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Royal Shakespeare Company complete renovation work on costume workshop

RESTORATION work on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s costume workshop is now complete.

The renovation of the Grade II-listed site on Waterside involved remedial work to the stockroom and cottage buildings that were originally constructed in 1850, and the scene dock building of 1887.

Construction firm Stepnell also remodelled the internal spaces to create a new reception area, costume workrooms, stockroom and prop workshop, as well as a costume fitting and exhibition area – which will be open in the future as part of public tours.

Stepnell’s regional director Adrian Barnes said: “This was an incredible project to work on and we’re so happy that we were able to play a part in preserving such an important era of British history.”

In 2019, Stepnell also undertook the restoration of Stratford’s 16th century Falcon Hotel, internally refurbishing it while preserving its historic frontage.

Adrian said: “Although these projects are amazing to work on in terms of legacy and community value, logistically they can be incredibly challenging.

“While on site at the costume workshop, we had to work within the constraints of limited noise and vibration to ensure we didn’t disrupt local residents or damage the structure of neighbouring buildings, which also hold historic significance.

“Not only did we need to consider the preservation of the surrounding area, we also had to navigate operations with limited access and space as the site was surrounded by the RSC cottages and head office, and a small road leading to a local school.

“The issue of space was also heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to adhere to strict social-distancing guidelines. The team did a great job of implementing stringent health and safety precautions that allowed work to continue throughout both national lockdowns – something that we think was pivotal in the project’s success.”

Stephen Rebbeck, technical director and project lead at the RSC, said the project kept the company’s world-class costume workshop close to its theatres in the heart of Stratford.

He added: “The end result gives us a place to create the best facilities for our costume-making, as well as offering new training and apprenticeship opportunities and allowing visitors to experience our costume workshop for themselves in the future.

“We are enormously grateful to all our funders and donors for their support, including crucial local support from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.”

Stepnell worked with architects Aedas Arts Team to blend the workshop’s traditional aesthetic with more contemporary elements, boosting its functionality so staff can properly use the creative space. The build serves both the women’s and men’s costume workrooms, a dye workroom, an armoury and a millinery and a jewellery workroom.

Aedas executive director Julian Middleton said: “Rather like a theatrical production, creating buildings to support the performing arts is a genuine team effort. Stepnell understood this from the very start and it was the cornerstone of their approach.

“The team worked collaboratively and proactively throughout the construction process as we tackled the challenges of working in and around important historic buildings. For us, they did a great job amidst the most extraordinarily challenging of times, with imagination, pragmatism and good grace.”

The 19th century, two-storey building spans 1,644sqm. The RSC has begun work to recommission the costume workshop and move the company’s costume makers into their new home.

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