In celebration of England’s venues once again being able to welcome back audiences, Bristol Beacon has opened its doors to reveal the latest milestones and progress on its multi-million pound redevelopment.
The three partners involved in the ambitious transformation of Bristol’s iconic venue – Bristol City Council, who own the venue, Bristol Music Trust, the charity that operate it, and Willmott Dixon, the construction firm carrying out the work – have continued to progress the project behind closed doors during the pandemic, but have been unable to show anyone round in over a year.
The transformation of the venue is one of the most complex construction projects in the UK and the biggest capital arts programme ever in the south west.
Key milestones in the last few months include:
- The 120 tonnes of ‘birdcage’ scaffolding – the temporary structure that was holding the building together during the demolition phase – has now gone, opening up the main hall again.
- The roof steels have been installed in the main hall, which is now partially covered, with work ongoing on the roof structure. The total weight of the roof structure is around 250 tonnes, the equivalent of over 400 grand pianos.
- Two new balconies have been built in the main hall, replacing the previous one overhanging balcony that housed 800 seats. They are supported with new acoustic installations, which mean that the acoustics for the entire audience will be world-class.
- A new structural opening, reaching across the entire width of the hall and extending through both cellars ready for the new stage lift has been dug out. It will be used to transport all set equipment, chairs and instruments in the new hall and make it entirely accessible for the first time.
- New specialist glass windows have been installed in the Lantern, opening it up for the first time in decades and restoring it back to how the original Victorian building intended it to be. This also makes it more flexible and versatile space.
- The colonnades on the outside of the front of the building have been painstakingly stripped of the paint covering them and restored to their original late 19th century Byzantine architecture.
Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said: “Bristol Beacon has been a key part of Bristol’s world-famous arts and cultural offering for generations, and we now want to make it a place for everyone to enjoy for the future.
“The venue has had no major refurbishment for 60 years so the work on this historic Grade II listed building was long overdue. The scale of the transformation programme has social value built in, with 60% of the supply chain spend within 10 miles and over improving employability for nearly 4000 local young people.
“We are now really beginning to see the results of the work over a challenging year, with the building starting to take shape.”
Bristol Beacon chief executive, Louise Mitchell, said: “This is an important time for venues across England, as they are at last able to open their doors again and welcome audiences in. We are delighted that we can now let people see the amazing work that has been going on behind the scenes over the last year.
“Standing on our brand new balconies, looking out over the auditorium, you get a real sense of what the transformed building is going to deliver for the city – a world-class venue that will attract the best performers, allow us to put on more events and open our doors to even greater and more diverse audiences.”
Richard David, operations director, Willmott Dixon, said: “We are immensely proud to be breathing life back into this historic venue, which has been at the heart of Bristol’s cultural offering for generations.
“This is a hugely complex project which has required the whole team to work together collaboratively to overcome the many challenges we faced. As you stand in the main auditorium, you now get a sense of what a fantastic space it will be, and we are proud to be playing our part in its restoration.
“Together with Bristol City Council, we are ensuring that the project directly benefits the local economy, through working with a local supply chain and providing apprenticeships, work experience and employment opportunities.”
The work on the £107m transformation is due to be completed in spring 2023, ready for re-opening in the autumn that year.