New life for Guildhall on the cards

Queen, Status Quo, the blessed Bowie and the best band ever – yes, that’s right, the Bay City Rollers – those are just some of the names that have graced the stage at Plymouth’s Guildhall.

The giants of 70s and 80s rock had people coming in their droves to the Guildhall and plans are afoot to get more gigs and music events back into this incredible building.

The landmark building is in line for a serious makeover as part of the city’s ambition to attract more people into the city centre.

It is one of two buildings being lined up for restoration, reinvention and reactivation as part of the city’s Future High Streets fund programme.

More details are being unveiled about the ideas for the Guildhall which Historic England describe as a rare and unusually rich example of an unaltered `Festival of Britain’ interior.

The grade II listed building is expected to include a significant upgrade of facilities such as new toilets, an updated sound and lighting system, improved WIFI and the conference rooms will be refurbished to modern standards – although as the building is listed, the refurbishment will be sympathetic to the building’s history.

A commercial kitchen is also on the cards, ramps installed and the lifts refurbished so that the building is more accessible.

The Guildhall, including Great Hall, Assize Courts and former City Treasury was originally built in the 1870s but reduced to a shell during the Blitz. They survived – by one single Council vote in 1951 – the threat of demolition and became a focus of Plymouth’s rebuilding and the most significant survival from the bombed city centre.

It was one of the few damaged buildings to be restored rather than rebuilt, with the restoration continuing through most of the 1950s. It involved the stabilisation of what remained of the original building and the construction of new roofs, entrances and interior.

The interior is spectacular – if you like fabulous funky fifties features – and there are some glorious touches including a showy black and white marble staircase in the centre leading to the gallery and main hall. There’s a mural depicting famous sons of Plymouth and the city’s maritime history and three stunning 1950s chandeliers.

Cabinet member for Finance and city centre champion Councillor Mark Lowry said: “This building has had an incredible past and deserves an incredible future. It is right at the heart of the city and outside of the pandemic – was at the heart of some great music and community events – choirs, orchestras and wonderful tea dancing all take place in the Great Hall.

“We can make this venue even better and play a more leading role in getting people into our city centre, in the evenings as well as during the day.

“That’s why it is part of Future High Streets Fund programme. Long before the pandemic we realised the High Street needed to change, which is why we have been looking to create a different feel to the city centre to bring more people in much more often.”

The Guildhall is one of two buildings being brought back to life with the other the Civic Centre.

The Council earlier this year heard that the project had been offered an in-principle grant of £12,046,873 by the Future High Streets Fund. Now Plymouth’s Cabinet is being asked to set aside £2.45 million funding previously allocated to the Civic project to pay for improvements to the Guildhall. 

The Civic and Guildhall projects involve Urban Splash, Plymouth City Council and the University of Plymouth and are part of the city’s Resurgam recovery project to rebuild confidence and create a buzz that will bring more people in, for more reasons and for much longer.

Between them, the two buildings will provide a new physical and virtual conference and events hub that will connect the city globally and could bring 46,000 plus new visitors to the city. It could also create an additional 25,000 hotel room nights a year and create 317 new full time jobs and 280 jobs in construction.