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Source : 26/06/2004 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

Blighted by delays and strict planning regulations, the Jesus Army's worship centre in Northampton is finally nearing completion.

These pictures show the work being carried out to transform the former 2,000 seat art deco cinema in a 3 million makeover.

John Campbell, the Jesus Army's communications manager, said the restoration of the 68-year-old listed building should be completed in time for its reopening in October.

The project has faced a string of delays since the religious group secured a 99-year lease for the historic building in 2000.

Contractors discovered structural and drainage problems soon after moving on to the site, and designers have had to adhere to strict planning regulations to ensure the transformation was in keeping with the magnificent art deco interior of the former cinema.

Mr Campbell said: 'It's been incredibly difficult getting the work organised and the fact the building is listed has slowed us down a fair bit.'

'But at the moment, everything is running on time.'

When work to restore original features in the cinema is complete it is hoped former cinema-goers would not be able to tell the building stood empty after it closed in 1995.

Mr Campbell said: 'When people walk in it will be recognisable as the old art-deco cinema.'

'But it is not just the decoration that's art deco, the whole building has a wonderful curve and a very artistic feel.'

The former cinema will be used as both a worship centre and as a conference and entertainment venue after it opens.

A number of events, including pantomimes and concerts, are already booked to appear at the centre and Mr Campbell said he hoped it would be seen as a community venue as well as a religious centre.

He added: 'We're not going to be imposing religion on people. We want the centre to be welcoming to people whatever their religious background.'

But he admitted ethical issues could prevent some groups from performing at the centre, adding: 'We want to run it as a commercial venture, but there are ethical issues and there may be some things we are uncertain about.'

The Jesus Centre is due to open on October 30.