Trading the boards

VIDEO CONSULTANTS could have been called in to lead the £500,000 Regent refurbishment - but then nobody knows the building like the people who work there. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets some of the local folk who have masterminded the Ipswich venue's transformation.

By Tracey Sparling

CONSULTANTS could have been called in to lead the £500,000 Regent refurbishment - but then nobody knows the building like the people who work there. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets some of the local folk who have masterminded the Ipswich venue's transformation.

TAKING centre stage tomorrow will be a team of local people who have worked day and night to transform the Regent's auditorium.

They are usually to be found behind-the-scenes, in the wings, lighting booth or backstage, but just for once the refurbishment team will be under their own spotlight. The fruits of their labours will be unveiled at the official launch tomorrow, followed by an open day on Saturday from 10am and 4pm when you can pop in to see the refurbishment.

A gleaming gold and blue colour scheme will greet guests, with new lighting and seats and many more finer touches which the audiences will notice over time.

Professional trades like painters and scaffolders were called in, but each specialist was helped Regent manpower.

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Bosses visited the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton and the Birmingham Hippodrome to learn the lessons their refurbishments taught, and got the bit between their teeth to press ahead themselves.

Project manager Julian Smith said staff shared a real passion for 1929 listed building which was originally built as a cinema: “Most of the core team have worked here for four or five years and we know the building backwards, plus knew how we wanted it to end up so it wasn't worth bringing in somebody new in the form of consultants.”

Regent manager Hazel Clover added: “We were able to anticipate a lot of the issues we encountered, although there are always some things you cannot plan for - such as when a flood of rainwater flowed down Woodbridge Road and poured into the back of the theatre this summer. There have also been some lovely surprises like revealing the mahogany steps leading up to the boxes.

“It's been a fantastic team effort, with everybody pulling together to transform the auditorium in just 13 weeks.”

The team has built more than 1,000 seats, painted the domed ceiling with 37 gallons of paint,

laid ten 30m rolls of carpet, and climbed scaffolding made from 1,500 boards in their quest to give Ipswich a venue to be proud of.

In years to come they will all be able to sit back in the auditorium, look around, and say 'I did that,' so today we celebrate their contributions.

Name: Hazel Clover

Job: Manager

Age: 41

Home: Norwich born, lives in Ipswich with partner

Role in the refurb: Vision and leadership

For Hazel, whose partner is a sound engineer, a highlight of the refurbishment was standing on top of the five-storey scaffolding tower to touch the dome of the ceiling.

She said: “That was a moment which can never be repeated. “It was fascinating to see areas of the theatre you don't normally see, and I discovered the ceiling was actually textured like a pebble beach- which made it harder to paint! It felt like I was standing on a proper floor until I looked down and tried to get my bearings from being so high up.

“I've seen the theatre transformed from a complete construction site and each stage has been so exciting.”

Name: Julian Smith

Job: Project manager

Age: 33

Home: Church Lane, Walton, Felixstowe

Role in the refurb: Kept a tight rein on timescale and finances

Julian who is married with a five-year-old daughter, is working in his dream venue after years of performing in amateur dramatics.

He raced to help when the floodwater came in: “The understage area was 2ft underwater. It was like being in a sinking ship, in that water was tumbling down the stairs and the noise was echoing down the corridors - all I could hear was a rushing sound - and it was quite scary at the time.”

Name: Shelley Rooke

Job: Show manager

Age: 39

Home: Campbell Street, Ipswich

Role in the refurb: Signing up artists

The Ipswich mum who's a fan of local bands in her spare time, said: “Artists performing here will see a real difference when they come onto the stage. If they come and see it looking a bit run down it affects their morale.

“The dressings rooms were also refurbished a couple of years ago and that made a world of difference in making artists feel welcome. It can be a tough life living on the road so a smart clean environment is much appreciated.”

Name: Chris Last and Richard Hawkins

Job: Lighting - technical officer and house electrician

Ages: 26 and 33

Home: Station Yard in Needham Market and Hawthorn Drive in Ipswich

Role in the refurb: Installed the show lighting systems, house lights, replaced flood damaged equipment and installed dimmers.

Chris said: “I helped work out what was dead and what was not, after tonnes of water swamped it during the flood - and dealt with the insurance claim. We've installed a lot of new equipment.”

Father-of-two Richard, who is icknamed Flipper for his size 12.5 feet, said: “I've been installing the lighting and testing it, sometimes it's been quite long hours. I'm usually in the wings making it all happen, operating the video, lights and sound.”

Name: Shawn Fendley and Dan Scarlett

Job: Painting -casual stage crew

Ages: 21 and 19

Home: Cliff Lane and Defoe Road in Ipswich

Role in the refurb: While the professional painters did the bulk of the walls, Shawn and Dan painted finer details like the gold trim and stairwells.

Shawn said: “We went round filling in the bits they'd missed! It will be nice to look back and think we had a lot to do with it.”

Dan added: “We had to repaint a few bits, while the colour scheme was being sorted out!”

Name: Tom Atkinson and Luke Fitch

Job: Seat installers - casual stage crew

Ages: 22 and 19

Home: Heatherhayes and Hazel Drive in Ipswich

Role in the refurb: They pulled up old carpets and seats, demolished stairs, and built the new seats which arrived in pieces in two 40ft containers.

Former Stoke High School pupil Tom said: “It wasn't a hard job because the contractors were a good bunch -a real laugh to work with.

Luke, a former St Albans High School pupil who is now studying media technology at the University of Lincoln said: “We did it section by section. There was a lot of carrying stuff up and downstairs so it's been hard work but I've really enjoyed it.”