What’s outside The Box – Tavistock Place gets transformed

Paul Brookes, interim chief executive of The Box, with Council leader Tudor Evans (centre) and Shadow leader Ian Bowyer

What a place! Tavistock Place is changing in front of our eyes as work on Plymouth’s awesome cultural project, The Box goes into the final furlong.

The contractors this week handed over two parts of the Box complex to the team, ready for the ‘reload’ of over two million fascinating objects to get underway early in the New Year. Outside, what was once a back road is being transformed into a new public square with granite pavements and trees.

The arts complex is set to be the biggest cultural opening in the UK next year – Plymouth’s momentous Mayflower year – and the build has involved conserving, updating and extending the former museum and library and re-imagining St Luke’s Church, as well as creating the spectacular cantilevered ‘Archive in the Sky’. A detailed report sets out some of the benefits The Box has brought to the city before it has even opened. The figures from Willmott Dixon, the contractors are impressive:
• 79 per cent local spend for suppliers and materials

• 16 apprentices employed

• 1,300 waged training weeks on site

• 60 new industry qualifications across the site workforce

• 28 work experience placements facilitated

• 11 jobs created through the National Skills Academy for Construction

• 32 career events hosted, engaging with over 1,000 students

• Worked with the Prince’s Trust and Supporting Women into Construction


Council leader Tudor Evans OBE said: “We have always said that the Box should be a game changer for the city and it’s brilliant to see the construction phase alone making such a difference to so many people and to our businesses. We made it clear in the Willmott Dixon contract that we wanted this phenomenal project to provide real life experience and examples for young people interested in developing their skills and qualifications and they have absolutely delivered.”

The report also details the challenges which have led to the team asking the Council for an extra £2 million to complete the project, bringing the Council’s total contribution to £22 million. The latest approved budget for the Box is £44.452m and is made up of £40.531m capital and £3.91million revenue.

Restoring the national collection of ships’ figureheads turned out to be much more expensive than expected. The incredible ships’ emblems – some of which date back to 1830 – proved to be more fragile than conservationists had anticipated, with the scale of the task only clear when the figures were stripped back.

Internal rot was discovered in the core of many of the figureheads. Many had to be dried out and timbers treated. In some the damage was so far gone that sections had to be cut out and replaced with new carvings. The rot added a further £500,000 to The Box’s price tag and is one of a number items that the Council is being asked to fund as the construction phase ends.

Additional work was needed on the site at North Hill, particularly strengthening the structure and condition of St Luke’s Church, which was in a far worse state than expected. Complex remedial works had to be carried out to ensure the structural integrity of the building. Complex negotiations with South West Water about drainage to the south of the site also led to more costs. The Council worked with the water company to install new infrastructure – drains capable of hold surface water and reduce flood risk.

The new scheme was not part of the initial capital programme and now includes work to vastly improve the public space to the south of the site. The design timescale unfortunately did not quite tally with programme for the improvement scheme at Charles Street so final resurfacing for the Charles Street scheme was delayed slightly to enable drainage work to be carried out. These connections are now finished and drainage work on Tavistock Place include a new underground attenuation tank and connections to the new drainage is underway.

Councillor Evans added: “We are in the final furlong and while no-one wants to see costs go up, we are too near to the end – and the start of something quite incredible – to scale back on our ambition. We want this to be as brilliant as it can be. We began demolition on January 2017 and two years later we will be beginning the reload of the city’s collections. For a project of this scale, it’s pretty good going.”

Shadow leader Ian Bowyer added: “To not give financial support at this stage would be unthinkable. This project is already changing lives in Plymouth. The figureheads have captured the public’s imagination and have put this city on people’s radars across the country. We need to hold our nerve.”

The latest update also confirms that the Box will open on Sundays, giving thousands of Plymouth families and holiday makers a great place to visit all year round, whatever the weather. Galleries will open to the public six days a week, while on Mondays the venue will be reserved for school visits as well as corporate hires.