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New-look Albert Hall in Swansea due to reopen in May

Image showing how part of the ground floor of the Albert Hall will look (Pic: Severn Studio Design)

A FORMER music hall and cinema in Swansea is due to reopen in May following an £8 million-plus transformation.

The new-look Albert Hall will include a food hall with eight independent stalls, a seating area, bar, performance area and stage, private dining rooms, karaoke, and a children’s play centre on the lower ground floor.

There’ll be 18 first-floor offices, and then 13 units above geared towards health and lifestyle services such as physiotherapy. Above that will be 10 serviced accommodation units for visitors, a rooftop garden, a work space area and a gym.

Simon Baston, director of LoftCo Ltd, the Cardiff-based company which bought and is restoring the building, said it was a very complex project due to the Albert Hall’s grade two listed status and its single access on Craddock Street.

“The best way of tackling it is to build a new frame inside the building,” he said. This method, he said, maintained its structural integrity while allowing the exterior to be preserved.

The Albert Hall, pictured from Craddock Street (Pic: Richard Youle)

From the outside it might not look like much is happening at the Albert Hall but inside it’s a different story. Protected from the elements by a new roof, plasterers, electricians and other trades are working their way down from the top floor.  It’s only when you’re inside that you realise how much space there is, and how much steel has gone into the supporting frame. Crane your neck and you can just get a glimpse of Mumbles from the rooftop garden.

The building opened in 1864 as a public assembly and concert venue for up to 2,500 people and was called The Music Hall. It became the Albert Hall in 1882. Over the years the venue hosted speeches and performances by Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, David Lloyd George and opera singer Adelina Patti among others. It then became a cinema and bingo hall before closing in 2007.

Early restoration proposals envisaged an 800-capacity music venue but the mix of ground floor units has reduced this performance area to a maximum of 500 people.

Mr Baston said a range of uses helped ensure financial viability. “Buildings like this, for want of a better term, can’t be a one-trick pony,” he said.

He added that the food hall traders would all be local businesses, while cafe-bar operator Academy Coffee, which has venues in Cardiff and Newport, will run the bar and also an adjacent ground floor premises.

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Mr Baston said he felt Swansea was undergoing a “sea change” in terms of regeneration, and he thanked the Welsh Government, which has provided £5.6 million towards the project, and Swansea Council for their support. “They have been very amenable at all stages,” he said.

Mr Baston also praised Llanelli building contractor RNF Property Group for its ongoing work. “Every challenge that has come their way they have worked through,” he said. “We are delighted with their performance.”

Another image showing how the ground floor of the Albert Hall will look (Pic: Severn Studio Design)

It is hoped the new-look Albert Hall will attract footfall north of the revamped Kingsway and benefit existing Craddock Street businesses, which have put up with disruption and a road closure. Sam Levett, of vintage clothes shop Karma Bespoke, which is opposite the Albert Hall, said: “The project manager has explained to me what’s happening there. It’s amazing, and well-needed.” He added: “We’re going to have a cafe bar in the corner of our shop and tables outside.”

Goff Doolan, of men’s clothes shop Moustache, Craddock Street, said: “I think it’s quite exciting. It has been a long couple of years, to be honest, and footfall has been down. We are looking forward to it being open.”

One adjacent business owner, though, claims she was offered compensation due to the effect the work had on her vegan cookery skills venture, which expanded into a cafe, but that she hadn’t received a penny. Rachel Jamison, owner of The V Hub, said she hadn’t been aware that the Albert Hall was going to be renovated when she started her business in January 2020. She said she closed the cafe in August 2022 but was continuing the cookery skills element of The V Hub on an ad hoc basis. Mr Baston said he considered the matter resolved.

LoftCo’s previous projects in South Wales include redeveloping Newport Market and the Tramshed building in Cardiff.

The Welsh Government funding for the Albert Hall scheme was from its Transforming Towns programme, which helps restore heritage buildings in Wales like the Albert Hall.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The regeneration of the Albert Hall is a fantastic example of how support through the programme can be used to breathe new life into an old building and help the local community celebrate its history.”