The invitation to advise on the best architects to design a theatre in a bold contemporary style came from a prominent school in Berkshire, and gave RedBook an opportunity we welcomed warmly to help pro bono.
School theatres are wonderful spaces for our children to discover the joys of performance, but are often compromised as spaces for young actors. A gym with a platform at one end frequently doubles as a stage, providing awkward seating, poor acoustics and almost non-existent back-stage areas. This was exactly the problem faced by the 130-year old Horris Hill school, near Newbury in Berkshire.
‘The performing arts are an integral part of the education we give,’ explains the inspirational headmaster Giles Tollit. ‘We know that children who are accustomed to standing in front of an audience develop inner strength and self confidence, which last a lifetime.’ A new theatre not only promised pupils a custom-built space, but would ideally provide a new physical core to the disparate Victorian red-brick school buildings—and offer an important venue for members of the wider community in West Berkshire, beyond the school, to put on plays and hold events.
So this was a chance for RedBook to do what we love: help clients make the absolute most of their opportunity to create an exceptional building, and enable them to achieve a result beyond their expectations.
“School theatres are wonderful spaces to discover the joys of performance, but are often compromised as spaces for young actors”
We knew from our past decade of advising clients on ambitious schemes that the project could attract designers of the highest calibre in the country, beyond what a small school might normally reach for. And we began the project by analysing carefully which architects would intuitively understand the school, its ambitions and the possibilities of what might be built on a tight school budget.
Four leading practices—one local, three from London—were then invited to meet the governors and bursar. ‘The quality of the architects and their ideas was absolutely superb,’ says Marina Lund, Chairman of the Governors.
The governors and headmaster came to a unanimous choice and commissioned the critically acclaimed designer Jonathan Tuckey to create the new 150-seat space.
Progress since has been lighting fast. Planning permission was swiftly obtained, thanks in large part to the excellence of the Tuckey design. The project has been much admired by HRH The Duke of York, The Visitor of the school and, with the backing of current school parents, old boys and local charities £1.7m million towards a fundraising target of £2.5m has been raised.
So a small country school of just 125 boys is now set to have a purpose-built theatre designed by one of Britain’s foremost talents, with interiors fitted out by theatrical specialists Charcoal Blue whose previous projects include the National Theatre and Donmar Warehouse.
Anyone wishing to support the school’s splendid ambitions for the theatre is encouraged to do so via the school’s appeal webpage: http://www.horrishill.com/Play-your-Part
Sandy Mitchell, founder and director of RedBook, is a governor of Horris Hill School.
RedBook is a specialist consultancy that helps clients and their advisers select the perfect creative and technical team for significant property projects.
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