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Foster Wilson raises the curtain on £4.3m school theatre

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Foster Wilson has created a new £4.3 million performing arts centre for Bedford School and the local community by converting a listed Moravian church and minister’s house


The chapel has been converted into a 300-seat galleried courtyard theatre. The Minister’s House has been restored and now provides front of house facilities, offices and a studio. A new foyer with a curved wall of glass has been added alongside the apsidal wall to the original chancel.

To create the flat-floored theatre, the architect inserted a new steel structure into the volume of the church. The balcony was retained but has been extended forward and re-tiered to improve sightlines to the stage area. Two levels of new galleries have been introduced at the sides, together with high-level suspensions for scenery and stage lighting.

Where possible the architect retained original materials or repaired on a like for like basis. Lime plaster was used throughout the original buildings, while the original exterior brickwork to the chancel is exposed in the new foyer and matched by fair-faced brick in the new work. New oak flooring and joinery is used to unify the new and the old throughout.

Architect Tim Foster said: ‘We have been delighted to work on this fascinating project, which has created a lively new venue for Bedford and combines the best of the old and the new to provide a beneficial use for an important listed building.’

Quarry Theatre by Foster Wilson Architects

Quarry Theatre by Foster Wilson Architects

Architect’s view

Bedford School is an independent boys’ school whose brief was to create a 200-300 seat flexible theatre within the church, together with a studio for teaching drama, foyers sufficient to house a full audience, backstage facilities for performers and offices for staff.

The theatre was to be capable of operating independently for both public performances or as a private school facility. The heritage status of the buildings demanded considerable care in preserving the character of the existing structures, while adapting and extending them to meet the new uses.

The theatre was to present school productions but also hosts a public programme of small-scale professional touring shows and local amateur productions.

The location of the site, with one elevation facing the public realm and the other facing the School’s gardens, lends itself well to the requirement for a public/private facility. The 300 seat galleried courtyard theatre is a flat-floored flexible space created by inserting a new steel structure within the volume of the existing church.

Quarry Theatre by Foster Wilson Architects

Quarry Theatre by Foster Wilson Architects

Ground Floor Plan

Project data

Architect Foster Wilson Architects
Location Bedford
Type of project redundant church converted to school theatre
Structural engineers Price & Myers
Client Bedford School
Funding The Harpur Trust
Tender date August 2013
Start on site date November 2013
Contract duration 17 months
Gross internal floor area 1,395m²
Form of contract and/or procurement Single stage tender with bills of quantities
Total cost £4.3 million
M&E consultant Ernest Griffiths
Quantity surveyor Ainsley & Partners
Planning supervisor Ainsley & Partners
Acoustic consultant Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design
Theatre consultant Theatreplan
Main contractor SDC Builders


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