Prime minister Boris Johnson has finally told the UK's entertainment venues they must close to slow the transmission of Covid-19
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At least 10 venues have closed indefinitely after finding Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete in their infrastructures
By Lisa Henderson on 11 Sep 2023
An increasing number of entertainment venues in the UK are closing due to the presence of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in their infrastructures.
In the last week, at least 10 concert venues and theatres have shut their doors after inspectors flagged RAAC: Preston’s Guildhall, The Orchard in Dartford, Dixon Studio in Westcliff-on-Sea, The Forum Theatre in Stockport, Royal & Derngate Northampton, The Sands Center in Carlisle, The Core Theatre in Solihull, the Brunton in Musselburgh, YMCA Theatre in Scarborough and Cardiff’s St David’s Hall.
Structural inspections have been carried out in public buildings across the country to see where the building material is present, over fears it could crumble and pose a risk to life.
The UK government revised the guidance on the dangerous lightweight concrete at the end of last month, causing more than 100 schools to shut down or close areas. Hospitals, airports and universities have also since found evidence of RAAC, sending the country into a frenzy.
None of the venues have a firm timetable for when they might reopen and all have wiped their September event calendars. Local councils are working with venues on necessary adaptions, though schools and hospitals with RAAC are taking priority.
Preston’s Guildhall is the latest venue affected by the concrete crisis after the local council were notified of the possible presence of RAAC in the roof panels of its Grand Hall (cap. 2,034) and Charter Theatre (780).
“Experts required to carry out this very particular type of work are naturally prioritising school inspections”
Both venues have been closed since 2019 but were due to reopen in November for the Preston Weekender music festival, which is currently due to go ahead.
In a statement, Preston City Council said a “small number of future events were planned for this year” and they are currently “in discussion with the organisers about these”.
A spokesperson said: “We are taking a cautious and ‘safety first’ approach by securing the Grand Hall and Charter Theatre auditoria, until specialist consultant structural engineers can carry out a more detailed inspection. Unfortunately, we understand that this may take some time, as the experts required to carry out this very particular type of work are naturally prioritising school inspections.”
Elsewhere, the Royal & Derngate (583) in Northampton has postponed or cancelled more than 20 events between 7 September and 30 September, due to the presence of RACC in its foyers.
Affected events include concerts by The Wonder Of Stevie, An Evening with The Hollies, NC Jazz and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as comedy gigs from renowned comedians such including Jimmy Carr, Phil Wang, Seann Walsh and Miriam Margolyes.
“Although any closure is a blow, we are in the fortunate position to have the resources and determination”
The Royal and Derngate auditoriums and Northampton Filmhouse were closed with immediate effect and the operators say they’re urgently discussing with their landlords, West Northamptonshire Council, to investigate and plan remedial works.
“We are deeply saddened by this discovery and to have to close our doors at this time, particularly as September is usually an incredibly busy and important time for the theatre,” says chief executive, Jo Gordon. “We are keenly aware of the disappointment that this will cause to audiences, visiting companies and our staff alike, though we know they’ll understand that their safety is always our primary concern. We look forward to welcoming everyone back as soon as possible and updating further as soon as we are able.”
Trafalgar Theatres, a theatre, venue and hospitality/conference operator in the UK, has been ordered to shut two of its venues – The Orchard (956) in Dartford and Dixon Studio (100) at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff-on-Sea.
“September is usually an incredibly busy and important time for the theatre”
Dartford council requested the closure of The Orchard while a review is carried out on the use of RAAC in the building, with a full review expected in the coming weeks.
Performances are initially suspended until the end of September to allow further investigations to take place. Seventeen events, including concerts from Mike Oldfield and Barry Steele, have been affected.
“Both Dartford Borough Council and Trafalgar Theatres are committed to making the necessary adaptations required as soon as possible to allow performances to recommence,” says leader of the council, Jeremy Kite.
“Although any closure is a blow, we are in the fortunate position to have the resources and determination to put the building right and reopen it for the benefit of residents.”
Another venue, the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh, East Lothian closed in March after “structural issues” with RAAC in its roof – with repair work since stalled by the local council after RAAC was also found in the local school. The future of the venue is currently unclear, with a decision on repair options – likely to require a “significant investment” – put off until later this year.
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