The Story of our Move from The Briggait to The Kelvin Hall (Part 1)

From The Briggait to The Kelvin Hall (Part 1)

It was the end of November and a typical Monday at Aerial Edge. Coffee followed by meetings, followed by more meetings. Stewart and I had just finished a payroll review, when an ominous message that would change everything buzzed onto my phone screen.

Mark: “Call me as soon as you are free.”

Back at The Briggait, I locked myself in the office alone to hear the news that I’d been hoping not to. The computer screen lit up, despite the shaky internet connection, as my boss (Aerial Edge’s director Mark Gibson) broke the news that we’d just been issued our 4 weeks’ notice to vacate The Briggait.

The lines on his face were etched with worry, and unsurprisingly so. We’d been expecting this news to come at some point due to the eventual planned renovation of the space, but a year of delays to the project had left us with a false sense of security that nothing would move until at least April when the financial year had come to a close. What we hadn’t predicted however, were the mounting costs of the temporary roof repairs that had been necessary recently. The bad weather and worsening state of the roof meant that it was becoming increasingly challenging to operate in the Briggait’s backspace, and our landlords couldn’t keep putting money into short term solutions. It was definitely time for a change, but to where? We’d looked at a bunch of spaces a year ago, but most of those had now been let. Without a venue we would have nowhere to run classes from, and with nowhere to run classes from this would quickly mean 15 members of staff without a job, not to mention hundreds of disappointed students whose training plans would be cancelled.

Our first task was to call a staff meeting where I broke the news to the rest of the team with an assured ‘we’re doing everything we can too fix this.’ A room full of concerned faces stared back at me. I can’t let them down. That weekend we drove around Glasgow looking at a string of empty warehouses and churches. Mark (who was sporting a recent training injury) hobbled, doing his best not to wince in pain every time we stepped across the uneven ground of warehouses in undesirable parts of town. “Just think of the potential for this one!” I would exclaim, determined to remain positive. “A two mile walk to the underground can’t really be that bad, can it?”

Only three weeks to go and we’d be out. I was getting worried. What if we didn’t find somewhere else? What if we found somewhere that was too far out of town for our students to travel to? What if we have to close!? The list of ‘what if’s’ was endless. But, I didn’t want another job. I didn’t want to go and work in a regular office, or go back to my previous life in retail. I’m passionate about Aerial Edge and couldn’t let all of our dedicated students down. The show must go on.

At Aerial Edge, we get roughly 250 people through the door each month, many of them coming back to train three or four times a week. That was too many people to disappoint. We had to find a solution, even if it meant pitching a tent on Glasgow Green!

While Mark and I fretted over the venue conundrum, we didn’t want to impart the same sense of concern to our student base. We knew that the idea that we had less than 3 weeks left on our lease and nowhere to go might unsettle everyone (to say the least!) so we made the decision not to publicise the news until we were confident that we’d secured a new home.

Our hunt for an alternative space led me upstairs in The Briggait to see Kirsty from Inhouse, to explain our predicament. The 1873 Hall (the large front hall of the Briggait) was available for 6 weeks from mid January to March. Booking this would at least provide us with the continuity we needed to run Flying Trapeze classes, satisfying the hundreds of gift voucher recipients, which we were selling like hotcakes over the Christmas period. Our landlords (Wasps Artists Studios) were also being proactive about our situation and had gone to their contacts in Glasgow City Council to plead our case. A week later we were standing in the foyer of The Kelvin Hall shaking hands with Brian, the area manager for Glasgow Sport.

Brian led us to the back of the building, through pristine and unfamiliar corridors until we were standing in a space large enough to be an aircraft hangar. Phase 2 of the Kelvin Hall had just had the roof replaced, he explained. Eventually there would be exhibitions and library archives but at the moment it was basically a building site. We checked the height of the roof. Over 10 meters. Perfect!

After a long chat, Brian was happy to recommend us to his superiors. All we had to do was supply him with the right paperwork. Paperwork which would keep us in the office until well past midnight to prepare.

