The restoration of iconic Alexandra Palace took a leap forward this week with the appointment of Willmott Dixon to start repairing and refurbishing the majority of the Palace’s East Wing, designed by award-winning architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.
By 2018, the Palace’s world-famous former BBC Studios will become an immersive birthplace-of-TV experience; the Victorian Theatre will come back to life as a performance venue for 21st century audiences; and the East Court entrance hall will recreate the sense of its original 1870s grandeur. The Heritage Lottery Fund is contributing nearly £19m, and the London Borough of Haringey nearly £7m, towards the £27m project.
The restoration is the culmination of years of planning and months of negotiations in a rigorous procurement process, to realise the aspirations of the Trust.
Willmott Dixon came out best with a bid that emphasised quality as well as price. The company was chosen partly for its track record in refurbishing large buildings and experience delivering projects in live environments, where minimising disruption is essential. It will be business as usual for Alexandra Palace’s parklands, ice rink and music venue, while the works take place.
“Many of our team grew up enjoying the delights of Alexandra Palace,” says Chris Tredget, managing director of Willmott Dixon in north London. “So we’re delighted to have a lead role in shaping its exciting future as North London’s most iconic building. We have extensive experience of working with listed buildings and we’ll carry out the refurbishment with full consideration of the community around Alexandra Palace and Park.”
Three million people enjoy Alexandra Park and Palace every year – but when 10,000 people are watching bands like Florence and the Machine or Rudimental, or cheering on the darts – just yards away there’s an astounding Theatre and Britain’s first-ever broadcasting TV studio, lying hidden and derelict.
“Almost half of Alexandra Palace is still inaccessible to the public. This project will help put that right,” says Louise Stewart, Chief Executive of Alexandra Park and Palace. “When we’re finished, Alexandra Palace’s eclectic history will finally come alive. It will be about Britain’s innovators and pioneers, about cinema, comedy, opera, plays – a true family day out – as well as the music, award-winning parkland, views and ice skating we’re famous for today.”
Willmott Dixon’s initial works include protecting the East Wing’s historic features, stripping out dilapidated modern fittings… and the delicate job of removing asbestos. The toxic substance, now banned, was used throughout the East Wing for sound-proofing and fire-proofing.
“The Victorians built Alexandra Palace with the ambition to entertain, inform and educate its visitors. My job is to keep the Palace doing just that,” Stewart says. “The Victorians are gone, and the BBC is gone, but they’re not forgotten. This restoration means that it remains as true to its vision 150 years later, as it was on the great day it opened – and that’s something we can all be proud of.
“This restoration is only happening because of the financial support we have received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Haringey Council, and all the wonderful members of the public who’ve generously donated over the last few months. This Palace belongs to everyone and we will work tirelessly to make sure this money is well spent – not just conserving its amazing history, but sharing it with the world, whilst offering a contemporary cultural visitor destination.”
“The appointment of Willmott Dixon is the latest step in this ambitious redevelopment project which is being made possible with National Lottery money”, says Stuart Hobley, Head of HLF London. “We are particularly supportive of proposals to develop new skills through apprenticeships and work placements.”
Haringey Council is backing the project every step of the way. Council Leader Claire Kober said: “It’s fantastic to see Ally Pally’s stunning restoration plans move a step closer, writing the next chapter in the history of the borough’s most famous building. Alongside our ambitious regeneration plans for Wood Green, we want even more people from across the capital to visit Alexandra Palace as one of London’s top destinations. This work will help make that happen, opening up the spectacular hidden gems inside the palace to a new generation and securing its future for many years to come.”
Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust need to raise the final £1m to complete the project. If you would like to donate or find out how to get involved, visit http://memory.alexandrapalace.com
About the Theatre:
Opened in 1875, the Theatre entertained audiences of up to 2,500 people with pantomime, light and comic opera, drama, ballet and music hall. Then, for almost a century, the Theatre was almost everything except a theatre – including a refugee camp! But much of the original Theatre remains amazingly intact – including its wall painting, balcony and impressive stage machinery, that once allowed performers to fly through the air and disappear through the stage!
The project will preserve the layers of the Theatre’s history, retaining the Victorian ambiance, creating an adaptable theatrical space for audiences of up to 1,300. We’ll make the Theatre ready once again for a huge range of public events including theatre productions and plays, live music and cinema – we will also be able to use this unique asset for private occasions like weddings and banquets.
About the BBC Studios interactive attraction:
In 2015, we are constantly surrounded by screens and video. But in 1935, there was just the disused Alexandra Palace tea rooms, complete with old tyres, dead pigeons and a fallen-in roof. In a year, the BBC had made it their own, and were broadcasting the world’s first public TV show. Plenty more world firsts followed: the coronation; the first daily news; the first colour signals; Muffin the Mule; the Open University.
The project will transform the former Studios – now, once again, empty and abandoned – into a heritage attraction worthy of the birthplace of British TV. The Studio shells will be sensitively conserved to interpret the way the Studios would have looked at their greatest moments. An interactive visitor attraction will display the BBC’s extraordinary archives in the place they were made – and use today’s cutting-edge technology to give tomorrow’s budding screen pioneers a taste of the small screen, in the place where it all began.
Notes to editors:
Images of the plans for Alexandra Palace are available for download from wetransfer: http://tinyurl.com/jv6spbd.
Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust is the body responsible for maintaining and repairing the charitable assets of Alexandra Park and Palace as a place of public resort and recreation, forever, by Act of Parliament. The Charity aims to restore the iconic assets to create a successful and sustainable asset for all. For further information about the Park and Palace and the work of Trust visit www.alexandrapalace.com
About the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)
Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Visit www.hlf.org.uk and find us @heritagelottery