A MILESTONE has been reached in the transformation of Bradford’s former Odeon building into a live music venue.

The painstaking work to strip out the steel and concrete partitions that divided the 1930s building has been completed – allowing the full height and width of the original auditorium to be fully realised for the first time in five decades.

During a tour of the building, Bradford Live’s Lee Craven spoke of his delight that the project had reached this crucial stage.

“This is a really good milestone. It’s always been tantalising to think what it would look like, and we knew it would be impressive, but it has been over and above expectation on that front.”

Of the project itself, he added: “I always felt that it was the right building at the right time in the right place. I always felt if people could see beyond the initial impression, and we could get enough people on board, then it would prevail.”

He added: “All the old cinemas and the bingo hall beneath them has gone. That whole steel and concrete structure that supported them has gone.

“The riskiest part of the whole project is over now, because we were never quite sure what we were going to find until we started stripping things out.

“Our thinking has developed as the work has gone on and the building has opened up. We’ve always tried to keep an open mind and be flexible.”

The internal demolition programme began around nine months ago and has seen the subdivisions and false ceilings of the 1960s removed, allowing the Bradford Live team to view the full structure of the building and what they have to work with.

They are now gearing up to appoint a main contractor for the internal and external works required to turn the building into a 3,800-capacity live music venue.

It will be run by the NEC group, which has made a 30-year commitment to operate the venue with plans for over 200 events annually. It is also the first time the NEC has been involved in taking on a restoration project, allowing their team to work on lighting and sound at an early stage of the development.

The main works are expected to begin next year with the venue now scheduled to open in summer 2021.

Funding is in place with £4 million from the Government’s Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund, a £959,500 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and £357,500 from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership’s growth deal.

Bradford Council’s portfolio holder for regeneration, Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, told the Telegraph & Argus: “The space of the venue now is absolutely unbelievable. It really hits you when you walk in.”

He added that he thought the project would have a “massive impact” on the Bradford economy, saying: “Being able to come and see it whilst it’s growing like this, it reinforces that actually this is doing the right thing for Bradford. We have been saying this will be one of the North’s best venues, but standing here, it’s going to be one of the best venues in the country.

“Bringing in hundreds of thousands of people to the district every year, just what that will do for our economy will be amazing. But it will also be fantastic for the people here as well, to be able to get that quality of act in Bradford.”

Historian Mark Nicholson, who as a member of the Bradford Odeon Rescue Group campaigned for the building to be saved, spoke of his amazement at what has been uncovered.

“I’d only seen how it used to look in photographs, and I used to wish I could jump in a time machine and go back 50 years and see it for myself.

“To actually see the auditorium space as it is now, I can see the Gaumont, I can see the New Victoria. Albeit some of the plasterwork has gone. But it really is a dream come true to see the building opened up like this. The possibilities for live music in Bradford now are fantastic and it’s very exciting times.”

Of the campaign to save the Odeon, he added: “It was a very difficult, dark time, we were up against everything, but the building was just far too important to lose from a historical point of view.

“Even during the darkest days of the campaign, it always seemed possible that this could be the outcome, because this was the right outcome.

“When something is wrong, ie ‘let’s pull this building down and put a glass office block in its place’, you don’t just roll over and accept that, you keep fighting.”