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Detailed plans to upgrade Guildhall unveiled

Plymouth’s Guildhall could be back in the great gigs game with exciting plans to upgrade its facilities for the next generation of music fans and a host of other users.

The Council is currently working on proposals which are designed to encourage bands, musicians and events’ organisers to book the incredible building as part of a scheme to bring the buzz back to the city centre.

It will also provide space for a variety of other uses, such as other entertainment events, conferences, training, weddings and hot-desking.

The project team has been liaising with events’ organisers as well as a design team including a listed building specialist to put together a package of work that will make the building more attractive to promoters and event goers, but still keep its unique identity.

Changes – which are all subject to planning or listed building consent – could include:

  • Improvements to the main hall’s acoustics with bespoke sound-deadening systems
  • Retractable lighting rig
  • Modular stage units – giving more flexibility in the hall for events which need runways, cat walks or performances in the round
  • Improvements to the kitchen in the main hall enabling a wider range of events to be catered for
  • Wifi improvements, enabling technology such as live streaming to be incorporated into events
  • A goods lift – to make moving of heavy equipment such as amplifiers, lights and PA systems much easier 
  • Significant extension to the 1st floor bar and a back wall to be removed to create more space to move for bar staff
  • Toilets to be refurbished throughout
  • Accessibility improvements where possible.

A separate work programme will see the installation of a new air source heat pump, to displace the use of gas boilers. An air source heat pump transfers heat from the outside air to provide internal heating and is far more environmentally friendly than gas with significantly reduced carbon emissions. 

The Guildhall and Council House will form part of a new Civic Centre District Energy Scheme which can be expanded to the Combined Court, as well as the Theatre Royal and the redevelopment of the Civic Centre by Urban Splash (more information on this is available in a separate release).

Cabinet Member for Finance, Councillor Mark Shayer said: “It was very important to make sure that the improvements work for the type of companies we are trying to attract, so we have spoken to event organisers and promoters. They have their own equipment but need our space to be flexible and easy for setting up and get-outs.

“We also looked at the common problems people have when they go to a venue – a long queue for the bar, thought what changes can we make to address these in our venue? All changes also need to be sensitive to the building’s listed status.”

The team will host an information drop-in event at the Guildhall on Monday 21 November from 3pm to 7pm to inform current and would-be users about the improvement plans.

The works will be submitted as a package for planning and listed building consent later this year. If all goes according to plan, the work could start in the Summer of 2023.

The Guildhall, including Great Hall, Assize Courts and former City Treasury was originally built in the 1870s but reduced to a shell during the Blitz. They survived – by one single Council vote in 1951 – the threat of demolition and became a focus of Plymouth’s rebuilding and the most significant survival from the bombed city centre.

It was one of the few damaged buildings to be restored rather than rebuilt, with the restoration continuing through most of the 1950s. It involved the stabilisation of what remained of the original building and the construction of new roofs, entrances and interior.

Historic England describe it as a ‘rare and unusually rich example’ of an unaltered `Festival of Britain’ interior and there are some glorious touches including an impressive black and white marble staircase in the centre. There’s a mural depicting famous sons of Plymouth and the city’s maritime history and three stunning 1950s chandeliers.

Councillor Shayer added: “This project has been in the pipeline for some time and we have secured significant funding from the Government to help us deliver. If ever there was a project where investment will repay over and over again, this is it. Not only will more events bring more income into the Council, but more people coming to the events will have spin-offs for nearby cafes, pubs and bars. They will have a great night too.”

The project is expected to cost £3.9m comprising £2.45m which was allocated in the Council’s capital budget in March 2021 and £1.5m from the Future High Streets fund.

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