The trials, tribulations, challenges and fun of managing Health and Safety in a Grade One listed building, from Andrew Cameron, our Senior Group Manager and stalwart of the Operations Team.
Tobacco Dock is a very special place. Rich in history and architecturally significant, its importance is marked by its Grade 1 listed status. Built in 1812 as a place to store (you’ve guessed it) tobacco, but also other valuable commodities such as wine, beer and even, less happily, animal skins and furs. Over the years the building has famously seen many incarnations, among other things a storage and packing facility, smuggling den, Eighties shopping centre and, of course, stellar events venue.
Working in a building of such incredible historical interest means there’s not a dull corner. History is written into every timber and brick. However, managing large scale events in a listed building is not without its challenges. As Tobacco Dock is a protected building, we are not able to do anything to permanently alter any of the walls, timbers or floors. The atmosphere that these sometimes quirky surroundings lend to any event are always worth the extra effort. However, there are times when it requires a little ingenuity to ensure that we stage beautiful and convenient events as well as conforming to health and safety.
On the level
Red carpet events present one such challenge. Our cobbled York stone walkways have seen centuries of foot fall and erosion from industrial handcarts and heavy barrels. They are correspondingly, and charmingly, uneven. This is great as a memento of the venue’s history but less convenient when putting on a red carpet event. The last thing we want is for our guests to stumble and trip on a wonky surface when they are working hard to look glamorous!
As there’s nothing we can do to even the flooring out, we have to get clever. A delivery of sand, evened out does the trick! The sand is easy to manipulate into the dips and grooves and also straightforward (though rather laborious!) to clear away after the event. This allows us to keep within the rules of the listing, protect the precious building, but also provide a safe and high quality finish to our events.
Built two hundred years ago with a very different purpose in mind, Tobacco Dock enjoys whimsical proportions. Any measurements taken for set building need to be accurate in each corner of a room, as the ceilings can be higher in one part than another.
Protecting the building
Another thing that we need to take into consideration is the preservation of the fabric of the building. Deliveries, the set up and striking of events need to be carried out in a way that respects the building. The vehicles used to ferry pallets around usually have nylon wheels. These would be too hard to use over our stone floors and could seriously damage and erode the stone. Thus we have replaced the nylon with rubber for softer traffic over our walkways.
There’s a surprising amount of fire involved in the events industry. From barbecues and gas rings for food consumer shows to fire pits, log burners and even fire breathers, we have to look very carefully at the ways we can facilitate it all in a way that is safe without being too restrictive. As this is a wooden building we are extremely careful. Open flames are only permitted in outside spaces while electric cooking implements are also restricted in certain areas. When flames are about we need to isolate various fire alarms and replace them with the physical presence of fire marshals and yet more sand.
Custodians of a historic space
There are infinite different ways that we adapt the way we go about our business to make Tobacco Dock work as a world-class venue as well as historical building. We’re passionate about this amazing place and although its listing and never-ending idiosyncrasies create a lot of extra work for the team, we wouldn’t have it any other way.