By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor
Bristol's iconic cultural venue, formerly known as Colston Hall, has reopened its doors to the public on Thursday, November 30 as Bristol Beacon after a comprehensive £132 million renovation spanning five years.
The renovation of this historic venue marks a pivotal moment in the city's cultural landscape, combining heritage preservation with contemporary innovation.
The renaming of the venue from Colston Hall to Bristol Beacon reflects a conscious effort to distance itself from the controversial historical figure Edward Colston, known for his involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.
A moment we will never forget! Thank you Bristol - this is for you! ❤️— Bristol Beacon (@Bristol_Beacon) November 30, 2023
We’re so grateful to finally open the doors and let the light shine.
🙏 @Paraorchestra Surgeons Girl @LimbicCinema @CharlieHazlewoo pic.twitter.com/Rso7Okm1Hi
The concert venue stood a stone-throwaway from the monument to Edward Colston in the city centre which was toppled down in June 2020 during a Black Lives Matter rally following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The venue which hosted some of the biggest names in music history such as The Rolling Stones, Who, Queen and Led Zeppelin was built in 1867 on the site of Colston's Boys' School.
The rebranding symbolises a commitment to inclusivity and represents a beacon of change, signalling the venue's dedication to embracing diversity and unity within the community.
The reopening coincided with the University of Bristol’s decision to drop the dolphin, the symbol of Edward Colston from its crest after a public consultation.
The extensive overhaul involved meticulous restoration and enhancement of the building's infrastructure, acoustics, and facilities. The enhanced designs for the venue were laid down by the architecture firm, Levitt Bernstein, with the help of world-renowned acoustician, Bob Essert, to raise Bristol Beacon’s profile as one of the most sought-after music venues in the world.
All three concert halls - Beacon Hall, Lantern Hall and Weston Stage, have been renovated to the highest specification while the installation of upper and lower balcony seating in Beacon Hall with fabric for the seats was designed by London-based artist Rana Begum.
According to Bristol Beacon chiefs, there will be around 800 events a year, including 100 sets each year to promote and champion Bristol-based artists.
Seat capacity in the new venue has increased from 2,400 to 2,920, with annual audience numbers expected to rise from 300,000 to 500,000.
It is reported that the concert halls will generate at least £13m for the local economy in its first year and support more than 270 full-time equivalent jobs.
But the final cost of the project has attracted significant criticism from some as the original estimate of £48m was spiralled to £132m, with the city council shouldering most of the increase (£84m in total).
On the spiralling cost of the renovation, Jonathan Hucker, the opposition Conservative councillor, said: ‘It's great having a refurbished state-of-the-art concert facility in Bristol, but £132m total is an absolutely extortionate amount of money.’
Marvin Rees, the elected Mayor of Bristol on his sustained commitment to the project during the five-year renovation, said: ‘If we hadn't taken on this project, we would have a heritage building right in the middle of the city, surrounded by boarding, slowly deteriorating - a negative drag on the city centre economy.’
He further added: ‘When you take that all into account, it's worth the money and it will be a huge boost to Bristol's economy and creative sector.’
Thursday's reopening was marked with a performance from the Bristol-based Paraorchestra, comprising disabled and non-disabled musicians. The curtain raiser also included a set with local electronic composer and performer Surgeons Girl.
Charles Hazlewood, the world-renowned conductor who led the proceedings said: ‘I should know, I've been conducting orchestras around the world for well over three decades. This is up there with the very best.’
On the grand opening, Louise Mitchell, Chief Executive of the Bristol Music Trust, said: ‘We've got something magnificent here, which I think will be the envy of any modern European city.’
The music and comedy venue is equipped with bars and cafes with elegant settings.
On Saturday, December 2, Bristol Beacon will open its doors for the official ‘house-warming’ celebrations which is expected to attract a large number of well-wishers as the venue is set to embrace a bumper year ahead.
2024 will feature some of the biggest names in music such as James Blunt, Sir Simon Rattle, Troy Ellis, The Pretenders, Rick Wakeman and many more.
Featured image: Milan Perera
Have you visited the newly opened Beacon Hall yet?