TODAY The News can reveal the first phase of ambitious £15m plans to create a new music venue inside Portsmouth Guildhall.
The Renaissance project will see the building restored over the next decade – and also aims to revitalise it with a new smaller venue to support-and-coming musicians.
This initial phase of the project will see the ground floor Harlequin Room transformed from a tired and under-utilised space into a 185 seat/250 standing capacity Guildhall Studio.
Those who run the Grade II-listed site say this ambitious programme of restoration and development will enable it to thrive well into the next century.
The overall project will be completed in several stages, allowing the Guildhall to raise the funds needed and complete the programme without having to shut the whole venue down.
Portsmouth Guildhall’s CEO, Andy Grays, said: ‘We have huge ambitions for the Guildhall, centred on diversifying our programme, so that there is more for younger people and so we can actively support local artist development.
The Guildhall continues to be the focal point for the arts in Portsmouth and we need these spaces now more than everMark King of Level 42
‘This new facility will also provide us with a crucial new asset to help raise income for the long-term development of the venue.’
The venue-within-a-venue will create a much-needed facility to support emerging talent across the region, as well as developing a more diversified offering of arts and classical music, and create a small conference and meeting space.
Through this smaller performance space it aims to help support the next generation of local artists by complementing the city’s other music venues – filling the currently existing gap between venues that can accommodate 100 or 400 people.
The Guildhall Studio will also be used to offer a wider musical programme, including folk, blues, jazz and world music, classical soloists and ensembles and the Portsmouth Chamber Music Series in an intimate setting.
Colin Jagger, who organises the chamber music series said: ‘This will be a fabulous development. Right now we are making use of a 2,000-seat hall, and our concerts never get an audience of 2,000 people. At the moment we put the performers on stage and build up around them to make it more intimate, so it doesn’t feel so massive.
‘But to have a purpose-built venue like this would be fantastic, and it will be an ideal space for these types of music that don’t command the larger audiences as we don’t really have anywhere else in the city that caters for it at the moment.’
This first phase of the Renaissance Project will cost £130,000 to complete, with works set to take place in summer 2018. £30,000 has already been secured by the Guildhall, but the venue is seeking support from outside bodies, corporate partners and the public to make this phase happen.
Councillor Linda Symes, in charge of leisure and cultural matters at Portsmouth City Council, added: ‘It’s great for them to have these ambitions – without ambition you don’t have much at all.
‘I hope they’re successful, but there are a lot of people chasing after not very much money. We would all like the Guildhall to be an even more successful venue than it already is – it has a great deal to offer. Any improvement and anything that brings footfall into the area is to be encouraged.’
For the past two years Hemingway Design, a consultancy founded by renowned designer Wayne Hemingway has been working with the Guildhall on the project. When he was brought on board in September 2015, he described the building as ‘a sleeping giant,’ with ‘lots of potential in a city that punches under its weight.’
The firm created the images seen here and on the front page. Besides the Studio, Renaissance will take in all aspects of the venue, including overhauling the foyers, bar areas, the main concert hall – expanding its capacity to 3,000, backstage, and the technical specifications.
Over the decades, the main concert hall has played host to some of the world’s biggest acts, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Status Quo and Elton John.
The venue also celebrates home-grown talent through its Portsmouth Music Experience Exhibition and Wall of Fame.
But having seen relatively little investment in the building since its post-war reopening in 1959, after it was bombed during The Blitz in 1941, the team behind it now sees the development of the Guildhall Studio as a vital step to securing its long-term financial sustainability, to continue to attract top acts, maximise its money-making potential and to achieve its goal of being the leading concert and conference venue in the south.
Mr Grays added: ‘We have been looking at some funding applications and at how we would best use the money we have got.
‘We wanted to break the overall scheme down into these micro-projects, which makes it more manageable.
‘The most important thing is that we don’t shut down the building while doing this. It is a complex project.’
Patron of the Guildhall and Level 42 frontman, Mark King has played regularly at the venue over the years, and said: ‘Well done to Portsmouth Guildhall with this excellent initiative to restore a real gem. The Guildhall continues to be the focal point for the arts in Portsmouth and we need these spaces now more than ever.’
* To support the development, donate online at portsmouthguildhall.org.uk or call (023) 9387 0203 to discuss becoming a partner.
THE RENAISSANCE PROJECT’S AIMS
* Create a purpose built Welcome Centre, improving accessibility, which is welcoming to all
* Provide a quality customer experience underpinned by excellence – new seating, more leg room, air conditioning and renovated toilet and bar facilities
* Create a stimulating cultural and social hub as a Studio space that allows the Guildhall to develop its arts and classical music offer, Learning and Participation programme and support emerging talent
* Restore and renovate the tired interior of the building which is largely untouched since it was reopened by The Queen in 1959
* Create exciting new exhibition spaces that bring the heritage story of the Guildhall to life
* Create a dynamic social space with a new retail and catering offer
* Improve backstage facilities so the Guildhall remains an attractive venue to promoters and artists
* Secure the future sustainability of the Guildhall by allowing it to maximise use of space and income generation