The Chair of Bradford Civic Society – Si Cunningham – paid a visit to the former Odeon building this week [Friday 27 July] to meet representatives from Bradford Live and hear an update on how plans are progressing. Here’s Si’s summer update for members:
“If there’s one question I can put money on hearing at almost every civic society meeting it’s “what’s going on with the Odeon?” although I’m happy to say that the tone has somewhat shifted from ‘mild concern’ to ‘restrained excitement’ in recent months! Our civic society has been involved with the former Odeon building since it first came under threat of demolition well over a decade ago. One of our longest-serving members, Norman Littlewood, formed the Bradford Odeon Rescue Group and became the public face of the campaign to halt its demolition. Norman celebrated his 90th birthday last week, and I hope he raised an extra glass to a grand old piece of Bradford’s heritage that he helped save for future generations to enjoy.
I promised Norman, and other members, that the civic society will keep a close eye on how work inside the former Odeon building is progressing, and that we will do everything we can to support its rebirth as a major entertainment destination for the north of England. I’m very grateful, therefore, to Lee Craven and Chris Morrell of developers Bradford Live for accommodating regular site visits and fielding questions or concerns with great detail and transparency.
My most recent visit took place in July, just a couple of months after Bradford Live formally exchanged contracts with the NEC group, the international operators who will run the venue when it opens. So what’s happened since then, and what can we expect to see this year?
Derelict building to construction site
The first thing to note is the tangible shift in the general condition of the inside of the structure, which now feels more like a clean construction site than a derelict building. The first few visits to former Odeon in recent years were often a bit like walking into the unknown, with dark damp areas and piles of rubble. But it’s been transformed into a clean, secure and well-lit site. thanks in part to members of Bradford Civic Society who took part in a group clean-up session back in February this year .
Detailed design underway
Bradford Live, together with international architects Aedis, are now undertaking advanced design work which cover some of the areas that will be vital to the day-to-day running of a large entertainment destination. As a reminder, the capacity of the venue will be approximately 4,000 standing and 3,000 seated [the rear of the Odeon will serve as a storage area for seats when not in use]. One of the more complex areas of design work is making sure that every part of the 1930s building is fully accessible to wheelchair users, so things like toilets and refreshment facilities have to be carefully factored in from the beginning. The team are also going to be utilising parts of the vast (but somewhat innovative) 1930s ventilation system which cools and heats the building from the ground up, rather than top down.
A new use for the north tower
One element of design that has changed for the better is the use of the north tower (situated on Thornton Road). Currently a vast part of the tower is occupied by an electricity sub-station which was previously thought immovable. However, it’s now been confirmed that the sub-station will be relocated by National Grid, at no cost to the development. This will enable to tower to be fully opened up and restored to its original layout, and will serve as a special entrance for lounges and VIP areas.
A September start date
September 2018 will see the most significant activity take place within the building to date, with a full ‘strip-out’ of 1960s partitions planned as well as the creation of a new stage door. The works are currently out to tender with several demolition firms in the bidding process, but an appointment is imminent and work is set to start in September. The scope of works planned as part of this phase are now much wider than first planned, thanks in part to the success of various funding sources this year. This phase is expected to last between 12 and 16 weeks, during which time the public can expect to see significant construction activity on the building. The large ‘hole’ at the rear of the building will enable easy access for the demolition teams, but will then serve as the stage door for the venue itself when it opens in late 2020.
More features exposed
As work progresses, the development team continue to unearth original 1930s featured which had been covered up in the 1960s. This plasterwork was discovered at the highest part of the auditorium and will be fully exposed as part of the redevelopment.
Following this recent visit, I’m more encouraged than ever about what the near future holds for this key regeneration site, and I hope all Bradfordians can appreciate the extremely detailed and complex work that continues to go on behind the scenes. One thing I’m increasingly aware of is what we actually call the building! Personally speaking, “Bradford Odeon” doesn’t feel right anymore, given that it hasn’t served to be a cinema in almost 20 years, not to mention the confusion with the contemporary Odeon cinema chain. There is no doubt the NEC group will seek to do their own dedicated work in this area closer to the opening date (still on track for 2020) and of course sponsorship and naming rights will play a big part here. But for now, I’ll do my best to stop calling it the “old Odeon” and start referring to it as “the new NEC venue”. Perhaps not the catchiest moniker, but one that looks to the future a little more.
I’ll continue to keep members updated on any progress, and I hope to visit the site again once demolition works are underway. But until then, rest assured that great things are happening within this very special Bradford building.”