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BILCO’S Starring Role In Iconic Theatre Redevelopment

Quality roof hatch, smoke vent and access equipment supplier Bilco UK ( has played a leading role in the redevelopment of the iconic Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

Built on the site of the old theatre, the new Marlowe features a 1,200-seat state-of-the-art auditorium with vastly improved acoustics and sightlines, foyers and bars on three floors, a café and terrace and a piazza for outside performances.

When the opening curtain goes up in October the new Marlowe will be the leading theatre in the South East with the capacity to host some of the biggest touring shows, major operas and ballet.

An enormous automatic acoustic smoke ventilator supplied by Bilco has been installed in the new fly tower. Built in six sections with 24 covers over an area measuring 4,000mm x 11,000mm, it is the largest vent ever manufactured by the Bury St Edmunds-based company. It is also the first motorised acoustic ventilator to be made with a two-cover design.

Automatic smoke vents help firemen to bring a blaze under control quickly by removing smoke, heat and gases from a building when fire breaks out.

Acoustic ventilators are ideal for concert halls, theatres, cinemas, auditoriums and other indoor venues because, in addition to providing dependable automatic venting in the event of a fire, they also prevent noise intrusion and carry the highest sound rating on the market.

The ventilator can also be opened and closed remotely using internal switches to remove heat from the stage area. The control system will automatically close the covers in the event of rain or high wind conditions while in natural ventilation mode.

Fully-insulated and gasketed for weather-tightness and sound-resistance, the covers open up to 90° as required by BS EN 12101-2 to ensure the rapid dispersal of smoke and noxious fumes and to reduce the risk of them being blown back into the building.

A custom-made control panel opens all 24 covers simultaneously when a signal is received from any of the external controls. In the event of mains power failure the battery back-up will ensure that sufficient power is available to open and close the vents for a minimum period of 24 hours following loss of power.

James Fisher, Bilco UK/Europe general manager, said: “Safety, comfort and sound quality are crucial considerations not only to reduce noise pollution from outside but equally to reduce noise from the theatre affecting surrounding properties. The covers for this important installation are specially designed to reduce noise.

“The Marlowe Theatre project was a challenge but has demonstrated our ability to deliver a product that has met all the expectations of the original design.

“We are delighted that the biggest ventilator we have made and assembled should take centre stage in this iconic new theatre.

“The major benefit of this acoustic vent is that it provides natural ventilation throughout the auditorium and stage areas and offers the reassurance of automatic venting should fire ever break out inside the theatre.”

The theatre has been built on the site and adjoining land of the old Marlowe theatre, a converted 1930s cinema which was demolished to make way for the new development which has been designed by the award-winning architect Keith Williams.

Funding has been provided by Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) supported by private and public fundraising.

Bilco has a strong reputation among architects, building engineers, specifiers and the construction trades for product and service excellence in delivering building service and safety product solutions.

The company manufactures a range of standard off-the-shelf hatches, floor doors and smoke vents and also provides a design service to meet special individual requirements.

James Fisher added: “Our products are driven by customers’ expectations and often their needs are determined by health and safety requirements.”

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