Green thinking has informed many of the design decisions taken by Opera North as the company seeks to create the Howard Opera Centre as an artistic home for the future.
Senior Technician, Jamie Saye, who champions the environmental agenda at Opera North, outlined the steps which have been taken during the Music Works redevelopment to address such considerations as energy consumption, minimising the company’s carbon footprint and ensuring the company stays at the forefront of sustainable best practice. Now that every member of staff has been certified as carbon literate, Jamie will also be delivering Carbon Literacy Training to individuals and organisations externally.
“Facilitating a reduction in our electricity consumption was one of our main objectives during the redevelopment and has been achieved by incorporating a number of environmentally-friendly design features in both the Howard Opera Centre and Howard Assembly Room.
“One of these is LED lighting which we’ve installed across the entire estate and which will drastically reduce electricity usage. Some areas have also been fitted with passive infrared (PIR) sensors which will help lower the amount of electricity we use even further by automatically turning lights off when no-one’s around.
The new Education Studio features breakout rooms which also take advantage of natural lighting © Tom Arber
“To reduce our reliance on the National Grid, we’ve also taken the decision to install solar panels on the roof of the brand-new music rehearsal suite.
“Whilst the solar panel array we’re installing won’t meet 100% of our electricity demand, by reducing the amount of electricity we need from the National Grid, we’ll reduce our carbon footprint as an organisation.
The Howard Opera Centre with the skyline of Leeds in the background © Tom Arber
“In our bid to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible, as fast as possible, we’ve removed gas entirely from the new bar and restaurant being built on New Briggate. This recognises the fact that the combusting of natural gas is a major contributor to global climate change.
“Our commitment to looking at things differently is further illustrated by our investment in a more intelligent building management system (BMS) which makes use of a large number of ‘sub meters’ to enable us to monitor exactly what energy is being used, when and by whom. Being able to track usage in this level of detail will ensure that we can run the estate efficiently, while ensuring that the building is still functional, comfortable and meets everyone’s needs.
The restaurant and bar area taking shape on New Briggate © Tom Arber
“As part of the Arts Council England Spotlight programme, Opera North is planning to become ISO 50001 compliant once the building opens to the public. This will ensure that we continue to innovate, finding new ways to reduce energy usage across the business.
“One example of this is that we’re already looking towards being connected to the Leeds PIPES district heating network as soon as it’s extended up New Briggate from The Headrow. This would enable us to stop using gas across the entire Howard Opera Centre and in the Howard Assembly Room which would be a fantastic achievement and make a real difference to our carbon footprint.”
Opera North's redevelopment sits in the heart of Leeds city centre © Tom Arber
Championing the environment is nothing new for Opera North, with the company’s work on sustainability being independently recognised in 2017 with the award of Best Newcomer at the Julie’s Bicycle ‘Creative Green’ awards.
The organisation has also declared a climate emergency as part of the Music Declares movement and, alongside ITV studios, was a founder member of the community interest company Sustainable Arts in Leeds which seeks to unite the city’s creative and cultural sector around climate change. As Jamie concludes:
“COP26 in November will provide another focus for us on the challenges presented by climate change and our role in bringing about better practice. We are already looking at how to make our productions more sustainable – and being in our new building which has been designed with the environment front of mind will ensure it remains central to everything we do.”