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Innovative lifting at Maida Vale Studios: It’s music to our ears!

Innovative lifting at Maida Vale Studios: It’s music to our ears!


Expert innovators Penny Hydraulics Ltd have been awarded the contract to service and modernise five specialist winching systems at Maida Vale Studios, London.

Penny Hydraulics is a multi-award-winning lifting equipment manufacturer with headquarters based in Derbyshire. In January 2018, Penny’s lighting winch division were contracted to carry out important remedial work on five winching systems used to lift and lower lighting in the studios.

Lighting winch systems from Penny Hydraulics are installed to lift and lower luminaires such as chandeliers and stage lighting. The specialist mechanical handling devices are typically installed in museums, hotels, courts, theatres, retail premises and stately and private homes, but are suitable for any location where an item located at height needs to be readily accessible, from menu boards to art installations and high bay lighting to signage.

At Maida Vale Studios, stage lighting installed in high ceilings created access issues. For maintenance reasons, when a bulb needed changing or when the units required cleaning, scaffolding towers or a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) needed to be used, resulting in major time and cost implications. Specialist lighting winch systems were installed to address the issue.

Lighting winch systems comprise of a series of wire ropes and pulleys all hidden away within a roof void. The pulleys direct a rope between a hoist assembly and a special component called a Contact Suspension Unit. Pulley bodies come is different configurations depending on how the pulley are to be used and where they are to be installed. The size of the wire rope used also determines the size of pulley wheels used. The weight of the fitting influences the diameter of the stainless-steel rope used, all of which are tested and certified.

Two types of winch are available, electric or manual. Electric systems offer the option of controlling via either a wireless remote-control handset, a removable handset that plugs into a wall socket, or hard-wired controls mounted to a faceplate. For a simpler option, manual systems such as those installed at Maida Vale Studios are operated by manually rotating a hand crank or winch handle.

“The handle may be permanently attached to the body of the hoist, or may be removable should the hoist need to be tamper proof – this is ideal when the crank or handle is situated in a public place,” said Ed.

Penny's unique Contact Suspension Units are an integral component in the winch systems, combining robust construction with simple and reliable operation & enabling major safety gains. Contact suspension units can accommodate loads from 5KG - 560KG and therefore have no problem lifting and lowering stage lighting, whilst at the same time offering the important safety benefit that the mechanical lock acts as a secondary support to the light fitting.

“When the light is in its raised and operational position the unit automatically makes electrical circuits and engages “mechanical lock” consequently relieving the winch, pulleys and wire rope from tension,” said General Manager of Penny Hydraulics Lighting Winch Division, Ed Penny. “Unlocking the unit to lower the light for maintenance automatically breaks electrical circuits therefore no live cables are lowered with the fitting.”

In total, five multi-rope manual winch systems were installed in the studios that were in need of servicing and modernisation. The work included the installation of new ropes on all systems as well as the modification and upgrading of Contact Suspension Units. 

Now the refurbishment work to the system has been successfully carried out, the luminaires at the studio can be lowered and lifted quickly, easily and safely by one operator to ground level by simply using the hand winch whilst their feet are firmly on the floor. No potentially dangerous working at height is required and any maintenance work can be carried out with minimal hassle.

About Maida Vale Studios:

The BBC's Maida Vale building was acquired in response to the rapidly increasing requirements of broadcasting in the early 30s. Built in 1909, Maida Vale Studios were originally the home of the Maida Vale Roller Skating Palace and Club, seating 2,650 people and proud possessor of its own orchestra balcony. The Palace only lasted three months however, and for the rest of the decade the building was occupied by a variety of companies. In the 1930s it became home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra but was also a standby centre of the BBC radio news service during the Second World War. Like Broadcasting House, the site had to be repaired after taking a direct hit during the London Blitz.

Today, Maida Vale is a widely known as a famous complex of seven BBC sound studios. The studios have been used to record thousands of classical music, popular music and drama sessions for BBC Radio from 1946 to the present day. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, still uses the Maida Vale studios for both performances and recordings of classical music. It can hold more than 150 musicians, a choir of over 100 and an audience of 220. Outside its classical music remit, it was famously home to John Peel's BBC Radio 1 Peel Sessions, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, famed for its realisation of the Doctor Who theme tune.

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