Experienced Welsh contractor to transform Palace Theatre building

Swansea Council cabinet member Robert Francis-Davies, left, at the Palace Theatre building with Darryn Parry, managing director of principal contractor R&M Williams Ltd.

Swansea Council has appointed an experienced South Wales-based contractor to transform the city centre’s historic Palace Theatre building.

R&M Williams Ltd have a track record of working with heritage buildings, including £4m refurbishment projects at the grade two listed Penarth Pier Pavilion and Empire House, an iconic 1920s Cardiff landmark

They will now be main contractor at Swansea’s flatiron-shaped 133-year-old Palace, a grade two listed building that once staged performances with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The council acquired the six-storey High Street building from private owners around 20 months ago.

The derelict and dilapidated building from years of lack of use will be transformed sensitively into a home to tech, start-up and creative businesses. Planning permission and listed building consent have been granted.

Work will start in October and the building could reopen in 2023. The council has appointed Tramshed Tech as the lead tenant to run the building.

Council leader Rob Stewart said: “I welcome R&M Williams Ltd to this excellent project that will bring new life to one of Swansea’s most iconic buildings.

“The Palace is an important part of the city centre’s £1bn transformation and the appointment of a main contractor with great heritage experience is a big step forward.

“This building has strong connections with Swansea’s proud cultural past as well as being part of its future.

“We’re now working with a number of high-quality partners to rescue the building by restoring it for future generations.”

Robert Francis-Davies, the council’s cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said: “I’m delighted that a high-quality Welsh construction firm will be part of this prestigious project that will help regenerate the immediate area and the rest of the city centre.

“There’s still some way to go to bring this landmark building to life once more but the progress as we’ve worked with partners behind the scenes through the pandemic has been very encouraging.”

Darryn Parry, managing director of R&M Williams Ltd, said: “R&M are delighted to be appointed as principal contractor to undertake the restoration of the iconic Palace Theatre building.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with our client, designers and the local supply chain.

“The R&M project team will strive deliver the Palace in line with the client’s expectations and will look to draw from our collective learning and experience of delivering similar schemes throughout South Wales, many of which have gone forward to receive acclaim and national recognition.”

The business was named the Federation of Master of Builders Welsh contractor of the year 2021.

Lee Waters, the Welsh Government’s Deputy Minister for Climate Change, said: “I would like to congratulate everyone involved in this project.

“Through our Transforming Towns programme, we are providing £136m to further support the economic and social recovery of our town and city centres across Wales and our Town Centre First policy, embedded in Wales’ national development plan Future Wales, means that town and city centre sites should be the first consideration for all decisions on the location of workplaces and services.”

Tramshed Tech CEO Louise Harris said: “At Tramshed Tech we are delighted to be able to kick off our partnership with our new colleagues on this landmark project, to be housed in such an iconic building as the Palace Theatre.

“For us, this marks a key stage in our support for the development of the digital and tech scene in Swansea, working with Swansea Council and our new contractor partners, to restore this once-glorious building to its former glory as part of the city centre’s £1bn transformation, with tech and digital as key drivers for the city’s growth.”

The Palace was last used around 15 years ago as a nightclub. Other uses had included bingo hall and cinema.

The new vision for the building includes workspaces for more than 130 people.

The building’s structure will be maintained with the retention and restoration of original historic features and the reinstatement of other historic features.

Works to the exterior will include repairs to and restoration of the facade stonework, brickwork and roof. Canopies will be reinstated of both historical main entrances. There will be the repair or like-for-like replacement of timber window frames and doors. There will be new pavement lighting, pavement improvements and an accessible parking bay within close proximity.

The auditorium balustrading will be restored and reinstated and have the ability to accommodate small scale events.

The existing floors will be repaired and will look down towards a stage – as the original theatre audiences did.

On behalf of Swansea Council, GWP Architecture is leading the Palace project.

Funding is being sought from the European Regional Development Fund and the Welsh Government, via the Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns programme for the project.

The main contractor was selected in a competitive tender process.