Hertford Theatre - FAQs

Frequently asked questions about the redevelopment of Hertford Theatre

What has happened?

Covid 19 has had a significant impact on any and all environments where large numbers of people gather and assemble: churches, sports grounds, arenas, theatres, cinemas, bars, clubs and nightclubs are all adversely affected.

What has changed as a result?

This is a rare event giving rise to a particular set of circumstances which has necessitated a set of responses from affected buildings. Socially distanced seating, non-contact ticketing, streamlined event management, increased and deeper cleaning protocols and adjustments to service delivery will enable businesses to commence revenue generation despite the circumstances and in-line with national government guidelines.

Are these changes permanent?

It is important to remember that these protocols are not permanent. Many of them run counter-intuitively to the event/activity itself: music concerts, comedy nights, live theatre, church sermons, sporting events are all ‘lessened’ by the absence of a large, live audience or crowd so the ambition will always be to re-instate the audiences and crowds. Large cultural and social gatherings have taken place for many thousands of years: from the Greeks gathering in their 1000’s to watch a drama unfold at Epidaurus or 1000’s of pilgrims arriving at religious sites of worship at key points in the religious calendar, to football fans travelling the globe to watch their beloved team. Despite previous pandemics, wars and natural catastrophes and their associated disruption people have continued to assemble. Disrupted but not extinguished.

Will it always be like this?

We are 4 months into the current circumstances and already we are seeing in-roads being made into meaningful treatments and therapies and the on-going pursuit of a vaccine. As our understanding of Covid 19 grows so do the opportunities to prevent or mitigate such future outbreaks.

What about the economy?

There is no doubt that we will be faced with an equally challenging economic picture post-Covid 19. However, as well as supporting the economy during the pandemic by deploying a range of fiscal measures (eg the furlough scheme) it is clear that the economy must also be supported and developed by positive financial intervention - investing in infrastructure, building and improving physical resources to support the re-growth of the economy. 

Investment in the cultural and social heartbeat of our towns and cities will ensure that the financial recovery is more rapid and more sustained, with the health and well-being of our communities central to that recovery.

How long will it take?

There will be a recovery period. How long that recovery period will be is subject to much discussion. The EY Item Club said it would take until 2023 for the economy to return to the level reached at the end of 2019. Others suggest a shorter period, Paul Krugman in The New York Times, suggested ‘rapid recovery could start later this year (2020) or early next (2021).’ However, it does appear that by the time the new building is complete in 2023, the economy will be more stable.

How will arts buildings operate in future?

Importantly there are lots of learns. It is likely that many of these will be carried forward in to the future. The community and arts buildings that are currently struggling to cope with the change to their business models will accommodate these learns and adjust their operational procedures in future to respond to any future crisis. Temperature checks, tests, masks, sanitizer stations, cleaning procedures, non-contact ticketing, airport style toilets will all be implemented to make being inside such buildings safer than being outside in the event of another pandemic.

Cinemas are able to re-open ahead of theatres. Hertford Theatre is doing just that. A reduced capacity is not ideal but it does signal to our community that we are open for business and that we are a safe space to enjoy the thrill of the cinema experience. The new building will have the capacity to become a dedicated 5-screen cinema in its entirety; enabling the new building to weather the financial and operational challenge of any future pandemic.

In the event of such a challenge the new building will be a tremendous community asset, offering several different spaces and rooms to be deployed in a variety of ways should the need arise.

Why continue with the Growth and Legacy scheme?

Despite the obvious challenges presented by the Covid 19 outbreak, continuing with the scheme sends a clear signal to our audiences and the wider community of East Herts that the council is a forward-looking, creatively engaged authority with an appetite to build on current success and spearhead the regeneration of Hertford, improving the health and well-being of everyone living in the district.
More bluntly, we are seeing other venues close. This leaves a greater market share for those arts buildings that can ride out this crisis.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the delivery of the Growth and Legacy project?

The project team made the decision to delay public consultation activities due to the impact of COVID-19. We want everyone who wants to, to fully participate in the consultation and we did not feel that it was appropriate or practical to undertake consultation activities whilst the country responded to the impact of the pandemic. As a result, public consultation was moved from May 2020 to September 2020. This has had an impact on the ongoing programme. Planning will now be submitted at the end of October 2020, once we have had the opportunity to take on board the outputs from public consultation. The construction phase has moved from February 2021 to August 2021. 

When will Hertford Theatre close?

Construction will commence in August 2021 and the Theatre will reopen April 2023.

When will the new Theatre be open?

The new Theatre will be open by April 2023. 

Will Hertford Theatre still have a presence in the town when it is closed?

