The Arcola Theatre hopes its investigations can be used to reduce virus transmission in arts venues everywhere. Photograph: Lidia Crisafulli

The Arcola Theatre in Dalston is to collaborate with a group of scientists to explore air quality in arts venues for a project that it hopes will help reduce the spread of viruses such as Covid.

Members of the Arcola’s artistic team will join up with researchers from Imperial College London to look into how increased airflow can be used inside the theatre, before opening up discussions with other venues to see if the findings can help improve audience safety across the industry.

The work, set to begin this year, will also inform the theatre’s development of Arcola Outside, an outdoor performance space expected to open this Spring which is specifically designed to limit Covid transmission.

Dr Ben Todd, the Arcola’s executive director, said: “Since the pandemic began, we have been trying to understand how the cultural sector can respond innovatively to the difficulties we have faced in bringing people together to enjoy culture in a safe way.

“We are delighted to be working with independent scientists from Imperial College London, through Imperial Consultants, to understand how airflow affects viral transmission in theatres, which will turn the challenges of the past year into learning and ideas for both Arcola and the wider theatre sector.”

Imperial College London’s leading consultant on the project added: “Significant scientific, engineering and policy work has been undertaken to better understand the impact of Covid-19 and mitigate the ongoing risks. Ventilation and air quality have been identified as an important factor in reducing the risk of spread through human activity in indoor spaces.

“Working with Arcola Theatre, we hope to use emerging knowledge and data-driven approaches to address the continuous challenges faced by indoor theatres and venues during the pandemic.”

The Arcola announced its plans to create an outdoor stage last October with the aim of having it ready by Christmas, but the project was put on ice as the second wave of the virus took hold.

The build, designed by the award-winning Jon Bausor, will rely heavily on recycled materials – in line with the Arcola’s commitment to sustainability.

The theatre’s sister company Arcola Energy was recently chosen to lead on the delivery of Scotland’s first hydrogen-powered train, as ministers north of the border explore ways to cut the country’s carbon emissions.

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