Winter Gardens seating gets a £45k facelift - funded by the restoration levy on ticket sales

654 seats have been removed from the Opera House balcony and will be reupholstered and will be reinstalled in time for the Jimmy Carr show in March 2022.

By Lucinda Herbert
Monday, 21st February 2022, 6:40 pm

Faded red covers are held up with duct tape - lumpy cushion inserts concealing 83 years of wear and tear.

The fixed armrests are thin and lifeless. Backrests are dull, scratched and adorned with grey discarded clumps of chewing gum.

But there will soon be life pumped back into these well worn theatre seats in the Winter Gardens Opera House.

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Seats in the Blackpool Winter Gardens are being removed, reupholstered, and replaced after 83 years.

Restoration work has started on the 654 chairs on the balcony - which have been there since the venue was built in 1939.

Over the years they have seated over 45 million guests including Her Majesty The Queen.

It’s the final group of seating to be removed, reupholstered and reinstalled and is expected to take around two to three weeks to complete.

On Monday 21st February 2022 the seats were carefully dismantled by hand, by a team of five workers.

One of the labourers said: “It all fits together like Meccano.”

They were taken down to the ground floor in a lift - and sent off to Evertaut - a theatre seating specialist in Blackburn - to be reupholstered.

All seats in rows A - D, and part of row E, will be given brand new backs and seat pads. The cast iron bases will be french polished, and the legs will be painted gold.

Phil Jackson, Operations Manager of the Winter Gardens, said: “It will all look massively different when this has been done.

“We really wanted to do the whole balcony, but it’s been hard to source the right material - as it needs to be durable enough to use in a theatre that frankly gets battered.”

The upholstery materials have been an ongoing source of frustration.

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Mr Jackson said: “We want to get as much of the furnishing done as possible during the quiet periods.”

But it’s a challenge getting work completed in between shows.

“The aim is to have the 83-year-old seats ready for use in time for the next sell-out show - when comedian Jimmy Carr performs on the 13th March.

“Not all of the shows require the full theatre so it won’t affect any performances that are on in the meantime.”

Friends: The Musical, Jurassic Earth, and Dance Fever will all go ahead as normal as they do not have balcony seating available.

The team will make the most of the next few weeks while the seats are out for refurbishment - and give the floor and bleachers a thorough clean ready for the new season to get into full swing.

The project will cost £45,000 and has been paid for by a restoration levy - a £1.50 charge that was introduced to all ticket sales from July 2021.

Each year the routine maintenance bill is £500,000 and with essential repairs and the impact of COVID that cost has increased dramatically.

Michael Williams, Managing Director of the Winter Gardens said: “The levy has been a game changer for the theatre and is money raised by our theatre lovers that directly improves the theatre and the experience for generations to come.

“We know that tickets are an investment for people and so to capture this work happening is a great way of showing people how the levy is helping.”

It’s one of the last parts of the theatre to be modernised - many of the seats in the stalls and circle area were revamped in recent years.

There has been ongoing investment in the venues at the Winter Gardens since Blackpool Council bought the Grade 2 listed building in 2010.

Coming under public ownership created access to new sources of funding such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Major investments have included the £1.25m refurbishment of the Church Street entrance, rotunda and Floral Hall while original features of the Mazzei cafe, hidden since the 1960s, were uncovered. Repairs were made to the ballroom ceiling and Spanish hall roof at a cost of £4m (including a £500,000 grant from Heritage England). The new £30m conference centre opened its doors in February 2022. The addition of the newest venue, which holds an extra 2,000 people, now makes Blackpool Winter Gardens the largest venue of its kind in the North.