CAMPAIGNERS have launched a multi-million-pound attempt to reopen a former Hampshire cinema and prevent it being replaced by luxury flats.

Ringwood's old Regal Cinema, which has stood empty for about 15 years, was once a live music venue which staged concerts by Status Quo and other top bands.

Now a community interest company (CIC) is being formed in a bid to buy and restore the 152-year-old building.

The joint directors are Jim Stride and Darren Loose, whose vision is to create a cinema and theatre complex which would also boast a restaurant and community rooms.

Ringwood residents are invited to help fund the project by buying £100 shares.

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Initial estimates suggest it could cost up to £2m to acquire old the cinema, plus £2.5m to restore the building and £500,000 to make it operational.

Mr Stride and Mr Loose, who aim to finance the project by selling shares, obtaining grants and securing donations, say their supporters have already pledged a total of £260,000.

Mr Stride said: "It's going to be a hard slog but we believe we've got a really good chance."

Referring to previous attempts to save the Regal he added: "I feel this is the last chance to do something with that building for the benefit of the community."

The two men are already in talks with U&I Group PLC, which owns the site.

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Their aim is to prevent a precious piece of Ringwood's heritage being snapped up by property developers and either demolished or converted into luxury flats.

They hope to buy the building next year and embark on a two-year restoration scheme with the aim of opening the complex in 2024.

"Darren and I have a passion to create a fantastic community asset for Ringwood and in doing so provide the town centre with a new heartbeat," said Mr Stride.

"We are doing this on a voluntary basis for the good of Ringwood and will be investing our own money.

"Donaldson Ross & Co accountants and Forest Edge solicitors are providing their services free of charge. We also have experts offering their expertise and skills free."

All the share money will be refunded if the attempt to buy the building ends in failure.

Opened in 1914 the Regal ceased to be a full-time cinema in 1959 and later became a live music venue which staged concerts by Status Quo, The Troggs and Edison Lighthouse.

Its other uses have included a nightclub and a shopping arcade with an Italian restaurant in the basement.