Engineer Stage One reaping the rewards from its Olympic effort

THE mechanical engineering company behind one of the most spectacular sights of the London Olympics is expanding following a rise in enquiries since the Games.

Stage One, which built Thomas Heatherwick’s stunning Olympic Cauldron for the opening ceremony, said it planned to take on new staff, adding to the 90 it already has, to accommodate the new enquiries it was receiving.

The Tockwith-based firm received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise from Lord Crathorne, Lord Lieutenant for North Yorkshire yesterday in recognition of 10 years’ continuous innovation, which includes flying scenery and performers over stadia for Olympic opening ceremonies and developing new manufacturing techniques for architecturally complex structures.

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A global audience of more than a billion people tuned in to Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony that climaxed with more than 200 copper petals moving together to form one symbolic flame from a mechanical cauldron.

Managing director Mark Johnson anxiously watched the spectacle from his seat in the stadium. “All shows are pretty nerve-wracking but that was one of the worst,” he told the Yorkshire Post yesterday.

“You know that if it doesn’t work, it is the company’s reputation on the line.”

A core team of 20 people worked on the secret project, code-named ‘Betty’, for nine months.

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“It wasn’t very easy to build,” said Mr Johnson. “There was a lot of mechanical movement in a small space so we had to come up with ingenious solutions for how it was going to work using our automation systems.”

The cauldron was split up at the end of the Games with each copper petal given to a competing national Olympic committee.

The base is now back at Stage One’s headquarters but Mr Johnson said it will eventually go on display at the Museum of London. It’s not the first time the company has taken centre stage at an Olympics event.

In 2004, it built a cablenet to fly scenery around the stadium at the Athens Olympic ceremonies.

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It is currently working on the stage engineering for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Stage One began life 28 years ago as a traditional staging and scenery building company.

In 1996 it merged with mechanical engineering firm Hanger Services to design and manufacture automated motion control for large-scale public events.

Previous projects include the London production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, touring arena shows such as Walking with Dinosaurs, and television sets.

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It also works on architectural projects such as the construction of London’s Serpentine Gallery pavilions.

Turnover this year is expected to reach £22m – up from £14.6m in 2012. “Going forward, we are aiming to sustain our turnover between £15m and £20m,” said Mr Johnson.

Looking to the future, Mr Johnson said the company was looking to move into manufacturing temporary architecture and one-off complex building projects, although he insists he doesn’t want to be a main contractor.

“We want to be a niche specialist supplier,” he said.

“The market for live shows and events is still there but it’s dropping away so our new markets are temporary structures, sculptures and events.”

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Stage One has already supported the staging of the Lion King and Phantom of the Opera in temporary theatres at sports arenas around Asia.

Mr Johnson said: “The sustainability issues around the legacy of Olympic parks is high on the agenda and there is potential to build temporary buildings at the Brazil Olympics.

“We think this is where the emerging market lies and we want to bring together existing and new technology to put together temporary venues around the world at a reasonable cost.

“This will give the company the ability to grow and use our core intellectual property to its best advantage.”