Written by Simon Lloyd Category: Projects
Published on 03 January 2001

There being such a small team of volunteers at Harefield means that it takes a long time to get things done. The new studio refurbishment is no exception. The building work we are all so involved in at the moment came about from a meeting back in May of 1995. At that meeting we decided that we needed more space to produce programmes and that our studio area didn't need to be as big. We had to ask ourselves what we really wanted from the limited space available.

The first of a series of plans was drawn up over the following weeks for how we wanted to convert the studio. The building its self could hardly be described as ideal. Situated a hundred meters or so from the hospital, it's a single storey prefabricated concrete building. It was originally built in the 1960's as the pavilion for a hospital bowling green. At the same time it had to double as a social club for hospital staff. We had been given the building by the hospital when they no longer had need of it. The bowls' club moved out of the hospital into the village and a more suitable social club built in another part of the grounds.

We had taken over the building in a derelict state, about twelve years ago. Water had brought the ceiling down in places and vandals had broken the windows. The first conversion was done back then to make it suitable for us. Inside the building consisted of a ladies and a gents toilet, a store room and a bar, which opened onto the large public area. Over time these were altered to our new requirements. The Gents toilet was turned into a store room, leaving the ladies loo to become unisex. All the windows were bricked up for security. The bar became the office, the open area the studio floor and the store room the edit suite and gallery. The gallery was shoe horned into the edit suite a few years ago when we stopped using a full size, but very elderly, outside broadcast vehicle that had been donated to us. This van had a full production gallery, sound control room and vision control area. So squeezing all this into one room had proved a near impossible task, hence the need to expand our production area.

Several months after the first meeting we had all agreed on what we needed for the future and how we would fit it into the space. In the end we settled on a very small studio with as larger gallery as could possibly manage. This came about because we don't need a studio for much more than "head and shoulders" television and we weren't planning on doing drama in it. The gallery on the other hand could also be used for more post production work; captioning, dubbing, commentary recording, graphics and would double as an edit suite.

We have an office so small that it's full with two people working, so it was planned that an office would be constructed to accommodate four people with easy access to computer and phone. The space vacated by the office would be turned into a three machine video tape editing suite and the current gallery turned back into a simple edit suite. This left only the loo and the ex-gents, which by now had become a tape library, that wouldn't need converting.

So, at this time all we needed was about £75,000 and we could have started work the next day and had the project finished in a couple of months. The problem was we were somewhat short of the budget. Well, to be more precise we were about £74,500 short of the figure. We are totally dependant on donations and subs from our members so we either had a 40 year wait to get the money or we would have tackle the problem in another way.

We finally made the decision that we would have to do almost all of the work ourselves and we would have to acquire most of the equipment for free. This was going to take some time so we would have to stay on the air with our regular programmes to patients meaning most of the money we raised would go on programme making. As a team we are better at making television than we are at making money. We're all too soft, wanting money to help the hospital rather than us. The failure to get enough money to start the project began to depress everyone. A failed lottery bid, a mail shot to local businesses that raised just enough money to cover the stamps. While our finances looked more grim every month, we were more successful when it came to acquiring the equipment.

Over the years we have made ourselves known to most of the broadcasters and facilities houses around the country. We seem to have an uncanny knack for going to a company to ask if they have an 'old so and so' that they no longer need. Only to find out that they had one until about a month ago, when they had put it in the bin! Just occasionally however, we did get lucky and get something that would suit the project. We had several bits of good luck after we had spent some of our money and brought some old cameras from the BBC. We didn't know it at the time but the contact we made then was going to turn out to change our fortune. All of a sudden a contact at Ravensbourne college heard we had got hold of the cameras and was offering us their old vision mixer. The BBC came back with the offer of some old video tape machines. Almost before we knew it The London Studios heard we were in the market for kit and came up with a sound desk. As each of these major items of equipment arrived, it meant minor redesigns to the overall plan to incorporate them in the project.

This went on until the late part of 1996 when quite unexpectedly our contact at the BBC called us. They were closing a whole area and would be getting rid of some equipment in a couple of month's time if we were interested. During our first tour of the old Network Control area at Television Centre, we were shown lots of equipment that "may be available if the BBC can't use or sell it." It seemed that we might be able to get quite a lot of basic hardware, video amplifiers, switches and monitors. Every thing then very quiet for weeks and weeks, we heard rumours that scrap merchants would get it all, we began to think that we would lose everything. Then came the telephone call. "The area has got to be clear in two weeks from now. Can you get a van this weekend? There may be a lot more for you if you want it!"

The next couple of weeks were the most hectic ever for us all. A couple of Harefield members work for the BBC and they got keys to the area, so we could have access out of hours. Each night as our members finished work, they turned up at TV Centre as visitors but they carried the strangest baggage with them. Overalls, wire cutters, hack saws and spanners came into the building every night. We worked all evening removing equipment we had been given. It seemed that every day we were being given more and more as other departments in the Beeb said they couldn't get them out in time. One day it would be distribution amplifiers and bay frames the next. Then came the big bits, the monitor stack from BBC1, the network mixer from BBC2 and the whole control desk from 'Pres. B'. We couldn't move in our studio as we shifted van load after van load to Harefield. Equipment covered every inch of the floor and the piles were getting higher each day. The final evening six of us got what we could, having to leave other gems because we just didn't have the time to get them out. At five in the morning we gave up. We had everything we could carry and the Asbestos removers would arrive within a few hours to seal off the area. For some of us there was just time to get home for a wash and an hour in bed before work in the morning.

We hadn't realised before but we now had a major problem. We had enough equipment not only to start the project but almost to complete it. At the same time it was all taking up so much space that we couldn't start anything.

The clear up process took a couple of months. We had to beg, borrow and steal storage space in the hospital. Items that wouldn't be damaged ware stored outside. Then we started risking things that could be damaged outside. Praying that the plastic sacks and Tarpaulins would protect them. Only later would we find out how much damage would be done by the rain. The old outside broadcast van became a temporary store room and the far end of the studio area was stacked out from floor to ceiling. The aim all the time to clear enough space to start the building work, while at the same time keep transmitting regular programmes to the hospital.

Finally in September we were ready. Our first problem, our biggest broadcast of the year, the Harefield 'Fun Run' happens in September. Amongst all our packing we had to find and extricate enough equipment to stage the broadcast. It was another couple of weeks before we had put it all away again and were ready for the builders.

We had managed to get a couple of profession brick layers to do the main part of the building work, the dividing wall. This done it was over to us. The roof timbers came first and the ceiling should have followed them a couple of weeks later. However, after some strong wind and heavy rain we took a good look at some of the things stored outside. Several bits were being damaged by the wet. We had no option but to bring those bits inside, to prevent further damage. This slowed the work down as we had to work around piles of furniture. This Christmas, 1997, we had a blitz on the project and got half the ceiling completed and the production gallery ready for decorating.

That just about brings us up to date. We estimate the project is about ten per cent complete. The next stage is to build the monitor stack, then raise the floor in the gallery. After that will come the installation of gallery desk and the equipment bays. That's when the tough bit starts and we have to wire it all together and get it going again. That, perhaps, is another story.

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