Chichester Festival Theatre

Five years ago, the Chichester Festival Theatre (CFT) was in urgent need of a 21st Century upgrade. The theatre reopened in July 2014 following the capital project RENEW. Read their story.

Chichester Festival Theatre's key learnings from its capital project included the importance of investing time and effort as a client to keep the project progressing to your brief and of challenging consultants to deliver the project to your brief.

“Don’t leave everything to the consultants and make sure that you have understanding within the organisation of the benefits of what is being proposed. Financially you may have to make decisions about what to cut and this can only be done as part of a bigger picture.”

Five years ago, the Chichester Festival Theatre (CFT) was in urgent need of a 21st Century upgrade. The Grade II listed building had served the company well since it was built in 1962. However originally built on a budget to operate for an 11 week summer festival with 75,000 visitors, it was now operating year round with over 300,000 visitors annually. The theatre reopened in July 2014 following the capital project RENEW; a major restoration and renewal incorporating a remodelled auditorium, bigger foyer spaces, an improved parkland setting and a new back of house extension.


The project cost was £22 million. The award of a £12 million capital grant from Arts Council England in July 2012 immediately unlocked an additional £8 million in pledged local support from businesses, trusts and individuals, and, most notably, from West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council who pledged £1.5 million and £500,000 respectively. Planning permission and listed building consent had already been granted in 2011. A further £1.2 million awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in December 2012 supported the restoration of the Grade II listed features and implementation of a three-year heritage engagement project. CFT was proud to achieve a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating for its upgraded building.


Sustainability formed an integral part of the design process from early on. The aspiration was to achieve a low-energy design through intelligent reuse of the existing building and a new build extension; incorporating a ground source heat pump, (GHSP), energy efficient technologies and low-water use sanitary facilities. The key aspects of the environmental strategy were proposed by the Mechanical and Electrical Services consultants and architects and developed during the design process.

The building uses a GHSP with a closed and open loop which uses the stored heat of the earth and groundwater underneath Oakland’s Park to support building heating and cooling. Extra insulation of the auditorium roof regulates temperature and reduces the sound of rainfall during performances.

Building Management System

A building management system (BMS) has been installed to monitor heating and cooling systems and efficiently manage energy use. The BMS controls the major plant, including the GSHP, and is specified to minimise heating and cooling needs. Since July 2014, the installation engineers, CFT’s Mechanical and Electrical consultant and the Building Services team have worked to ensure that the system is monitoring and reacting appropriately to the changing internal and external environment in public and backstage areas. CFT views the first 12 months and quarterly seasonal commissioning as an opportunity to fine-tune the technology and BMS monitoring to create benchmark figures for future years.


Energy efficient lighting and controls have been introduced. Where possible all backstage lights are now LED. PIR (movement) detectors have been fitted to lights in back of house rooms and all front of house toilets. CFT has also undertaken a programme of replacing inefficient bulbs in lighting rigs.


Recycled or sustainably sourced materials were used where possible. The theatre’s original maple stage floor was restored and re-laid in the green room and meeting room. The existing auditorium seat frames were re-upholstered. Landscaping materials included paving made from clay drudged during the maintenance of Dutch flood defences and external paving with cockleshells collected during gravel extraction in southern England.

Chichester Festival Theatre’s construction contractor, Osborne, achieved a Bronze Award in the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) 2015 National Site Awards. Measures to reduce construction impacts included building the site roadway from the crushed aggregate from the demolition, and creating a bund in the park so that moved earth could be kept on site, reducing transport.

Non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive

As part of its redevelopment the Chichester Festival Theatre installed a ground source heat pump, eligible for payments under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI application process was very detailed and required technical understanding and consultation with Ofgem to ensure compliance. Its recommendation to other organisations applying for RHI payments is to make sure that the application is either included within the installation contract or that they have the resources to make the application in-house, and, if a sub-contractor is making the application, to involve someone in-house to follow the process.


CFT employed an ecology consultant during the design stage who, having provided a survey of the site and surrounding areas, worked alongside the Landscape Designer to ensure that their design both enhanced the site ecology and biodiversity in the long-term and mitigated short term impacts during construction. Planting was done with reference to the Sussex Biodiversity Action Plan. The plants include a high proportion of species with known value to wildlife and include a substantial element of low maintenance, drought-tolerant species. Short term measures included an agreement that no vegetation clearance take place between March and August to protect nesting birds. Additional nest boxes were also supplied. When dead wood was removed, it was retained on-site to be used as wood piles to protect invertebrates.

Since July 2014, additional works have been underway to complete the landscaping and rectify problems such as compacted sub-soil. Once the works have been completed, CFT will take over responsibility for landscape maintenance from the sub-contractor and a more sensitive management system will be adopted with plans to encourage woodpiles and wild areas, and plant a wildflower meadow. CFT continues to work closely with Transition Chichester which manages an organic community orchard on the boundary of the parkland. In due course, CFT will work with Chichester District Council and Transition Chichester to invite Sussex Wildlife Trust to carry out relevant studies.


Sustaining Creativity