AS PORTSMOUTH Guildhall launches the official celebrations to mark its 125th anniversary, the trust behind it has revealed bold plans to give the building a £15m makeover.
Over the next decade, in a scheme dubbed Guildhall Renaissance, Portsmouth Cultural Trust wants to refurbish much of the building’s interior to make it fit for the 21st century and increase its potential.
The trust is in the process of appointing a fundraising director who will be tasked with targeting potential sources of funding, such as trusts and foundations, alongside local fundraising initiatives.
Chief executive of the trust Andy Grays said: ‘In this day and age, you can’t just go out and find all the money we’d need to do the building at once, so we’ve asked the architect to create a 10-year masterplan, and each phase informs the next one.
‘The first phase is quite commercial – reimagining the foyers, the bar areas, key areas where the public engage which need improving.
‘The second and third phases are all about the concert hall inside, new seating, better technical facilities, improving areas around the stage – particularly the backstage.
We want to create an innovative way of working, it’s not just the end result that’s going to be satisfying, it’s the process as wellAndy Grays, chief executive of POrtsmouth Cultural Trust
‘The last phase is very aspirational, but would create something quite unique within the venue.
‘We want to make an extension at the back to provide a much better sense of capacity for orchestras, rehearsal rooms and so on.’
Since the trust took over, visitor numbers have gone up from 164,000 in 2011/12 to 250,000 in 2014/15. But Mr Grays said he wanted to drive that up by another 100,000.
Once complete, the main hall would have its capacity boosted from the current 2,500 standing to 3,000 standing.
It would also allow them to bring in shows which require bigger productions.
He added: ‘The architects says that if we take a traditional route, it will cost anything up to £15m, but up to £3-£3.5m of that is inflation.
‘It’s all down to how we do the build programme.
‘However, what we want to do is create an innovative way of working – it’s not just the end result that’s going to be satisfying, it’s the process as well.’
The trust has already been talking with architectural and design students at the University of Portsmouth to brainstorm ideas and is keen to keep them involved throughout.
Mr Grays explained: ‘We want to create a process over several years where students are working side by side with professionals – we want to look at internships, apprenticeships and direct employment through trades.
‘We don’t want to just bring in a main contractor, we want to look at local specialist trades and training opportunities.’
Professor Catherine Harper, dean of the university’s faculty of creative and cultural industries, said: ‘It’s a win-win situation for our students, it gives them the opportunity to work in real-life situations and take on what is actually an external client.
‘From our point of view, it’s fantastic.’
She added: ‘We very much believe in what Andy is doing.
‘He’s a visionary, with extraordinary clarity about his aims for the Guildhall.
‘We want to be as much a part of that as possible. It’s a big project Andy is undertaking and he will need all the help that the cultural providers and educators in the city can provide.’