The Empire Cinemas chain has collapsed into administration after suffering during the pandemic and seeing dwindling numbers of cinemagoers.

Around 150 jobs have been lost after six cinemas were closed with immediate effect, according to joint administrators at BDO.

Cinemas in Bishop’s Stortford, Catterick Garrison, Sunderland, Swindon, Walthamstow and Wigan have closed. The already-shut site in Sutton Coldfield will not reopen.

The closures leave the city of Sunderland and town of Wigan with no main cinema.

People and staff turned up to cinemas on Friday to find notes on windows explaining that it was closing down, according to local reports.

Empire Cinemas runs 12 theatres under the Empire brand and two Tivoli-branded cinemas in Bath and Cheltenham, employing 437 staff across England and Scotland prior to the closures.

The chain will keep its remaining seven sites open while it seeks a buyer for the business, BDO said.

The cinemas staying open are located in Birmingham, Clydebank, High Wycombe, Ipswich and Sutton, and the two Tivoli sites.

Chief executive of Empire, Justin Ribbons, said in a note on the company’s website on Friday: “As a consequence of Covid-19, where we were mandated by Government to close down our cinema chain in its entirety for protracted periods in 2020 and 2021, this left us with a high fixed cost base and no income.

“Cinema attendance levels have not yet returned to pre-Covid-19 levels and the operating environment remains extremely challenging.

“It has been a difficult economic environment for any business to manage through without long-term damage and having exhausted all other available options for the business, we firmly believe that this process can be a platform to restructure the business and preserve as many of our cinemas and the maximum number of jobs as possible.”

People who have bought advanced tickets for films at the affected cinemas will be refunded. Gift cards, ticket e-codes, guest passes and readmission tickets will be valid at the sites remaining open.

Business restructuring partners Tony Nygate, John Strowger and Danny Dartnaill were appointed as joint administrators at BDO.