Orlando Jopling’s blog

Day 1 of clearoutSt George’s Hall – phase one of the clearout done.

3 vanloads to Emmaus, two collections by the scrap metal merchants, and an absolutely bursting skip later, the hall is clear of stuff. Left to my own devices, I would have ummhed and aahed about a hundred things, and it was great to have the clear head of Gemma from Emmaus quickly sifting through the huge piles of stuff; years of sorting making expert decisions about value and sellability. An enormous ancient battery-powered fork-lift proved problematic for a time, but succumbed to the combined willpower.

The good-humoured and hard-working team of volunteers, led by the unflappable and wonderful Brian and Wendy Bolton – and kept going by delicious lemon drizzle cake by Charlotte Scott-Barratt and tea, coffee and biscuits by Lindsay Wilson – then gave the space a first clean, dealing with most of the dust.

Patrick Shone climbed nimbly up a teetering ladder to the elegant tall arched windows and eased out all the broken glass, black with dust and spiders’ webs. There remains some pretty ancient pub chairs which will be pressed into service for the audience. Julia Havis suggested we ask the audience to bring their chairs, all adding to the sense of adventure. I thought it was a great idea but accepted that we have to be so careful with how we organise the temporary space that we can’t afford not to have serried rows of tidy chairs.

A century of dirt remains on the dark green wainscoting and other surfaces, which we’ll begin to tackle on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd August. I’m determined that the hall should be seen in its best light for the first test concert on 24th September, that magic moment when the first notes of a Bach cello suite float up into the impossibly high ceiling beams.

Hana Loftus of HAT Projects has drawn up a plan for the temporary seating, another plan for escape routes, and a verbal fire protocol – at once fascinatingly arcane and amazingly mundane. I am in awe of both Hana and Victoria’s powers of thinking ahead and solving things before they happen.

Pam King has taken the reins as Venue Manager. We couldn’t have found a more competent, thoughtful and can-do person. Sometimes fate just smiles – or more accurately Brian and Wendy persuade one of their old friends to save the day!

We made the exciting decision to go with Lindsay’s idea of allowing audience up onto the balcony, Patrick agreeing to add a plywood layer to the railings, for belt and braces safety. They’ll get a great view and will probably be asked to prom … perhaps we’ve been watching too much BBC4 over the summer.

We’re hoping that some Community Paypack people will come and help with the deep clean. I’m thinking of hanging silks to cover some of the awful 20th century intrusions. John Brunnning, classic FM presenter, suggested a pre-concert talk. I think that’s a great idea; people are so interested in the history of the place.

Lots to do! More at the end of August.

Orlando Jopling is Artistic Director of Roman River Music

This blog is about the venue for two test concerts.

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