IT has taken 125,000 man hours and around 21 months of hard work, but Bradford’s St George’s Hall is ready to reopen.

The Telegraph & Argus has been given an exclusive tour inside the historic listed building as the £9.5 million restoration project comes to a close.

The first act to be welcomed back to the stage is singer Barbara Dickson on Friday night, who will find a remarkably different venue to her last performance at the now 165-year-old hall.

Extensive internal renovations have transformed the front-of-house areas and auditorium, improving sightlines and comfort for theatregoers, and creating a stylish cafe bar on the ground floor with an open feel.

The cafe bar will be open in the daytime from next week, as well as serving food in the evening before selected performances.

Doors to the Hall Ings side of the building have been reopened and lead straight into the cafe bar and a newly glazed lobby area leads into a revamped box office too.

History is evident in every part of the building as photographs, posters and tickets from over the years are displayed. There will also be heritage tours of the building available.

In the auditorium with its intricate ceiling, a number of striking changes have been made.

There are new seats and a new layout for the stalls, and the upper seating has been refurbished and adjusted to drop the number of restricted view seats. The average legroom is now 45cm.

Externally there's a new roof and stonemasons have replaced over 1,000 pieces of damaged stonework, the largest of which was the size of a double bed. New lighting, signage and digital marketing screens have also been added to the Lockwood and Mawson-designed building.

Adam Renton, general manager for theatres at Bradford Council, which runs St George’s Hall, said: “This building has fought us all the way. It was more or less telling us what it needed, the building. Take that roof off and I’ll show you what’s really needed - and there’s joists that need moving and refitting.

“In the past when its been refurbed, it’s always been a quick tart up. This time its gone, I tell you what, you are going to do me right. And that’s why the amount kept going up.”

He added: "It's exciting - it's daunting because now the hard work really starts. Now it's got to live and survive. Its got to be busy, be used, be open to everybody and in these very difficult financial times, it has to give itself a return."

The project was funded by the Council and Heritage Lottery.