Over the past twenty years, The Courtyard has made itself into an amazing centre for the arts and culture in Herefordshire, whether film or theatre or dance or music or the panto, featuring local work and visiting shows alike.
Over the past fifteen months, like other venues across the country, The Courtyard was forced to go dark by the pandemic, for the first time since its opening on the site of the old Nell Gwynne Theatre in 1998. But it has used that time superbly, to bring forward a major refurbishment programme through its "Transform The Yard" project.
Even through lockdowns and social distancing measures, the planned capital expansion project was able to go ahead. The result is that The Courtyard has reinvented itself once again, expanding its capacity and becoming more economically and environmentally sustainable.
I had a chance to visit The Courtyard again the other day, to go behind the scenes with board member Bruce Freeman and colleagues, and I must say it looks terrific.
The whole front-of-house area has been reshaped, with a new and fully accessible box office, an enlarged retail space for local arts and crafts, and a much larger cafe and bar area sponsored by Westons, which will still double as a jazz venue. And the food is just as good as ever.
There is a fabulous new performance space above the box office, with a semi-sprung floor--just the thing for a film or a small show, a conference or a wedding reception. The first floor bar area has been expanded as well, and thanks to sponsorship from Chase Distillery there is a light and airy new roof terrace where guests can relax on a summer evening.
This great project has been a long time in the making, and it has been a huge collective effort. But it has been well worth the wait. The Courtyard first received Arts Council England funding for this expansion back in 2018, and it has also secured crucial additional funding from trusts and foundations and significant public and corporate support. It should be a great boost not just to the arts and culture, but to tourism and the local economy.
As it relaunches, the Courtyard continues to feature a huge range of events, from virtual workshops and socially distanced film screenings to the onstage Hereford Academy of Dance Showcase in July. It's open now--why not go and visit?