A chain of cinemas in Cornwall and around the country is to be taken over by its employees in the form of a trust.

Merlin Cinemas will soon become an Employee Ownership Trust, with ownership of the company transferred from the existing managing director Geoff Greaves, who founded the cinema group.

The trust will protect the interests of the 320 people who work in the company’s cinemas and restaurants, located from Penzance at the tip of Cornwall to Thurso at the very top of Scotland.

The current senior management team, based mainly in Redruth, will not change and the company has said that after the transition it will be “very much business as usual”.

Mr Greaves, the existing managing director, is to stay on in a new supporting role with the intention of a gradual transition to retirement.

Craig May, presently co-director, who has worked for the company for almost 20 years, will now become managing director, whilst Daisy Wren and Chris Lawrence, both experienced and long serving senior management employees, will be newly appointed as directors. Together they will continue to drive this expanding cinema group forward.

Mr Greaves said: “This is a fantastic and exciting route to protect the company and our ethos, and to reward all those people who together have been part of the success in bringing the ‘Magic of the Movies’ to so many people around the UK.

“I have always believed that the best place to see a film is at the cinema, it’s memorable and sociable, and without their own cinema locally people just don’t go very often, which is why I believe so much in cinema being local and engaged in the community.”

The company specialises in operating rural and coastal cinemas, mainly in towns where there would otherwise be no local cinema.

From converted historic buildings to old traditional cinemas re-opened, its sites also include a multi-screen cinema and live theatre in the Regal at Redruth.

In Penzance, where Merlin already runs the popular Savoy Cinema, the company is also in the process of converting the long-closed 1930s Art Deco Ritz Cinema into a multi-entertainment venue, which is due to open late this year.

The company was started at the Savoy in 1990, which was then a run-down single screen cinema, and has gradually grown to 20 sites and over 60 screens.

Merlin has the following cinemas: Regal Cinema Redruth, Phoenix Cinema Falmouth, Savoy Cinema Penzance, Capitol Cinema Bodmin, Flora Cinema Helston, Royal Cinema St Ives, Kings Cinema Kingsbridge, New Central Cinema Torquay, New Carlton Cinema Okehampton, Embassy Cinema Ilfracombe, Tivoli Cinema Tiverton, Plaza Cinema Weston-super-Mare, Wellesley Cinema Wellington, Studio Cinema Coleford, Scala Cinema Prestatyn, Regal Movieplex Cromer, The Regent Cinema Redcar, Merlin Thurso Cinema, Astoria Cinema Ayr.