Building Structural Works Q&A

You may have seen in the press recently that The Courtyard are seeking assistance from Herefordshire Council to remedy vital and costly structural works to the building. Here are some frequently asked questions we are seeing that may help shed some light on any questions you may have as a result.

What building work is happening at The Courtyard and why?

The Courtyard is currently undergoing remedial structural work to repair issues with the glazing that makes up the external walls of the building (known as curtain walling).
Surveys carried out in 2019, 2020 and 2022 all recommended that the curtain walling should be replaced, but the estimated cost of full replacement would be over £600,000. Further research uncovered that when the curtain walling was installed in 1998, it was only designed to last for 25 years. September 2023 marks 25 years since The Courtyard opened, therefore, immediate action needed to be taken and The Courtyard had no option but to begin structural repairs and delay the full replacement of the curtain walling.

Why is The Courtyard asking Herefordshire Council for financial support?

The Courtyard took legal advice on the question of liability for the repairs. From that advice, and the building survey that has been carried out, it appeared that the problems with The Courtyard are so fundamental that it should be the Council, as owner and landlord of the premises, which is responsible for the cost of remedying what appear to be fundamental defects in the design and construction of the curtain walling.

Is The Courtyard building safe?

Yes, completely safe. The building was never unsafe but was deteriorating and could have been deemed unsafe in the future without remedial work. The Courtyard has now identified and remedied all potential structural defects. All work is due to be completed by the end of March. The repairs should safeguard the future of the building for at least another 10 years.

It is worth noting, that although the cost of replacing the curtain walling was estimated to be £600,000 – this remedial work, which The Courtyard sourced and undertook, is around £170,000 – which Herefordshire Council Officers still refused to assist with.

When did The Courtyard discover the issues with the building?

Surveys carried out in 2019, ahead of The Courtyard’s expansion, recommended that the curtain walling should be replaced. Further surveys were done by Herefordshire Council that came to the same conclusion. The issues found in the surveys were advised to be installation issues and upon thoroughly researching the original installation, it was uncovered that the curtain walling was only designed to last for 25 years. September 2023 marks 25 years since The Courtyard opened, therefore, immediate action needed to be taken and The Courtyard had no option but to begin structural repairs and delay the full replacement of the curtain walling, which it could not afford. Temporary emergency interim structural works were commissioned by The Courtyard to a cost of roughly £170,000. It is hoped that this will hold off the need to replace the entire curtain wall for at least another 10 years.

Isn’t The Courtyard on a full repairing lease?

Yes. The Courtyard does not dispute that it is on a full repairing lease and has, for the last 25 years, carried out and paid for work that it deemed to be repairs. The Courtyard has cared for and invested in the building and has, in addition to the past repairs and maintenance, carried out significant development and expansion work.
However, based on the surveys, it is clear that the building design and construction was defective from the outset. The issues are so fundamental that The Courtyard is disputing that it comes under the reasonable definition of repairs.

Why should Herefordshire Council help to secure the future of The Courtyard?

The Courtyard has so much to offer to the community. As well as being a theatre, exhibition space and cinema, The Courtyard is also a registered charity. It’s a community hub attended by over 300,000 per year, the second most visited building in Herefordshire after the Cathedral. The Courtyard’s innovative Education and Outreach programmes are at the heart of our mission to offer quality creative experiences to the whole community, as well as developing and nurturing the next generation of artistic talent. These range from our annual family festival to increasing accessibility for those with additional needs and working with care homes to deliver creative workshops to residents.

Providing access to the arts for a wide range of people is at the heart of what we do. Over the years we have delivered a huge range of inspirational and educational community projects. Our Creative Ageing work has had a tremendous impact on Herefordshire’s residents living with dementia. We’ve seen young people struggling in mainstream education blossom through our Youth Theatre. In 2019 we launched a mental health awareness project for young Herefordshire residents which went on to win a Health and Social Care Award. Our work is always growing and reaching new people.

Over the last 25 years, The Courtyard have…
• Welcomed over 8 million visitors through its doors.
• Held over 20,000 events, films and shows.
• Sold over 3 million tickets.
• Produced over 135 in-house shows.
• Became the first dementia friendly arts centre in the UK.
• Worked with 98% of schools in Herefordshire.
• Worked with over 34,000 children.
• Led 9,000 children through its Youth Theatre.
• Worked with 85 care homes.

The Courtyard generates around £15million a year for the local economy. If the Council paid for these repairs, the equivalent payback time would be about 4 days!

If The Courtyard generate so much for the local economy, why can’t they pay for it themselves?

The Courtyard is a not-for-profit organisation; therefore, all revenue is used to deliver our community outreach projects and to subsidise activities to make everything we do more accessible. The building is already expensive to run and maintain and it’s believed that this work is out of the reasonable realms of repair and maintenance. The money we’ve used from our reserves so far could be much better used in serving our community and securing the future of our programme. It has also been a difficult few years, with a long period of closure, and The Courtyard is actually one of the few arts centres in the country thriving post-pandemic. However, with energy and cost increases, this extra burden for extensive building work is one we can ill afford.

Hasn’t The Courtyard just completed a building expansion project?

The Courtyards expansion project, Transform The Yard, took place in 2020 and was a £1.6m expansion of a beloved building.

You can find out more about this Capital Development Project here. 

Why couldn’t you repair the building instead of expanding it in 2020?

The money that was granted for Transform The Yard was restricted funding specifically allocated for the Transform The Yard project. Restricted funding means you are not allowed to spend that money on anything other than what it was originally applied for. By the time the surveys took place, years of significant work and planning had already happened for the development project and neither the funding, nor timeframe allowed us to detour in to rectifying the uncovered issues. We were also hopeful at that point that Herefordshire Council would help with the costs and had also not yet uncovered the information relating to the 25year life expectancy.

Did The Courtyard get a loan from Herefordshire Council in 2020?

Yes, Herefordshire Council provided a loan to complete the building expansion project in 2020 due to a shortfall brought about by the pandemic, which hampered public fundraising. The loan only accounted for 1/3 of the total cost of the project. The remaining 2/3 of this was made up of funding from Arts Council England, grant awarding bodies and public fundraising.

Could the recent building expansion work have caused the structural issues?

Absolutely not. The issues were uncovered before work began. Also, the curtain walling with issues that remains in place were not touched in the building works. New curtain walling was installed where the building has been expanded.

Is The Courtyard going to close?

Not if we have anything to do with it! The Courtyard is a successful not-for-profit arts centre and is currently busier than ever, our community have really supported us since reopening. However, there have been huge strains on us as a business recently and if we keep having to pay significant, unbudgeted bills for construction work on a defective building, it could well risk the future of The Courtyard. Obviously, that is not an imminent danger, but a very realistic future if there is no support from Herefordshire Council to extend the life of this building.