautiful four-storey Art Deco landmark was made famous by artist Fortunino Matania’s iconic ‘Southport In Wintertime’ travel poster.
It was built in 1932 and designed by architect George Tonge.
Today it looks forward to an uncertain future after Mecca Bingo announced that they would not be reopening the site after lockdown.
The news was met with a huge response, with 300 comments in the Stand Up For Southport Facebook group and over 250 on the Mecca Bingo Southport Facebook page.
The reaction was one of sadness at the news – and a hope that this Lord Street landmark can be brought back to life by the right investor.
Some were keen for it to become a new casino, after Genting Casino on the Promenade closed last month.
Speaking on Facebook, George Williams said: “Why does it have to close, not selling anything but it’s a social lifeline to a lot of people. Why doesn’t a betting company take it over as they’ve made millions during this lockdown on gambling which is what bingo is. Make it into a Las Vegas casino, entertainment etc.”
Chrisdtian Holder said: “What about a gym taking over, or a pub like Wetherspoons, or Southport Football Club as a souvenir shop.”
David Sumner said: “So much history, so many famous people have performed there when it was the Garrick Theatre. Fabulous art decor interior. Hope it reopens under new management.”
Elle Elmo Ball said: “Sorry for the staff. I looked up at that building the other day. It needs funding and getting it back to glory. Hopefully someone will be able to do it. Such a shame, it’s an amazing looking building.”
Kenneth Oldfield said: “I believe a lot of its original features are intact under the modifications over the years. Whatever happens, those features having lasted this long need to be preserved.”
Damien Reece said: “It could revert back to a theatre, and be our main theatre until the new one gets built on the Promenade. Panto is saved?”
Chris York said: “Shame… it’s a massive site in the town and another to be empty for a while…. It would be great if it could be transformed back into a theatre / cinema again.”
David Gallacher said: “Sad to see Mecca going – I only moved here in November, so was looking forward to taking my elderly Mum along when it reopened, but sadly that won’t be happening now. Hopefully the staff will find jobs and the building will have a new life – however I expect there’ll be more empty premises by the time this is all over.”
Mary Sanderson said: “I often look at it, it’s a very fine art deco building and it could and should be saved. It will need a shed load of money, can’t we start a Save the Garrick campaign, it looks so sad and it could be glorious.”
Sam Connelly said: “So sorry to hear this. This club was an important part of the community. There is no other bingo club close for players. The staff there are amazing and the club was the best I have been to. A friendly club with the best staff. Mecca are making a mistake closing this club. I hope the staff are ok and find jobs soon. You will all be missed.”
Lizzie Duckworth said: “Think we need to fight to keep Mecca open. There are a lot of pensioners and older people in Southport and the bingo got them out to meet other people. It had such a happy atmosphere, the staff were lovely, nothing was too much trouble. It was like a big extended family.”
Many former staff members were also sad to hear the news.
Kevin Peet said: “I was one of the callers there years ago and have great memories when Julian Cotterill was general manager and Brian was main stage caller. I also remember the Ken Dodd night and I also won £500 there once.
“A great bingo hall and sadly missed.”
Kenny Smith said: “Sad news, I worked there for 27 years as the maintenance man. Great great people worked there, and the members were amazing, always ready with a joke, so friendly. “The community of Southport will miss this great venue. I sincerely wish and hope the staff find employment and wish luck and happiness for the future. God bless you all.”
Mike Maxwell said: “As a former Assistant Manager there I am deeply saddened to hear this news. Great club and great people – it will be sorely missed by the community. My best wishes
to all the staff – fingers crossed you will all find alternative employment quickly. It really is the end of an era.”
Historic England records that the Grade II Listed former Garrick Theatre was designed by George Tonge and was constructed in 1932 in an Art Deco style in brown brick with dressings of Portland stone and concrete. All windows retain Art Deco metal frames and stained glass. The interior has been altered by the removal of the stage and raked seating, but it retains the original proscenium arch with Art Deco open-work surround, boxes with chromium decoration, painted friezes etc.
Mecca Bingo Operations Director John Dyson said: “On behalf of everyone at Mecca Bingo in Southport, we are very sad to confirm that we will not be reopening our club in May and will be closing permanently.
“Mecca Southport has been a part of the local community for many years and we want to say a huge thank you to every single one of our incredible customers for their loyalty and support – we will miss you very much.
“Mecca plays a very special part in the community and has done for 60 years, bringing people together in our clubs and online. We wish all of our colleagues and customers well for the future.”