The design expert brings his creative oomph to Portsmouth Guildhall.
“Who needs Benidorm?” Why young people are returning to our coastal towns. And how you might be able to book boutique hotel rooms in the upper floors of the Guildhall. Words by Emma Beatty
Plans to modernise the Guildhall and its square are exciting news for the city, and the first phase – a new studio space on the ground floor– opens this month. The new performance venue, the Studio, in the Harlequin Room, is a smaller space, for about 200 people. Part of its remit is to help foster local talent and emerging art forms.
Wayne Hemingway is the creative lead on the ambitious £15 million “Renaissance Development Project”. He might be known to those over 40 as a 90s fashion guru, but his first degree was town planning, and he’s now Professor in The Built Environment at Northumbria University. His business, Hemingway Design, a team of architects and designers, has already been involved with regeneration projects in coastal towns such as Lowestoft, Morecambe and Margate –cutting them loose from gloomy boarding-house associations and helping them become “vibrant 21st-century coastal towns.” Hemingway’s also working with Havant Borough Council to regenerate Hayling Seafront, (have a look at the questionnaire consultation on his website).
Now, he’s been called in by the Portsmouth Cultural Trust, the charity responsible for the running and operation of the Guildhall, to help rejuvenate the grand old building. With its stone lions, massive staircase and bell tower it’s an imposing presence, but Hemingway wants it to be “open, welcoming, outward-facing, and communicate its cultural significance”.
Plans include a plate-glass side extension running the length of the left side. This will be a contemporary social space for food and drink, exhibitions and performance. “It should be a beacon, attracting people to the square. The Guildhall and Guildhall Square create a great space, and Portsmouth is a big enough city to fill it with life. It just needs imaginative planning to come alive with things like pop-up food retailers, performers, an increased programme of brilliant events and cafes.”
The revitalised venue will provide a year-round programme of music and performance alongside conferencing and business facilities, creative studio spaces and possibly even some boutique hotel accommodation In the under-used upper levels.
Hemingway doesn’t see the decline of nearby Commercial Road as a problem. “There’s more to cities than just shopping, and that will become more the case in the future as it was in the past. Think of society’s obsession with shopping in the 80s and 90s as an unsustainable aberration and with young people surviving on lower disposable incomes they are finding creative ways to enjoy themselves. People want to socialise, people-watch, see a performance or exhibition. The Guildhall can be a beacon for that, not just locally, but regionally .”
“We don’t need more shops, we need more culture, more places to meet. Our coastal towns are on the turn, after the decline of the past. There’s a real change of spirit with today’s young people, embracing new possibilities. It’s down to the entrepreneurial spirit of local people to help bring about that change. The older generation may have decided they didn’t want to holiday by our coast anymore, and that places like Benidorm where better, but they’re not better, and a more enlightened generation is driving this return to appreciate the great places that we have at home.”
“Portsmouth and Southsea have got loads going for them – great architecture, great sea views, good train links. The Guildhall should attract people into the city. Think of the South Bank in London, it was somewhat underwhelming 20 years ago, now it’s a primary cultural destination.”
The Guildhall is actively fund-raising for the project. Individuals and businesses can get involved through various membership and sponsorship schemes.
Photo courtesy Glasgow Evening Times