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Heritage Brighton buildings reopen in bid to become UK cultural landmark

An “incredibly iconic” Brighton arts and heritage space has reopened its doors as part of a multi-million regeneration project to make it a UK cultural landmark.

Brighton Dome’s Grade I and Grade II-listed Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre underwent a six-year revamp costing £38 million, in a bid to draw in international and local artists and visitors to the historic site.

The Corn Exchange and main concert hall was originally built as a stable block and riding house in 1803 by the Prince Regent, Prince George, to complement his seaside palace, Brighton Pavilion.

Brighton Dome refrubishment
A view of Brighton Dome’s newly refurbished Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre buildings after the six-year-project (PA)

The Royal Pavilion Estate, which includes Brighton Dome, came into public ownership in 1850.

Among its features, a golden horse with balloons hangs from the ceiling and 1800s original wooden beams have been restored to fill the 550-seat Corn Exchange theatre space.

During a soft opening earlier this year of the Van Gogh Alive exhibition, the venue attracted more than 78,000 visitors, and live performances beginning in November have sold out, the site’s boss said.

Chief executive of Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, Andrew Comben, told the PA news agency: “It is an incredibly iconic building and set of buildings, and for many people they define what Brighton is about.

Brighton Dome refrubishment
Andrew Comben, chief executive of Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival sits in the newly refurbished Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre buildings (PA)

“So making those as exciting as they possibly can be and as inviting as they possibly can be feels like a no brainer for us and for the city at large.

“We help to drive the local economy to really inspire visitors to come and to explore the wider region. So it has been a really vitally important regeneration project from that perspective, and then for our longer-term sustainability, not just us as an organisation but us as a city. That’s really important.”

The buildings have seen “a lot of life” with multiple uses over the years, from being a hospital that treated Indian soldiers in the First World War to a women’s roller-skating football space.

Evidence of soldiers smoking on the roof and a collection of letters believed to belong to patients were discovered during the refurbishment.

This is the first phase of a wider project by Brighton and Hove City Council, Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, and Brighton and Hove Museums to make the Royal Pavilion Estate a landmark heritage destination in the UK.

They hope once the full project is complete for the sites to bring in 1.5 million visitors and £68 million to the city’s economy.