Blackpool Tower Ballroom undergoes £1.1m refurb and prepares to reopen

Blackpool gets ready for its Strictly comeback! Resort’s historic Tower Ballroom prepares for dance show return with £1.1m lockdown refurb that unearthed old newspapers left by workers in 1911

  • Legendary Blackpool Tower Ballroom has undergone the most extensive refurbishment in more than 60 years
  • Iconic venue usually hosts Strictly Come Dancing special but last year the event was cancelled due to Covid
  • While it was closed due to the pandemic, huge £1.1m refurbishment was carried out by specialist craftspeople
  • Team made up of some of the most highly skilled craftsmen in the country dedicated more than 21,000 hours
  • In six month period, workers climbed average of 85 flights of scaffolding a day to complete the huge project

The Blackpool Tower Ballroom is one step closer to reopening its doors and welcoming back Strictly Come Dancing after undergoing a £1.1million refurbishment. 

The iconic ballroom, located in the Grade 1 Listed Blackpool Tower, is hoping to re-open on June 21, providing the Government’s latest road-map out of lockdown goes to plan.

The venue, which dates back to 1894 and is known by millions as the home to Strictly Come Dancing’s annual ballroom special, has undergone the most extensive programme of work and deep clean for more than 60 years.

The work has also uncovered some incredibly rare and unusual finds – all discovered in the angel figures adorning the ballroom ceiling.

These have included newspapers dating back to 1911, old cigarette packs which would be museum pieces today and even an old walking stick, believed to date back to the early fifties.

Last year, BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing cancelled its annual Blackpool special due to the Covid pandemic.

The iconic Blackpool Tower ballroom is one step closer to being reopened after an extensive £1.1million refurbishment

During the work, the team uncovered historic newspaper cuttings and cigarette packets behind fibrous ornate plaster work

Pictured: Fibrous plasterer Lucas Withey working on the ornate ceiling during the restoration of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Strictly usually travels to Blackpool for one weekend towards the middle of the series in November, with the remaining celebrity couples getting the chance to perform in the legendary Tower Ballroom.

Taking advantage of the lockdown, a team, including some of the most highly skilled craftsmen in the country dedicated more than 21,000 hours, over a period of six months to restore the historic venue.

Workers each climbed an average of 85 flights of scaffolding daily to restore the famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom to its original glory.

The team has discovered signatures under the murals that adorn the ornate plasterwork ceiling showing the last time anyone was in this space was in 1957.

These historic works took place following a fire in the building which caused severe damage to the ballroom.

At the time, these works were estimated to cost over half a million pounds and took 17 months to complete.

Strictly usually travels to Blackpool for a weekend towards the middle of the series in November, with the remaining celebrity couples getting the chance to perform in the legendary Tower Ballroom but it was cancelled last season due to coronavirus. Pictured: Alex Scott MBE and Neil Jones performing at the Tower Ballroom in 2019 during the show’s last visit to the venue

The venue, which dates back to 1894 and is located in the Grade 1 listed Blackpool Tower (pictured), has undergone the most extensive programme of work and deep clean for more than 60 years after receiving funding for works from Historic England

The work was led by Hayles and Howe, specialists in ornamental plaster work and scagliola.

It has been made possible thanks to a lifeline grant of £764,000 as part of the Government’s unprecedented £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, together with funding from Blackpool Council, taking the total investment to £1.1million.

The grant, awarded to Blackpool Council by Historic England, has supported the venue to carry out comprehensive repair and restoration work on the ballroom’s period plasterwork ceiling.

Keith Langton, project manager, said: ‘I thought Buckingham Palace had the wow factor – which obviously it absolutely did.

‘But working here at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom has literally blown me away. This really is something else.

‘It is a project I will never forget – and perhaps even a project for me to retire on.

‘Everyone wants to end their career on a high – and I don’t think I could get a better high than working at the Ballroom.

Project manager Keith Langton, pictured viewing the work, said this was one of the most impressive projects of his career

Workers such as specialist painter Peter Baker (pictured) climbed average of 85 flights of scaffolding daily in six month period

Pictured: Fibrous plasterer Lucas Withey working on the ornate ceiling during the restoration of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom

‘It has been an absolute pleasure and honour!’

He has, however, warned of the desperate need to recruit more young craftspeople into what he describes as a ‘rare trade.’

Keith added: ‘We are just not seeing enough young people coming through.

‘Fibrous plastering – the key trade being used on the refurbishment – is becoming a rare trade and we just cannot allow this to happen.

‘Without people being skilled in this way, buildings like this would be forced to close. It is essential more young people take up careers in this sector.

‘Literally everywhere I go, in this country and abroad, I make it a priority to pass on as many skills as possible to as many people as possible – hopefully inspiring them all along the way!’

Detail on the ornate ceiling of the iconic ballroom which is usually host to the Strictly Come Dancing special once a year

A team, including some of the most highly skilled craftsmen in the country dedicated more than 21,000 hours to the project

This the longest period of time in its history the ballroom has been closed, with the exception of the fire in 1956/7.

Historic England has worked closely with the expert team leading the work on site.

Tamsin Cooke, Heritage at Risk Projects Officer at Historic England, said: ‘It really is incredible to see the work which has gone on here – which is exactly as it would have been carried out when the ballroom was built all those years ago, those traditional methods are still being used today. This is a very historical moment for Blackpool.

‘This is an extremely rare and precious building. Only one in 40 Listed Buildings are given Grade 1 Listed status.

‘Blackpool is a real icon of British seaside. And the ballroom is a real jewel in Blackpool’s crown!

‘The Culture Recovery Fund grant awarded by Historic England for the repair work has been a great opportunity.

The work, led by Hayles and Howe, specialists in ornamental plaster work and scagliola, has also uncovered some incredibly rare and unusual finds – all discovered in the angel figures adorning the ballroom ceiling. Pictured: specialist Lucas Withey

Pictured: Fibrous plasterer Ethan Brown cleaning sculptures above the stage during the restoration of the Tower Ballroom

‘This is a huge grant for Historic England to award but we are extremely excited about the opportunity to make a difference to such a well-known and well-loved location – not just for today’s visitors – but for generations to come.

‘It is so important to preserve buildings such as this and a ballroom which dancers and families world-wide enjoy so much!’ 

Kenny Mew, General Manager of The Blackpool Tower, said he cannot wait to re-open the ballroom.

He added: ‘The works which have been carried out really are something very special. This is a once in a lifetime project that I feel incredibly fortunate to have been involved in.

‘We cannot wait to reopen our doors and invite the public to experience the splendour of The Blackpool Tower Ballroom first hand, whether they are taking to the dancefloor, enjoying afternoon tea or simply taking in the incredible surroundings.

‘Due to the Coronavirus pandemic the ballroom has now been closed for over 12 months, we are hoping to re-open on June 21, if the Government’s continued road map out of lockdown goes to plan!’

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage added: ‘The Blackpool Tower Ballroom has been at the heart of British dance for more than a century, annually hosting the Strictly Come Dancing Blackpool special.

‘I am delighted that, thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund, the ballroom has been fully restored and is getting ready to reopen and host fantastic dances and events once more.’ 

Strictly Come Dancing will be back with a bang this winter,  and is expected to return to Blackpool as part of its 13-show run.

The famous dancing competition’s annual trip to Blackpool is also on the schedule, after being scrapped last year in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

BBC bosses are currently in talks with Strictly staff and professional dancers including Katya Jones, 31, ahead of its nineteenth season.

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