A BINGO club which has operated in a historic cinema building for almost 40 years will close on Sunday week after the owner sold up.

Owner Simon Bartlam said he was forced to sell the Grand in Westbourne because the business was no longer viable.

The last bingo session in the Poole Road building will take place on January 21 from 5pm.

Mr Bartlam, who runs the club with nine staff, has sold the former cinema building to property group Elliott Heron.

He said: “It’s not viable any more. The admissions are down to under 600 people a week.

“You just can’t make any money out of that, unfortunately. I’ve tried. I’m an owner-operator and it just doesn’t pay any more.”

He said the 2007 ban on smoking in public buildings had hit trade, compounded by the rise in online gambling.

At one time, the club’s 13 bingo sessions a week were pulling in 2,000-2,500 players.

“No matter what we do, it doesn’t make any difference. The last few years, I’ve financially supported the business out of my own pocket,” said Mr Bartlam.

“I’ve tried to find other business operators to take it on but one or two have looked at it and it’s not viable for them.”

The Grand opened as a cinema in 1922 and hosted bingo part-time in the early 1970s.

Mr Bartlam’s parents, Stanton and Molly, bought it in 1977 and operated the bingo club from February 1978.

Other companies ran the bingo from 1986-94 but the building was always in the family’s ownership.

The family also owned the Roxy in Holdenhurst Road, which closed in 1994.

Mr Bartlam said he had tried to interest niche cinema operators in the Grand. “They’ve all looked at it but it’s too costly to convert a grade two listed building,” he said.

“There comes a time when all good things come to an end. It’s sad and I shall be upset but I can’t afford to carry on funding it really. At the end of the day it’s a business and you have to run as a business.”

In its cinema days, the Grand could seat 1,000 people in the stalls and balcony, and its auditorium originally had a sliding roof which was opened in hot weather.

The roof overlooking Poole Road had a globe which was illuminated at night.

The Grand was itself seen on film, appearing as a New York film theatre in Ken Russell’s 1977 movie Valentino.

Mr Bartlam said: “People say it’s a shame it was used for bingo but it’s only through bingo players’ support that it’s kept in that condition. From them coming here and playing bingo we’ve managed to maintain the building.”