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Sheila Bird Studio gives new life to Manchester’s iconic New Century Hall

In this revamped music venue and dining destination, mid-century influences are reconsidered for a new one.

31/05/2023

4 min read

Project Team

  • Interior Designer

    Sheila Bird Studio, Sheppard Robson

  • Architect

    Sheppard Robson

  • Lighting Designer

    Artin Light

This article first appeared in Mix Interiors #224

Words: Harry McKinley


Manchester and music: two things as synonymous with each other – as British – as tea and biscuits, Richard and Judy, and politics and poor choices. Rhythm flows through the city and its archetypal red bricks are dense with rock history. At times it feels that one cannot swing a can of Vimto without hitting a venue that once hosted Oasis, New Order or The Smiths.

In the case of New Century, a recently-opened performance, events and social space, it was Jimi Hendrex, The Rolling Stones and Tina Turner.

Built in the early 1960s, the building was once owned by the Co-operative Group – by day a conference centre in a relatively drab part of town, close to Victoria Station and a pre-cool, even shabby Northern Quarter. By night, its dance hall moonlit as a live music venue, hosting luminaries and later, in the 1980s, raucous club nights.

In recent years the neighbourhood (rebranded NOMA), has seen something of an uptick and the building, languishing in disuse since the Co-op moved to a shiny new HQ opposite, caught the eye of local studio Sheila Bird.

“We wanted to bring the space back to life in the best way possible,” says its founder, Atul Bansal, “to reignite the soul of a building that has sat completely empty for 10 years. We want to welcome a new era of dancers back into the space and celebrate a fresh chapter of live music, performance and food and drink.”

In its reinvented guise, New Century now encompasses three floors of variably used spaces, but with music a powerful common thread. In the basement lies a new campus for dBs Institute – training the next generation of musicians, sound engineers and producers. It’s a state-of-the-art facility and one of the few training venues in the UK conjoined with a commercial music business, giving students the opportunity to apply their learning in a ‘real world’ environment, with local paying punters; also the first educational project tackled by Sheila Bird.

More interesting for the musically-inclined public are the floors above. At New Century Kitchen, small-scale independent vendors huddle around the edge of a 10,000 sq ft, 300-cover space – a natty bar in the middle and small stage at the front for evening gigs. Although clearly of our times, the design leans heavily on mid- century cues, with elegant wood furnishings (some new, some reused), period-inspired light fittings and a muted colour palette ripe with browns and burnt orange. The kitchen passes feature recycled plastic and there’s an honesty in how the bones of the building are celebrated – pitted concrete walls left exposed and a terrifically epochal coffered ceiling given only a spit and polish.

“We wanted to create a warm, inviting and inclusive atmosphere, whilst championing original features,” says Georgia Ingleton, senior designer at Sheila Bird and project lead. “We wanted the ground floor to be as transitional as possible from day to night. The booths are a favourite and create a cosy evening atmosphere, with low level feature lighting. The original timber wall panelling from the first floor has been re-created within the ground floor bar, as we aimed to create subtle nods to the existing textures of the building, whilst introducing new and sustainable elements to the design.”

A private nook, the Boyson Bar, is inspired by the work of Alan Boyson, the celebrated, Manchester-born muralist and sculptor. During renovations, one of his grand murals from the 1960s was discovered, having lain covered and forgotten for years. Though it’s currently back-of-house, part of a more handsome than usual team meeting room, photography of this and other Boyson works was commissioned, dressing the walls of the bar.

Upstairs, the ballroom feels compellingly frozen in time: with hardwood walls and a carving flanked stage. Yet while the aesthetics are appealingly period, the technology is today’s – the original, multidimensional ceiling refitted with boldly-coloured adaptable lighting, part of an overall lighting scheme created by Luke Artingstall.

“The space is designed with creativity and collaboration at its forefront, with the music students in the basement able to work and perform on the ground floor or first floor stage; the ground floor, then, somewhere people can meet and share good food and a drink, whilst ideas flow. From a design perspective it was essential that all floors converse with each other to reflect the connectivity through the building,” explains Jon Humphreys, Sheila Bird Co-owner and Creative Partner. “From a vintage clothes stall one week to a live poetry performance another, inclusivity breathes through the project in so many ways, enticing those from all walks of life. New Century fills a gap in the market in Manchester and the building has always been part of the city’s rich pop culture heritage; we’ve just added to the journey whilst keeping true to its original purpose.”

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