Construction firm completes £3.4million renovation of Bristol’s oldest art gallery


Construction firm Beard has completed a £3.4million revamp of Bristol’s oldest art gallery.

Refurbishment of the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Clifton – which opened to the public in 1858 – began in May last year, with the aim of improving the accessibility of the grade II listed building.

The additional space and access created by the works – including the installation of a new exterior lift – now allow the attraction to welcome 40% more visitors per year.

Beard, who is 130 himself, said he undertook urgent structural repairs to the roof and masonry.

The refurbishment also included a remodeling of the Victorian building’s facade, improvements to the retail and reception area, the replacement of two extensive gallery roof lanterns, the expansion of the current cafe, as well as the installation new electrical, lighting, underfloor heating, toilets, changing rooms and a new catering kitchen.

Six huge arched windows have been stripped of sills and masonry below to create full-length glazed doors, allowing light to stream into the space and improving accessibility to the front of the building.

The new, three-metre-high ceramic-covered lift can carry four people in wheelchairs and their companions. This will also help the RWA’s management of rare and valuable works of art, as previously paintings and sculptures had to be carried up to the first floor gallery via the main stone staircase.

The works represented another major contract in the heritage sector for the Beard family business, which is headquartered in Swindon but also has an office in Bristol.

The £144m turnover firm has carried out a £5m refurbishment of a nearby Grade II listed Georgian building for the University of Bristol in nearby Berkley Square, and it is currently working on a £6.2million restoration of the historic Cleveland Pools lido in Bath.

Mike Hedges, director of construction company Beard, said: “Buildings like the RWA are so much more than just bricks and mortar, and to be trusted to work on such a historic building is a real honor.”

RWA director Alison Bevan said the renovation was the largest in the gallery’s 175-year history.

Ms Bevan added: “Without this work, we would have run the risk of having to close our doors permanently.

“There have been major repairs to make the building safe, such as replacing the roof lanterns and the elevator, but it has also given us the opportunity to completely reinvent our spaces and create a totally welcoming and accessible to all.”

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