The boss at a world-famous venue has issued a stark warning that parts of it could close unless it wins vital funding.
This month the Royal Pavilion Estate in Brighton will bid for around £14 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The bid has a one in three chance of success and will be up against rival bids from the likes of Canterbury Cathedral.
The Arts Council has already ring-fenced £5.8 million towards the upgrade project. The money will go towards a planned £35 million revamp of the gardens and buildings at the former palace of George IV. The Heritage Lottery Fund is expected to make a decision by May next year.
Bristol-based architect Feilden Clegg Bradley has drawn up plans to create a new building in New Road, opposite the Theatre Royal, similar to John Nash’s original ideas for a conservatory at the site. The architect also wants to create a clear entrance to the estate.
Planned work could see the minuscule basement dressing rooms updated and more showers installed as – believe it or not – there is only one to go round for the famous faces appearing at the Studio Theatre. An asbestos-ridden space known as ‘the slope’ links the Corn Exchange and the Studio Theatre and is in need of an overhaul.
Other ideas include creating an education space inside the Dome, opening up historic tunnels beneath the gardens and making an area for artists to create props for upcoming productions.
Outside, project leaders hope to make the buildings more accessible. In June, Brighton and Hove City Council, which owns the site, and Brighton Dome and Festival, which leases the former royal stables, launched a mass consultation. Amanda Jones, project director, Royal Pavilion Estate project, said the organisation had conducted more than 1,000 face-to-face interviews carried out by 50 volunteers, held more than 40 interviews with key stakeholders, undertaken 2,500 surveys – in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and with Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival ticket buyers – and arranged a series of focus groups with primary and secondary school teachers, young adults and people with access needs.
She said the aim of the masterplan is to reconnect the buildings with each other and the surrounding gardens. The plan will conserve the listed buildings for future generations and help more people learn about their history.
A key aim is to bring together two organisations – the Royal Pavilion and Museums and the Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival – to make them more efficient. Ms Jones said the masterplan will drive the estate’s delivery of the city’s cultural strategies. She said: “People have told us that at night the grounds do not feel safe.
At times there has been serious antisocial behaviour in the gardens. We have also heard visitors do not know when they have arrived at the Pavilion because they do not know how the buildings are connected. “What the Royal Pavilion Estate and the Brighton Dome does have is the ‘wow’ factor. There is nowhere else like it in the country. No other location combines a unique former royal palace, a museum, concert venues and gardens.”
Andrew Comben, chief executive at Brighton Dome and Festival, said: “It is an ambitious plan but a necessary one. If we do not invest the sort of sums we are talking about we will be looking at closures of parts of the site in the next five to ten years. It is crucial for the city.” He insisted there are no plans to lose the Pavilion Garden Café as a service within the estate. The Sewell family has operated a cafe in the gardens since 1941.
Mr Comben said the Royal Pavilion and Dome management were talking to the family about moving the cafe to a new site within the grounds.
But David Sewell, boss at the cafe said it should not be moved.
He said: “We all want the bid to succeed. But the cafe and its patio must stay where they are. That’s what the Friends of the Cafe want.”
Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of the council’s economic development and culture committee, said: “The Royal Pavilion, the Regency gardens and Dome complex are seen rightly as an extraordinary national asset. “While they’ve improved immeasurably in recent decades we still have ambitions to do more. “We want to raise them further to World Heritage Site status – improving aspects like the welcome, the feeling of security and history, conservation and the facilities for visitors and performers."