Despite the positive meeting at Kelvin Hall, we knew that nothing was set in stone. There were numerous potential hurdles, not least that the space was still under the management of the contractors who were working on upgrading other parts of the building now that the roof was done. There was also the small matter of the fact it was now only two weeks before Christmas. A time when most offices are winding down for the year, and productivity is hindered by celebration boxes, Secret Santas and parties.

Only two weeks to go and we’d be out. I was booking vans and staff for the move on a wing and a prayer that we’d actually have somewhere to move into. We already had a calendar full of bookings for January the 4th, so the pressure was on.

Back at The Briggait, more building-related bad news was brewing: Wasps had just been given the news that the funding gap for The Briggait Creation Centre would not be bridged by public funds, meaning that the project, 10 years in the making, would no longer be viable. Alex, Head of the Special Projects department of Glasgow Life was in attendance at the meeting, so Mark took the opportunity to raise our venue troubles with him. The other companies present: Surge, Dancehouse, Independence and YDance were also deeply concerned for us. They couldn’t imagine that such a huge problem could be resolved in the timescales.

Two days later we were back on the dusty floor of Phase two at Kelvin Hall, this time with Alex a group of council officials, who had just been made aware of our situation.

The team from Glasgow Life were sympathetic and proactive. While there were a number of logistical and legal hurdles, they would do their best to get us access to the space, but couldn’t promise a date. This assurance was a small weight off our shoulders and half-relieved, we headed to the nearest bar to celebrate before spreading the good news to the rest of the team: “Hey guys- we’re still in business! You’ll all still have a job!”

The issue of the date of entry, however, was still a major concern, so I made some phone calls to the groups who were booked for January 4th. “If anything goes wrong,” I explained, “we might need to move your bookings to later in the year, or refund you.” Neither option was particularly appealing.

It was now mid December and with no lease agreement in place yet with Kelvin Hall we were reluctant to make any premature announcements about the new venue, due to the risk of jeopardising the whole thing. Still, we had to make people aware that we were going somewhere! We put out an announcement that we were moving to a top-secret location one that we would be able to announce just as soon as the ink was dry on the paperwork. Paperwork that I was praying would materialise soon.

Meanwhile, I was also in the throes of another logistical crisis. I’d contacted numerous hire companies, but the two 25ft Genie lifts we needed to dismantle (and re-assemble) the aerial rig were proving harder to come by than expected. One guy told me that all of his had been sent down to Liverpool for a job. Another company only had one to spare. Could it really be the case that there was not a Genie lift in Glasgow for love nor money? Finally I managed to track two down, but it was becoming clear that nothing about this move was going to be easy.

Our last classes of the year drew to a close on the 21st of December when we immediately began the herculean task of dismantling a whole Circus School. I’d been so pre-occupied with the logistics of the move that I still hadn’t done any Christmas shopping. It was going to have to wait. Instead of a Christmas list, I was writing an equipment list and Santa’s little helpers were clad from head to toe in rigging gear. Our sleigh of choice was hired from Arnold Clark. Worryingly, our application to rent in Kelvin Hall was still grinding through the mechanisms of the council’s legal team who needed to draw up numerous new agreements before leasing the space. This was getting nail bitingly close to the bone.

Halfway into the last working day of the year and The Briggait was already looking bare. A sense of nostalgia tinged the frantic pace at which the team were working, all eager to have some time off before Christmas day. Finally, mid afternoon on December 21st, just as the last of the piece of truss from the aerial rig came to rest on the concrete floor, the email we’d been waiting for finally arrived.

“I’m happy to to confirm that the proposal discussed has now been agreed and the space prepared for you to move in next week.” PHEW! The team let out a collective sign of relief. This was as good an excuse as any to down tools and celebrate with a generous helping of Christmas Pudding. We’d need all the calories we could get to prepare us for the heavy lifting over the next two weeks.

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