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Swansea’s new-look Palace Theatre to reopen as office and events space

Gwenno Jones, Tramshed Tech head of community, at Swansea's Palace Theatre (Pic: Richard Youle)

THE COMPANY that will operate Swansea’s new-look Palace Theatre said it was honoured to breathe new life into the 136-year-old building.

Tramshed Tech runs five co-working venues in Cardiff, Barry and Newport, supporting the businesses which rent space there and helping them grow.

Next on the list is a Swansea building steeped in history which has risen, almost fallen and risen once more thanks to a £10 million-plus renovation which remains ongoing.

The rundown Palace Theatre as it was in 2019 when Swansea Council acquired it (Pic: Richard Youle)

A Tramshed Tech spokeswoman said it hoped to have the Palace Theatre ready for occupiers in September and that it was in talks with a number of businesses regarding office space and events. She said the company loved the grade two-listed building and looked forward to operating in Swansea.

“We feel incredibly honoured to have the opportunity to breathe new life into Swansea’s Palace Theatre – a building that the community holds so dear,” she said. “This historic gem has stood witness to many lifetimes, spanning the reigns of two queens and five kings, and even survived the devastation of the Blitz that left much of the city in ruins.

“We couldn’t be more excited to open our sixth Tramshed Tech, providing a welcoming workspace and community hub designed to support tech, digital and creative business owners in and around Swansea.”

It has been a long road for Swansea Council, which bought the endangered building from its private owners before the Covid pandemic, and the architects, heritage experts, builders and other tradespeople who have made it structurally sound, replaced the roof and are creating the new office and events space, plus a ground floor coffee shop.

Inside the five-storey Palace Theatre, High Street, Swansea (Pic: Richard Youle)

Contractor R&M Williams Ltd began work on site in November 2021. Among the surprises at the Palace Theatre were the discovery of a secret staircase and a fox which had taken up residence there.

The flat-iron building comprises a basement, ground floor and three storeys above. Rob Theophile, project manager at R&M Williams, said the work has been challenging. “A big part of the roof had collapsed, and we had to get steel trusses in while supporting the building,” he said. “After that we had to demolish quite a few floors to get a lift shaft into the basement level. The longest sections of steel were ten-and-a-half metres.”

Specialist contractors have been needed for several elements of the overhaul including lead work and lime plastering. Thousands of original bricks were saved, and iron pillars were restored. Some 60 workers have been on site at peak times.

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Plasterers Phillip Davies (left) and Alex Port at Swansea’s Palace Theatre (Pic: Richard Youle)

Built in 1888 for just under £10,000, the High Street building began life as a music hall before various incarnations including a bingo hall and nightclub. In 2009, while in private ownership, it was put on a theatre buildings risk register due to its deteriorating state – a far cry from the times when a boy called Charlie Chaplin appeared on stage and, later, a twenty-something Anthony Hopkins.

Mr Theophile added: “It’s quite an important building for the community as a whole. There has been a lot of interest from the Friends of The Palace Theatre group and from people just walking past on the street.” He said one visitor used to be a DJ who belted out tunes from a second floor balcony booth in the nightclub era.

Cllr Rob Stewart, the leader of Swansea Council, said: “The new-look Palace will be a great addition to our fast-evolving city centre. This much-loved historic building had fallen into disrepair under private ownership before we saved it for future generations.

“It’s great to have Tramshed Tech on board – and I look forward to the Palace being a dynamic new base for business; it’ll play a key role in our £1 billion regeneration of the city.”