We are looking at a number of options  that could allow us to maintain a presence in the town and exploring options to be able to offer our hugely popular Christmas show during the closure period.  As soon as we know more about exactly where and what this offer will be we will provide an update via the website and the Growth and Legacy mailing list. 

How can I learn more about the Growth and Legacy project?

All of the details and ability to feedback can be found on the Hertford Theatre website, where you can also sign up for regular updates. 

What happens next?

We will listen to your feedback and develop the final design proposals for submission of a planning application in October 2020.

What food will the new Theatre offer?

The Theatre will provide an enhanced food and drink offer that will provide a selection of hot and cold food, in a relaxed café / bistro type setting throughout the day and evening.  We will continue to offer a bar service with a full range of alcoholic drinks and there will be a separate concessions area to get food and drink for the cinemas. 

How will you ensure that the delicate area surrounding the Theatre is protected?

We have worked closely with the Environment Agency, Historic England and Planning and Heritage experts throughout the design period to ensure that we are protecting the surrounding area. This work includes surveys, on the ecology in the area, the trees, the river and the heritage assets, including the historic motte. We will continue to assess and test the scheme against the ecological and historical constraints to ensure that any impact is minimised and to carefully manage the construction process to ensure the protection of the surrounding area.

How are you managing the sensitivity of working in an archaeological and historic area and next to a Scheduled Ancient Monument?

We have appointed an Archaeologist as part of the client team. They research and check the areas before survey and development considering what might be in the ground. They liaise with Historic England and the County Archaeologist to obtain relevant permissions when working on or close to the motte and castle wall and provide a watching brief during survey works.  Any finds are recorded and retained.   

Why does the Theatre need to be improved?  It’s fine as it is!

There are a number of issues facing the Theatre at present which are restricting the ability to fully meet the needs of the community.  Whilst every effort is made to ensure that visitors have the best experience, there are a number of issues which the Theatre faces, including:

  • Issues on soundproofing, meaning that only one activity can take place at a time, limiting how the building can be used.
  • Issues on access – visitors, performers and staff with restricted mobility find it difficult to use all areas of the building.
  • Dated technical specification of the auditorium, meaning that some productions are unable to perform.  It also means that the sound for theatre and cinema performances are compromised.
  • Limited number of seats, meaning that some productions will not visit the Theatre.

What are the benefits of improving the Theatre?

There are a number of benefits that the proposals will bring to the Theatre and community.  These include:

  • A new cinema that shows first-release films, removing the need to travel to Harlow or Hatfield and diversifying Hertford’s economy.
  • Improving the technical specification of the auditorium will allow bigger and better performances, and for productions to stay for a longer period of time.
  • Allowing more independent productions and a programme of self / community curated productions.
  • Allowing multiple uses to take place at the same time.
  • Providing more space for the community to use throughout the day and evening.
  • Improving the visitor experience.
  • Allowing the Theatre to become financially self-sufficient in the long-term.
  • Opening up more of the River Lea to the public.
  • Improving understanding of the Mott and local heritage assets.

What facilities will be provided for disabled customers in the new building?

Making Hertford Theatre accessible for all is key to the development of the new building. We are working closely with the design team to improve accessibility across the board and provide new accessible facilities for our customers, performers and staff. These will include new Auditorium and Studio Theatre layouts, new front-of-house toilets, an accessible baby change room, and a Changing Places toilet. Two new passenger lifts that can be used as part of the evacuation strategy will be provided.

Improvements to performer facilities include step-free access to the Auditorium and Studio Theatre stages, new wheelchair-accessible performer toilet and shower facilities and stage-level accessible dressing rooms.  We have an access consultant David Bonnett Associates as part of our team.

How is the contractor going to be selected?

The contractor will be selected through the OJEU procurement process. This is a competitive and comprehensive tender process which will allow us to select the best contractor for the job.

How will you make sure you get the 'right' contractor?

The procurement process allows for a comprehensive testing of experience, quality and cost, all of which will be taken into account alongside tests to ensure the financial and legal standing of the contractors.

How will you deliver quality?

The design work will have been completed to the end of RIBA stage 4, technical design, by the time the contractor takes up post. This means that the designs have been developed to an advance stage for the contractor to take on and deliver. The project team will be working very closely with the contractor throughout the build stages to ensure that the designs are developed and delivered to specification, time and cost.

Will parking be provided at the new Theatre?

No. Hertford Theatre is aiming to be a beacon for sustainability and will not provide parking for staff or customers on site. We are working with transport and parking specialists to understand the demand for car parking and how we can best meet those demands.  By promoting the use of the existing car parking in Hertford, we are also helping to promote linked-trips and the local economy.

Where is everyone going to park when the new Theatre opens?

