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Music Works: a conversation with Henry Boot Construction

Over the past few months, the Music Works redevelopment on New Briggate in Leeds has continued under the new Covid-19 guidelines, underlining Opera North’s commitment to celebrating creativity, enhancing the city and nurturing community as it builds back better.

With the launch of the Play Your Part fundraising campaign, we caught up with Jonathan Watkins, Project Manager for Henry Boot Construction, the company responsible for the onsite delivery of the building works.

How does this project differ from others you’ve worked on?

Before Covid-19 hit, the first difference was that we had to programme our construction work around theatre productions to allow matinees and evening performances to still take place – not something you’d usually need to consider when preparing a construction schedule!

More broadly than that, it’s very unique in that it’s split across several different workfaces, combining multiple sectors of construction. Put simply, it’s a mix of new build, refurbishment, and civil engineering, as well as conservation work relating to the historic Grade 2* listed Leeds Grand Theatre and Howard Assembly Room.

Steel supports and braces to enable removal of old structural wall in former shop units on New Briggate © Tom Arber

Have there been any unexpected finds or challenges?

Absolutely! There have been lots of unexpected finds and we have also encountered a variety of challenges across this project. Undertaking excavation works beneath the Victorian shopfronts on New Briggate to construct the new bar and restaurant space has been a particularly complex task, as has the construction of the new rehearsal studio built on top of the existing Harewood and Linacre studios.

How has Covid-19 impacted the project?

Not surprisingly, the outbreak of Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the programme of works and how we move forward in terms of managing the project. Social distancing and longer lead-in times for materials has been a real challenge for our project team but everyone has worked incredibly hard to avoid delays wherever possible.

Scaffolding at the roof level of the new atrium, with the Howard Assembly Room windows visible on the right and Leeds Grand Theatre building on the left © Tom Arber

Has being a Yorkshire company made a difference?

It has, yes. As well as the company being Yorkshire-based, the entire project delivery team staff are all from Yorkshire. It’s always a pleasure to be creating and constructing new places across our home county.

Why do you think developments like this are important?

Major building developments like this are incredibly important in today’s cities. They are vital to the economy and to sustaining employment. Once completed, they also help to keep our cities thriving by bringing people into the area to visit.

What do you think Music Works will bring to Leeds?

Music Works will be fantastic for the city and its residents. What was once derelict shops and a Victorian service alleyway will be a vibrant centre for residents and visitors alike to meet, socialise, relax and enjoy the performing arts.

What are you most looking forward to on completion?

I’m most looking forward to seeing the end result. Projects like these are incredibly complex, so to be able to visit and enjoy the place once it’s complete and open for business will be very satisfying for all the team – and, we hope, for everyone who lives, works and visits Leeds.

To find out more about Music Works please contact Natalie Rawel:


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