Colston Hall receives green light for transformation

Planning permission has now been granted for the £48.8 million transformation of Colston Hall.

Today, Bristol Music Trust, the organisation that runs Colston Hall, and Bristol City Council, who own the building, have announced the submitted plans have been approved and Bristol City Council has selected a preferred contractor to take the transformation plans forward.

The approval from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, came after the venue received unanimous support from councillors in December to approve the ambitious plans.

Willmott Dixon has been selected by Bristol City Council as the preferred bidder to take the transformation to the next stage of development. The company is one of the UK’s most experienced regenerators of famous heritage and leisure facilities. Willmott Dixon’s Bristol office was also behind Colston Hall’s distinctive new Foyer which was completed in 2009. It’s also got a great local presence within the city, working across many sectors including new developments at Finzels Reach.

The news comes as Arts Council England confirm their commitment of £10 million towards the transformation, the largest single capital award made by ACE in the South West, and a further £5 million which was committed by the HM Treasury.

The transformation of Colston Hall will create one of the best arts and learning facilities in the country and includes remodelling and upgrading the Main Hall and The Lantern, opening up the extensive cellars for the first time in 150 years – creating a new intimate performance space and a state-of-the-art education suite – and refurbishing the historic fabric of the building.

The education suites will include new classrooms and a technology lab, providing an inspiring base to educate 30,000 children every year and increasing music making sessions by 75 per cent. It will also house the National Centre for Inclusive Excellence, providing music making opportunities for young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities.

An economic impact report produced by KPMG highlighted that the Hall’s transformation is estimated to generate £20.6 million for the UK economy each year, £12.7 million of which could be generated in Bristol specifically. The Hall’s redevelopment will also increase audience capacity by 30 per cent, increase the number of performances by 54 per cent and create an additional 50 jobs, taking the number of full-time equivalent positions to 378.

Work on the transformation will begin in June 2018 and the new Hall will reopen to the public in 2020. During this period, Colston Hall will continue a live performance programme using the foyer building, which will remain open throughout the transformation, and other venues and spaces across the city.

Louise Mitchell, Chief Executive of Bristol Music Trust commented: “Now our plans have been approved we’ve reached the final milestone as we approach the start of the Hall’s transformation.

“We are incredibly grateful for the hard work and dedication of our partners and supporters who have got us to this stage.

“The Hall hasn’t been updated since it opened in the 1950s, so it’s long overdue a transformational refurbishment that will give Bristol and the South West a world class venue to be proud of as we make our detailed plans a reality.”

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “Bristol has an internationally renowned cultural offer which also makes a major contribution to the local economy.

“We are really pleased that the Arts Council has committed this funding alongside our own investment and that of other city partners.

“There is no doubt that it will bring long-term benefits to people in a number of ways. First and foremost it will make culture more accessible to everyone, but it will also help more people participate in the arts, improve education facilities for young people and attract more people to the city by providing a world-class music venue fit for the future.”

Phil Gibby, area director, South West, Arts Council England, commented: “Colston Hall is a true cornerstone of Bristol’s cultural life and its transformation will have wide benefits across the city and beyond, both culturally and economically. We’re delighted to be awarding National Lottery funds to this capital project.

“The development will further establish Colston Hall as a world class music venue but also support Bristol Music Trust’s aspirations to become the first ever National Centre for Inclusive Excellence for young musicians with special education needs and disabilities, building on their exemplary successes in reaching children and young people of all backgrounds and abilities.”

This marks the second phase in the transformation of Colston Hall, Bristol’s biggest-ever redevelopment programme in the arts sector. The first phase involved the construction of the £20 million foyer space, which opened in 2009. The rest of the building has not been refurbished for 60 years, making it the only major concert hall in the UK not to have been redeveloped in recent times.

This is the latest project for Willmott Dixon in Bristol, where it currently has more than £75 million of projects live in the city.

John Boughton, deputy managing director at Willmott Dixon, said: “We were incredibly proud to have constructed Colston Hall’s new Foyer nearly ten years ago so are excited to be back delivering this amazing scheme that will make it one of the UK’s best venues for entertainment. The hall is a Bristol icon that has served generations of Bristolians, and throughout the transformation we will maximise every opportunity to provide employment and training to benefit the city and its people.

The detailed plans for the transformation have been created by architects, Levitt Bernstein.

Mark Lewis, Associate Director, said: “This is an important and hard won milestone that’s testament to the commitment of Bristol City Council and Bristol Music Trust to delivering a truly unique and inclusive music venue on the national and international stage. We are also very much looking forward to realising this vision with Willmott Dixon.”

A public giving campaign launched late last year has already raised over £200,000 to date. The campaign calls on the people of Bristol to help secure the next 150 years of the Hall by naming a seat for as little as £5 per month.

The public appeal offers individuals the chance to make a one-off donation or name a seat by making a monthly donation over four years. Donors will receive a plaque on their chosen seat in the newly transformed Hall, which can be engraved with the dedication of their choice, and a specially commissioned hand-crafted certificate.

So far, in total over £41 million has been raised thanks to financial pledges that include £10 million from Bristol City Council, £5 million from HM Treasury, £10 million from Arts Council England, £4.75 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £5 million from the West of England Combined Authority and generous support from local donors and Trusts and Foundations.

Further information on the transformation of the Hall can be found online at or by following #transformthehall on social media channels.

To play your part in supporting the transformation, consider naming a seat in the new hall. Click here for more information and watch the appeal video below.

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