We have worked closely with Transport and Parking specialists to understand what the new demand for parking will be and we are confident that there is availability within the town to accommodate the additional trips that will be generated by the new theatre.

We are working to further develop this information so that we can effectively communicate to customers exactly where parking will be available for this at different times of day and on different days of the week.

We are also exploring options for the provision of additional parking in other areas of the town and will provide further information on this as soon as we can. We will also ensure that visitors are fully aware of other ways to visit the Theatre, such as bus and train.

Will disabled parking be provided at the new Theatre?

We are currently exploring the options for disabled parking / drop-off facilities.  One of the principle aims of the scheme is to make the building more accessible for all.

How will Hertford Theatre be ‘sustainable’?

Hertford Theatre aims to be a beacon of sustainability for the County and for Theatres. The project is aiming to achieve an ‘Excellent’ BREEAM accreditation which is an internationally recognised award for sustainability.

What does BREEAM mean?

BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for buildings, and is set by the Building Research Establishment who are an independent certification body. This means BREEAM rated developments are more sustainable environments that enhance the well-being of the people who work in them and the people who use them. They help protect natural resources, promote energy efficiency and support the net zero carbon agenda

Are Hertford Hydro works still going ahead and will the Hydro provide energy for the new Hertford Theatre?

Hertford Hydro works are still going ahead. The two independent Hydro and Theatre projects are progressing with their own timelines though the design development and planning stages, if there is an opportunity to combine construction works on the two projects then we will consider this to maximise any efficiencies to be achieved in doing so and ensure minimum disruption. This will be dependent on the convergence of the delivery timetables, both of which have been affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hydro will contribute to the HT energy source as part of the overall energy and sustainability strategy for the project.

Will the size of the stage in the main auditorium increase?

Overall the stage house is being remodelled to improve its efficiency, but we are not proposing the stage will increase in size 

What will the impact of the changes be on acoustics in the auditorium / will you be improving acoustics in the auditorium?

As part of the proposals the auditorium will go through a significant transformation. We are working with an acoustician as part of our consultant team to provide a high level of experience for performers and visitors. The theatre currently delivers a diverse programme of events that have different acoustic requirements. The proposals would seek to accommodate as many of these different needs as possible. 

What space will be available for the community?

We will be providing two separate spaces for community use and hire as well as the new studio theatre. The development of the main auditorium and studio also mean that we will be able to deliver these community spaces offline, unaffected by the internal programme, meaning that hirers will be able to use these spaces, uninterrupted throughout the year.

How much will the new Theatre cost?

Funding of £19.9mn has been agreed to cover the cost of the new Theatre.  One of the key aims of the project is to ensure that, in the long-term, the Theatre becomes economically self-sufficient.

How is the new Theatre being paid for?

The Theatre is being funded by a Government loan which will be repaid in full over a 30 year period.

How does the new Theatre represent value for money?

Considerable work has been done to understand the demand for the new and improved services that the new Theatre will provide. This work demonstrates that there will be a good return on investment and that the Theatre will be able to move from the current position, of receiving a subsidy from the Council, to one of producing a surplus, becoming a self-sustaining operation and providing a legacy income for the Council. We also expect the new offer to contribute positively to both the day and night time wider economy in Hertford. 

Will prices go up when the new Theatre opens?

Some prices will increase to reflect the new and improved offer – though we will always make sure the price increases are as low as possible and always in line with other market offers. Because we will be able to offer dynamic pricing, some prices will also go down, for example, for certain performances at certain times of day. We want to ensure that Hertford Theatre remains competitive and financially accessible for all members of the community.

Is the business case robust? What happens if the Theatre doesn’t make a profit?

The business case has been developed independently by expert business planners working closely with independent cost consultants to produce a robust and prudent business case that allows room for flex and we are confident in our ability to deliver it.

Does the money being invested in Hertford Theatre mean that the council won’t be able to invest in other projects across the District?

No. The money being invested in Hertford Theatre is based on the business case for the project and is being funded, in full, by a public works loan that will be repaid in full over a 30 year period. This funding does not impact upon the councils ability to fund any other projects across the District. Funding for projects is assessed on a case by case basis according to each individual projects business case.

Wouldn’t this money be better spent on Bircherley Green?

The money being invested in Hertford Theatre is based on the business case for the project and is being funded, in full, by a public works loan that will be repaid in full over a 30 year period. This funding does not impact upon the Council’s ability to fund any other projects across the District. Funding for projects is assessed on a case by case basis according to each individual projects business case.

The council are continuing to work with the developers in Bircherely Green to support improvements in the area and a planning application for an excitement development, including a hotel, residential and retail space, was agreed in June 2020.