IT’S been a momentous few months for Bradford Live and its plans to renovate the city’s former Odeon, breathing new life into the 1930s building by turning in into a live music venue.
By Jo Winrow, Senior Reporter
A key step was the appointment of a main contractor for the remainder of the work needed to transform the city centre landmark. Keighley company RN Wooler & Co Ltd was awarded the contract for the works, which are expected to last around 18 months. At the time this was announced in March, the man behind Bradford Live said: “We’ve come a long way but this is the final stretch.”
Internal works to strip out the former cinema and theatre had been ongoing for a number of months, but RN Wooler began the main works shortly after the announcement by the NEC Group, who will run the venue. The Bradford Live project will see the building, which has been empty for over two decades, turned into a 4,000 live music venue – due to open in Autumn 2022.
Bradford Live is expected to create 50 full time equivalent positions at the venue upon completion of the redevelopment, and the appointment of RN Wooler adds a further 60 temporary construction jobs. The firm was also looking to create five apprenticeships roles during the construction phase, working with Leeds College of Building and Bradford College to oﬀer the apprenticeships to 16 to 18-year-old students.
RN Wooler has committed to focus on a strong supply chain of both suppliers and subcontractors from the Bradford district and Leeds City Region.
Director of RN Wooler & Co Ltd, Gareth Wooler, said at the time: “We are particularly honoured and proud to have been awarded the contract for this exciting and prestigious project.
“As a family owned, Yorkshire company employing local people, the opportunity to create employment and further strengthen our ties to the community is a fantastic achievement and is testament to the hard work and continuing efforts of our colleagues.”
Bradford Live has a long-term lease from the building owner, Bradford Council, and has an agreement in place to sublease it to the NEC Group as operator in what is a 30-year deal.
Lee Craven of Bradford Live told the Telegraph & Argus that the contract with RN Wooler was for 18 months with an expected competition date of October next year, ready for the planned autumn 2022 opening.
He said: “Once the contract starts, there’s no stopping until we hand over the keys to the NEC. It’s a big lap, but it’s the last lap for us. We’ve come a long way but this is the final stretch.”
Following the announcement of the contractor, the NEC Group then revealed that Bradford Live was looking for local businesses to act as suppliers to the finished project, from IT to facility management, food and beverage to printing.
Firms across West Yorkshire are being invited by the team at Bradford Live to be a part of the project ahead of it opening its doors in late 2022.
The venue is prioritising the local and regional market for suppliers from all sectors and is set to host a supplier day in mid-September, offering companies the chance to meet Bradford Live’s operating team.
Run by the UK’s leading live events business, the NEC Group, the venue hopes to welcome 300,000 visitors each year to a host of events when it opens next year. The supplier day will be co-hosted by NEC Group’s food and beverage director Marc Frankl and director of partnerships and media, Chris Pile. They said: “The next stage of the Bradford Live project is now underway as we search for local companies to help shape the future of the venue.
“We are so excited to take the next step in regenerating this landmark and we want businesses that feel they can add to the project, to get in touch and join us on the journey. This is an open call, no matter what your specialism, whether you are a potential supplier, sponsor or future contractor we want to hear from you.”
More recently, in June Bradford East MP Imran Hussain visited the building, and applauded those involved in the transformation effort, saying the progress of the former Odeon building had been “phenomenal”.
The Labour MP said: “Despite the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on work at the site, the progress that we have seen at the Odeon has been phenomenal, and I want to thank all those who have made it possible for us to get to this stage where we are looking at one of the final pieces of the Bradford city centre regeneration jigsaw slotting into place.”
He said it will be a “major boost” for Bradford and would act as a catalyst for investment, adding: “I know that after so long, we are all looking forward to seeing the Odeon reopen.”
Opening in 1930 as the New Victoria, the building changed its name to The Gaumont in 1950. For three decades after 1969, the building became an Odeon cinema and Top Rank bingo club, before finally closing its doors in 2000. Faced with demolition, a grass-roots campaign group fought successfully to save the building, with Bradford Live taking up the challenge in 2012 to find a long-term viable use for the iconic Bradford building. In 2016, Bradford Live secured the NEC Group as the venue’s future operator.
THE Bradford Live music venue will be a major factor in clinching the UK City of Culture title, says the 2025 bid director.
Bradford’s City of Culture bid director Richard Shaw says the new venue, in the former Odeon cinema, will bring in bands that previously bypassed Bradford, as well as hosting other events “never before seen” in the city centre, and will boost hospitality “essential for a budding UK City of Culture”.
The Bradford Live project will see the cinema, empty since 2000, brought back to live as a music venue with a capacity of around 4,000, run by the NEC Group. The latest planning application for the building was approved by Bradford Council this month.
Mr Shaw said: “The news that Bradford Live has formally appointed contractors to convert the former Odeon into a 4,000 capacity venue means that, all being well, live music and events will be back at this historic site from autumn next year. This latest boost is also music to the ears of those in the district’s cultural and creative sector, as having such a prestigious venue makes our UK City of Culture bid all the more compelling. While towns and cities around the UK begin to look at how they will bounce back from Covid-19, how many can say they have a new regional venue under construction, with exciting world-class acts to be announced this year?
“Nobody is suggesting Bradford Live will be a ‘silver bullet’ for Bradford, particularly given that we’ve been poorly served compared to other cities for many years now, but we must acknowledge the considerable boost such a venue will bring to our cultural status. For starters, Bradford Live will literally put Bradford back on the touring map once again. Bands that previously bypassed Bradford, or indeed West Yorkshire altogether, will now have a 4,000 capacity home managed by experienced operators the NEC Group. This also means conferences, exhibitions, and hosting opportunities never before seen in central Bradford. Then there’s the direct impact on the district. An operation as intricate as Bradford Live means a multitude of jobs created and sustained in a venue that will need to look after 200,000-plus visitors a year.
“Last but not least, we must consider the immediate boost to Bradford’s current cultural quarter as a result of dozens of new large-scale events. The area around City Park and the West End will need bars, restaurants, improved access, and probably even an increase in hotel beds at some point. This readiness for long-term hosting and hospitality is not just desirable for a budding UK City of Culture – it is essential.
“Of course, the most satisfying aspect of Bradford Live is not the painstaking restoration, or the frequently unearthed heritage, or the excitable speculation about who will follow in the footsteps of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones once the doors open again. No, it’s the fact that it was the people of Bradford that made this happen. In the face of near certain demolition, Bradfordians stood up and demanded something better. Every campaigner, every petition signer, every Odeon-hugger, every vocal Tweeter can take comfort in the fact that their tenacity not only saved a cultural gem…but might just win us a new cultural crown.”