Bristol Beacon hits £1m ticket sales milestone - as woman in charge pledges ‘world class’ venue

Ricky Gervais and Jools Holland are among the acts to appear at the new Bristol Beacon
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Ticket sales for Bristol Beacon have passed the £1m mark, Bristol World can reveal - as the woman in charge of the new venue pledged to ’share the joy of live music with as many people as we can’ ahead of reopening on November 30.

It is just under 140 days until the concert hall welcomes back the public, and yesterday (July 9) the 1867-built venue was a hive of activity with worksmen and women busy on finishing tasks in all three performances spaces.

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Carpenters were laying moveable flooring in the main Beacon Hall ahead of the installation of seating. While next door in the smaller Lantern Hall the walls were being decorated, and downstairs in the Weston Cellar electricians were busy sorting out wiring.

The end is finally sight for the arduous project which has not only tested the ability of construction teams, but also the purse strings at Bristol City Council with the total cost now at £132 million.

Yet any fears the city’s public will not return to the venue, formerly known as Colston Hall, appear to be being eased. After announcing an opening weekend party along with a series of events including Ricky Gervais, Jools Holland and an Orchestral Season, the venue has hit a major sales milestone.

Speaking to Bristol World from inside her office, chief executive Louise Mitchell said: “Last Friday we hit the £1milion mark in sales - which is not bad when you consider the first ticketed event isn’t until December. We are pleased about that. We have done small scale performances in Bristol and larger scale ones in Bath since we shut [Colston Hall] in 2018, but there’s strong evidence that people want to come back. Both artists and audiences.

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“From my point of view that’s a scary moment. Does anyone care about this? But actually they do.”

But why has it taken so long to get this far? And is it all worth the cost?

Bristol Beacon chief executive Louise Mitchell says she’s excited ahead of reopening on November 30Bristol Beacon chief executive Louise Mitchell says she’s excited ahead of reopening on November 30
Bristol Beacon chief executive Louise Mitchell says she’s excited ahead of reopening on November 30

Well, several reasons have been highlighted including the structural state of the building, contributed by appararent historic neglect. Then there have been some surprises along the way, such as the discovery of several hollow pillars and four wells in the ground. Also, the walls to the main hall were deemed so insecure that they had to be propped up by scaffolding - which only now is being removed.

There was also the Covid pandemic along with the rising costs of materials and labour in the construction industry.

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Ms Mitchell said: “It’s been a huge challenge for the construction company. There were an awful lot of things we did not expect to find. It’s an old building that had been neglected for a very long time. I count myself lucky we got to building closure in 2018 without major building failure.”

And on the cost, she said: “You need to talk about the value rather than the cost. All those decisions [costings] are city council decisions, our job is to entertain and educate, so within that parameter, it is unfortuante Covid has come, there have been some stuctural difficulties with the building, but all in all I think the people of Bristol will be very proud to see what has been achieved.”

She added: “I’m very excited, we have got everything in place to bring a world class venue to Bristol.”

Work takes place in the Beacon Hall ahead of seating being installedWork takes place in the Beacon Hall ahead of seating being installed
Work takes place in the Beacon Hall ahead of seating being installed

The venue’s three performance areas range in size and purpose. The Beacon Hall - which will fit up to 2,196 people and have the option of standing or seating - is being designed to be the ‘best sounding venue in the world’ thanks to specialist acoustic engineers whose detailed intructions go down to the gap between the doors and the flooring.

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There is the Lantern Hall - a second performance area for up to 500 people - which has newly-created windows and a ‘neutral’ interior to provide space for anything from conference meetings to arts shows. And downstairs is the ‘atmospheric’ Weston Cellar where there will also be recording studios for up-and-coming acts.

Bristol Music Trust - the charity which will run Bristol Beacon on a 30-year lease from Bristol City Council - is intent on making the venue fully accessible for people; from taking out steps for wheelchair access to the main hall to introducing a conessionary ticket price in the autumn. The trust also aims to achieve carbon neutral by 2030 and has ideas like offering a free drink to anyone coming in an electric car.

The venue will be joined by the YTL Arena, set up to open in Filton next year, and will also complement other locations across Bristol including St George’s Hall, the O2 Academy, Trinity Centre and Bristol Hippodrome.

“We are part of a national network of venues,” said Ms Mitchell, “we already and will work with our friends at YTL, as we do with St George’s Bristol and other places. Our job is to make sure Bristol gets a fabulous diet of a wide range of musical performers as can be achieved, and we do that together.”

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