The Courtyard was designed by Birmingham-based Architects Glenn Howells Associates and was the first major new build Arts Council funded National Lottery capital project in England. It opened in September 1998 with additional support from Hereford City Council prior to incorporation into Herefordshire Council.
It was built on the site of the old Nell Gwynne Theatre, which itself was constructed from the original Municipal swimming baths on the same site; the Nell Gwynne opened in 1979.
The Courtyard attracts over 250,000 visitors every year, not just from within the county, but also from the West Midlands and further afield. It was designed to be inspirational and contemporary and lead the way for future architectural developments in the historic City of Hereford. It is constructed to form two separate spaces internally and is enveloped in a large, glass-constructed outer shell which creates a light and airy atmosphere within.
Inside, the Arts Centre houses a 400-seat main auditorium, a 120-seat Studio, visual arts galleries, meeting and function rooms, a rehearsal studio with sprung floor and café bar and restaurant. The two auditoria can both be transformed from flat floor to traditional raked layouts with a flexibility not seen in many venues.
The Courtyard is an accessible building and offers good, free ease of access to all front-of-house areas and a passenger lift. Wheelchair users can access all front-of-house areas, and there are also accessible dressing rooms for both auditoria located on the ground floor, each with accessible toilet and shower facilities. The Courtyard is also fitted with an infrared loop system and audio description facilities.
In 2003 The Courtyard became a Regularly Funded Organisation (RFO) of the Arts Council and became a recipient of additional revenue support from them as part of the National Theatre Review.
Whilst directly investing in productions, The Courtyard has offered its facilities to launch productions for touring in return for co-production status, and premiering productions. New Perspectives Theatre Company, Blackeyed Theatre, Foursight Theatre, and Anureka Dance Company have all benefited from this model as well as others.
The Courtyard combines its presentation programme with an extensive participation programme of events and classes for all sections of the local community. It is also home to the following arts organisations; Music Pool, 2Faced Dance Company, DanceFest, Alloy Jewellery Co-operative, New Theatre Works, Feral Productions and Four Play Theatre Company. It is also the main presenting venue for Borderlines Film Festival, the largest Rural Film Festival in the UK. Annually, The Courtyard also hosts many local community companies as part of its overall programme of work, including Hereford Musical Theatre Company, Hereford Pantomime Society, Hereford Academy of Dance, and the Gilbert & Sullivan Society.
The Courtyard runs a very successful bar and catering operation providing high-quality, locally-sourced and produced food in an attractive setting. Catering at The Courtyard provides a key element in the overall offering to customers and has contributed significantly to the eradication of the deficit. The quality of the food provided by The Courtyard catering team was recognised by the winning of the 2009 category of Catering in a Visitor Attraction, in the Flavours of Herefordshire Awards.
As a result of these facilities, The Courtyard provides an excellent venue for events, conferences and meetings in Herefordshire, bringing in further valuable revenue for the organisation.