Background to the Project and Client

Berwick is a small town of some 12,000 people with a huge story to tell, straddling the historical and geographical fault lines of Britain where England and Scotland meet. The town’s economic success is largely dependent on services, hospitality and retail, tailored in particular to a seasonal visitor market. The high incidence of part-time working, low wages, limited education facilities and below average levels of educational attainment contrasts with a growing population of affluent retirees, and a rural hinterland with a significant number of high net worth individuals.

The overall physical appearance of the town centre is uneven. There is a heritage Georgian core and a still complete town wall, a dramatic river estuary and excellent transport links by road and rail on the main East Coast route. Until very recently, the town centre has under-performed in terms of quality and choice in retail, services and hospitality, but this is slowly changing with a steady rise in independent retail and a series of major redevelopment projects (leisure centre, hospital, shops, quayside/port and Berwick Barracks). Most of this development is away from the main thoroughfare which is dominated by low and mid-market chain stores – and a number of empty shop units.

The Maltings (Berwick) Trust is the primary cultural organisation in this area of the county, operating across three separate venues in the centre of Berwick. They are a key social, cultural and educational hub for the town, and the only professional cinema across a large rural catchment across North Northumberland and the eastern Scottish Borders. They currently sell over 60,000 tickets a year at The Maltings venue on Eastern Lane for live performances and films, and attract over 25,000 visits a year to the visual arts programme (at the Granary and Gymnasium Galleries). They fully endorse the aspiration for the culture-led regeneration of Berwick on Tweed with the Maltings Berwick Trust at its centre – a desired outcome which underpins the Borderlands investment.

The existing Maltings venue is ageing, no longer fit for purpose, fails to exploit its unique river-view location, and presents ever-increasing operational challenges – e.g. tired furnishing and décor, lack of soundproofing which prevents simultaneous programming, inaccessible areas for audiences and artists with disabilities, seating and facilities which fall far short of modern audience expectations, antiquated heating, wiring and ventilation.

An independent scoping and feasibility study has clearly established the preferred approach - delivering a 21st century venue (the New Maltings) on the existing site that transforms both the customer experience and business model, and acts as a major catalyst for the regeneration of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The proposal is to:

  • Maximise the available site ‘footprint’ by including adjacent land that is already managed by The Maltings and also by accessing land owned by NCC in the adjacent car park (already agreed in principle).

  • Build and fit out a new state of the art 400 seat theatre as an extension to the existing building, with a significantly enhanced stage and backstage area, fully equipped with industry standard digital projection, and significantly enhanced accessibility front of house and back stage. Suitable for a diverse live programme, large meetings/conferences, and film screenings.

  • Repurpose the existing theatre and back stage areas into a dedicated and fully soundproofed 2 screen cinema facility, potentially one ‘boutique’ 80 seat space and one larger 150–200 seat auditorium.

  • Reconfigure and upgrade the studio theatre, meeting rooms and public spaces to be as multi-functional and flexible as possible, countering the many ‘pinch points’ which currently exist, taking maximum advantage of the site’s spectacular and unrivalled views of the mouth of the River Tweed, and locating the venue distinctively in its location whilst maximising visitor and commercial appeal.

  • Create a new first floor on the existing building with glass fronted meeting, event and education rooms.

  • Relocate the kitchen and re-position a destination café bar, as well as establishing mobile bar/catering points which can adequately service different audience configurations whilst maintaining an open flow of ‘traffic’ through the building.

  • Increase dressing room and deliver technical/workshop/storage space, ensuring level access throughout as well as significantly enhanced digital resources, minimised carbon footprint, and provision of creative resources of the highest standard (to include sound recording and filming/editing facilities).

  • Incorporate flexible office space and enhanced staff facilities.

  • Maintain the town centre position and related footfall and visibility, whilst also creating an architectural beacon overlooking the River Tweed and visible from the Royal Border railway bridge (and East Coat Mainline train route).

  • Contribute significantly to a linked and signposted public realm/pedestrian flow from the Quayside, to independent retailers on Bridge Street, up to The Maltings, and on to Marygate and the Guildhall, and beyond to the Georgian Hawksmoor-designed Berwick Barracks (complimenting its own proposed re-development, led by English Heritage). And in doing this, provide a major anchor for the town centre, a focal point at the heart of a newly landscaped civic core which counters the prevailing high street decline prevalent in similar communities throughout the UK.

Northumberland County Council as the Contracting Authority are managing the competition through the ProContract e-tendering portal.

The reference number specific to The Maltings tender is DN582146.