HUNDREDS of bingo players have been left without their local hall because of the smoking ban.

Despite New Century Bingo in Woolston, Southampton, having more than 4,500 members on their books and seeing some 1,500 regulars every week, bosses at the venue say it cannot carry on with people heading outside to smoke or staying at home to play online games on the internet.

Members who regularly travel from miles across the city to the hall, which was converted from The Picturehouse cinema more than 30 years ago, say they have lost a vital community centre and that many elderly residents in the east side of the city have grown to depend on it.

"I've been coming here since it was a Picturehouse in the 1970s, and remember watching Bridge Over The River Kwai," said bingo fan Mary Allott from Thornhill.

"Then I came to play bingo and have been coming all these years, I don't know what I will do now it is closed."

Pam Holmes, 74, from Kanes Hill, said she came to play bingo with her husband before he died.

"He loved coming here and I still come here because it feels like the only place I can still be with him. Now that it's closing I have to say goodbye to him again," she said.

Staff at the New Century Bingo hall said they were also sad to leave and said an emotional goodbye to members as they played their final games at the venue in Portsmouth Road yesterday.

"It is very sad for members who have been coming here for years and it's also sad for Woolston," said bingo caller Kevin Greenman. Some of the staff are being moved to New Century Bingo's second Southampton venue in Shirley and others have taken voluntary redundancy.

Assistant manager Rachel Edwards said it was sad they had to close suddenly but she believed the company had no choice. "We have suffered since the smoking ban and there's also the problem of online bingo everywhere and that has hit everyone."

Miss Edwards said the company was also thinking about the future of bingo in the area and that they would lose out to national company Gala when it opens the planned store in Thornhill as part of the £25m complex planned for the old Jewson builder's merchants in Bursledon Road.

"It is a sad day for people in Woolston," she added.

Paul Redwood, acting manager of New Century Bingo in Shirley said: "Unfortunately the smoking ban is affecting bingo halls around the country. Many independent places have closed or are closing."

Mr Redwood said the company had no plans to close the venue in Shirley and added that at the moment it is not yet known what will happen to the historic Woolston building.