Little Scotland’s Corby Cube

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Within the triangle formed by Leicester, Peterborough and Northampton, in the East Midlands region of England, there sits a town with an unlikely demographic, shaped by its industrial past. During the 1930s, Corby attracted so many Scottish steelworkers it was dubbed ‘Little Scotland’. It’s a legacy that lives on. Even today it is thought that around two thirds of the population of fifty three thousand is Scottish or has Scottish descent, which is obvious in both the accent and in the celebration, locally, of Scottish cultural events.

While the Scottish legacy may live on, the reason for its existence died off more than a quarter of a century ago, when the steel industry collapsed, leaving Corby, like many British towns, with an identity crisis. And like so many other places in the UK, a collective transition to a modern, sustainable form, hasn’t been easy. But with a combination of private and public funding, its establishment as a centre for distribution, IT and manufacturing, and a focus on culture, ‘Little Scotland’ is currently working through a programme of regeneration, the flagship of which is its brilliant new building, Corby Cube.

Designed by architects Hawkins\Brown, the striking glass structure boasts a library, one stop council services shop, registry office, council chamber, rooftop garden and café. Positioned at the base of the building are two exciting community arts facilities: The Core, a multi configurable theatre with a seating capacity of four hundred and fifty or standing capacity of seven hundred, and The Lab, a sixty to ninety seat studio space. Theatre consultants Charcoalblue worked closely with Hawkins\Brown to create the performance spaces within challenging structural parameters. By carrying out study tours, the Charcoalblue team, led by Design Director Gavin Green, concluded that The Core should echo something from the West End, citing The Old Vic Theatre, specifically, as suitable inspiration. As Gavin explained, the need for flexibility was paramount, “One of the challenges was the space needed to be able to do flat floor and proscenium, and a more open end stage. So we developed this concept of a jewel box auditorium, embracing a stage, but hidden into that is this level of flexibility, where you can remove the bulk of the stall seating.” The room is a three tiered, Victorian style theatre, complete with classic horseshoe balconies, which instils drama and tension through a real sense of intimacy.

Talking about specifying the technology elements of the theatre environments, “There are many high quality loudspeaker systems available for use in theatre and, of course, the merits of each particular manufacturer is, in part a subjective decision,” says Charcoalblues’s Ian Stickland. “We are continually meeting different manufacturers, listening to new products and also talking to sound designers to see what is proving popular in real world environments. Across all designers and consultants d&b are consistently among the highest regarded manufacturers because, simply put, they make excellent sounding loudspeakers. In addition to this, the ability to use a wide range of loudspeakers with the same amplifier, a sizeable support and hire network, and a very well controlled off axis response, mean they are an attractive choice for many theatres.” “We work in such an exciting and fast developing industry that new equipment is always being developed and technology is continually evolving” adds Charcoalblue’s Paul Crosbie. “In order to meet the brief, and provide the best possible installation for the theatre we must fully interrogate every equipment choice. The challenge for us is to remain on the front edge of the technology, without being sidetracked by passing trends.” The Lab has been designed with ease of operation in mind as the space is mainly used for rehearsals. A smaller d&b audiotechnik sound system with Tascam CD player provides playback and a comprehensive lighting rig with an ETC Smart Fade desk means allowing practice groups to use the room with minimal fuss.

Projects the size of Corby Cube don’t just materialise overnight; with so many stakeholders involved in various elements of the building, the timescales tend to be long and the processes at times laboured. But the satisfaction that those involved seem to get from stepping back once the project is finished and casting a proud eye over their work clearly eclipses the tribulation. On his involvement in Corby Cube, Stage Electrics’ Martin Woodage reflects: “I’m really proud of this, it’s a fantastic job to be part of, and it’s nice to come here and show it off. When you see it in the newspapers and on TV, it’s nice to think: ‘I was involved in that’.”

With acknowledgement to mondo dr for some of the editorial content and Mike Lethby for the photographs.

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