Renovation, renovation, renovation

After only one year in our new home on Ashwin Street, we’re already taking it apart again.

We took over this part of the old Colourworks in May 2010. The original Reeves paint factory closed down in 1948. What we found was … not only were there no theatres, there were no useable toilets, no usable offices. There was no heating and no ventilation. Most of the window frames were broken. The wiring and plumbing were a mess and the roof was leaking all the way to the basement.

During the later months of 2010, we managed to turn the space into a functioning four-studio theatre, where we were able to continue our programme of first-rate theatrical productions once he had to move from the old Arcola in January 2011. But that was just about all. Performers, audiences and staff had to make do with a lot of the other things that were in urgent need of improvement.

The existing layout meant you had to follow an obstacle course to get to the toilets. There was no proper sound proofing of the studios, there was space for no more than about ten people to sit down and have a drink at our bar. Performers had to change in a cubby hole in the basement. Buckets came out when it rained.

Earlier this year, we were awarded £1 million from the Arts Council of England to address these things. This grant is exclusively for the repair and refurbishment of the building. Using local companies, volunteers and donations we will be delivering at least £1.25million worth of works.

We need to remodel the building and sort out its infrastructure to

  • there will be real sit-down and meeting space and a café that offers meals throughout the day (so we need a kitchen)
  • ensure that the two main performance spaces do not disturb each other
  • install more, and better toilets in a better location
  • give you level access throughout the building and make it less of a labyrinth to find your way around
  • create improved dressing rooms and backstage facilities for our artists
  • improve facilities on the first floor, including sound proofing so that Bloomberg Arts Lab in Studios 3 and 4 can be put to more use for rehearsals, youth theatre work, and other learning and community activities
  • ensure proper heating, ventilation and lighting

Our building will be fully fit for its intended purpose. It will also be more accessible, sustainable, user-friendly and comfortable.

In order to achieve this, we had to dig out the basement, relocate the whole of Studio 2, move walls, construct new floors and create new staircases. So a lot of these works are “behind the scenes”, but really essential.

£1million may sound like a lot of money. But what we need to do is costly, too.

For example, we needed to remove asbestos from the boiler room at a cost of £24,000.

Digging out the basement to create the new Studio 2 space, level access and headroom cost over £13,000 in skip charges alone.

Putting in a new boiler, cylinder, solar panels and heating system over three floors costs £32,000 – but it is going to save us approx £10,000 per year in energy costs.

We need 35 new windows. They are costing £110,000.

We are, in the true Arcola spirit, doing this as cost-effectively as we can.

We are reusing bricks, which means you will hardly tell which walls are new and is saving £5,000.

As part of the Olympic legacy and sustainability programme, we are receiving 450 sheets of used plywood from the Olympic Park, at a value of £12,000.

We are cleaning the brickwork across the building to eliminate the need for painting and plastering saving weeks of work and around £60,000.

And the Dalston Darlings from the local WI will be sewing new seat covers for FREE!

There will be more to do when this phase of the works is finished. The final phase will see the installation of new seating, floating floors, improvements to technical theatre installations and putting the whole building on low-energy LED lighting. We are already planning this phase and have quite a bit of funding pledged for it; they are set to be done next year.

Considering that we don’t have enough funds even now to do everything that’s needed the sustainability measures we are including in the current built may appear like a luxury. But actually they aren’t. Not just in the long-term and globally speaking; they also make business sense. Our solar panels are already earning us money. The measures we are putting in now will cut our energy and water use and save us even more.

We’ll be keeping you updated about progress over the next few weeks.

To see more the building works (and some the Victorian features they uncovered) visit IAN VISITS.