Ellen Terry building revamp complete as builder recalls memories of the silver screen


Friday 21 October 2011

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While Coventry students look forward to the official opening of £450,000 worth of new facilities at the School of Art and Design during the University’s open day tomorrow (Saturday 22 October), one of the builders responsible for the modern day development is recalling childhood memories of the city’s former picture palace on Jordan Well.

The Ellen Terry Building, as it is now known by Coventry University students, originally opened in 1931 as the opulent 2,500-seat Gaumont Palace, complete with ballroom, a stage for live shows with triple colour-change lighting around the proscenium arch, an organ rising from the orchestra pit, and a restaurant above the art deco foyer.

By the 1970s the golden age of cinema was over, but the multi-screen Odeon was still charming movie goers – including a young Darren Wade, who worked on the University building project.

Before building work started in July 2011, 48 year-old Darren had not visited the old Odeon for 25 years. He said:

“As a young lad I came here for the Saturday morning picture show. They used to do a cheap rate; it was all kids’ pictures – Laurel and Hardy, cartoons and then a feature length film. This was the first time I’d walked into the building since it was taken over by the university, I couldn’t believe the changes that had taken place.”

Since Coventry University acquired the old cinema in 1998, it has been transformed into a multi-media learning environment replete with high spec computer suites, darkrooms and performance spaces; tailored to the needs of students of Photography, Performing Arts, Media, Video Production and Journalism.

Jonathan Shaw is the Associate Head of the Department of Media at Coventry University, and the driving force behind the latest developments at the Ellen Terry Building. He said:

“We’re constantly improving and updating the facilities and technology available, so that students have the best possible environment for their studies.

“The latest work has seen a variety of new flexible learning spaces added for each of our different subject areas – maximising space and giving students in each discipline a sense of community. There is a new swipe card security system, which means students no longer have to wait for tutors to gain access to work rooms; a practical measure which also gives a greater sense of ownership of the space. We have also coordinated the timetable to provide core teaching days, so students in the same year come together at the same times, which we hope will further improve the sense of community.

“Along with the installation of cutting edge technology, we have stripped away some of the bland partition structures like false ceilings, to give the more industrial feel of a work space. This has meant some of the cinema’s original features, like decorative art deco mouldings, have been uncovered. So students can enjoy the benefits of a thoroughly modern learning environment, whilst gaining a sense of the history of this great building.”

Builder Darren Wade was also pleased with the changes. He added:

“I could still see the building’s features, like the round staircase going to the top tier and where the main reception used to be the ticket office. It has always been known as a place where there is theatre, cinema and music, so for it to carry on being used for that is quite a nice idea.”

Prospective students will be able to view the University’s new media facilities during the Open Day tomorrow (Saturday 22 October) from 8.30am to 4.00pm.