Bumper 1.8 million visitors to Piece Hall helps kickstart economic recovery in Calderdale

As COVID-19 restrictions were eased, a bumper 1.8 million people returned to a Yorkshire landmark building, helping kickstart economic recovery in Calderdale after one of the toughest of years.

By John Greenwood - Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 9:17 am

After the pandemic hit, securing grant funding of £2.6 million allowed the Grade I listed Piece Hall, at Halifax, to stay open, and resulting support given to business tenants in the form of rent holidays important to ensuring it was in the strongest position to attract visitors with a wide range of experiences when it re-opened, says an annual review.

The Piece Hall Trust’s review, available to view in full on the trust’s website, covers what Chief Executive Nicky Chance-Thompson calls a financial one “like no other”, 2020-21.

The report says lockdown resulted in an instant 80 per cent drop in the Piece Hall’s commercial income.

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Roger Marsh OBE and Nicky Chance-Thompson from the Piece Hall Trust

Lockdown caused “significant disruption”, says Ms Chance-Thompson, “but the Piece Hall’s journey through the pandemic has been one of resilience, survival and staggered recovery.”

Describing 2020-21 as “solid” for the Piece Hall, despite the significant challenges the Piece Hall Trust is in “a strong financial position”, says Trust Chair Sir Roger Marsh.

Crucial grants and funding were received, some of them “hard fought and hard won” from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Recovery Fund, Historic England, Arts Council England, the Foyle Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation, said Sir Roger.

The report says these meant the trust not only exceeded its financial targets for 2020-21 but means it is also on track to deliver on forecasts for 2021-22.

While ensuring tourists, staff and volunteers were safe during re-opening was a priority, supporting tenants with rent holidays allowed them to stay afloat and meant when visitors were allowed back there was plenty to attract them alongside special events, it says.

Looking beyond the period of this report, Sir Roger comments that the period from April 2021 to November 2021 saw 1.8 million people come to the Piece Hall including a record 60,000 on one November weekend.

He stresses the key financial role the Piece Hall has in boosting Calderdale’s wider economy and that of the region, with summer 2021’s series of live concerts – with more continuing to follow – attracting 40,000 people to see big names like New Order, Kaiser Chiefs, Manic Street Preachers, The Specials and The Cribs and seeing hotels and restaurants booked up in the process.

“There is no doubt that the Piece Hall has not only once again put Halifax and Calderdale on the map but kickstarted some much-needed economic and emotional recovery,” said Sir Roger, who says his regional and national roles have shown him the importance of heritage-based regeneration.

Ms Chance-Thompson said the funding won was a “lifeline” which allowed the Piece Hall to be ready for visitors returning, with benefits for the wider economy.

“When we were able to re-open the gates, visitors in their thousands flocked through, helping us to move quickly from the phase of resilience (survival) to successful re-opening and then revival in terms of kickstarting the local economy,” she said.

The report says the trust hopes to get back to the immediate pre-lockdown position where 77 per cent of its income was generated by its own commercial activities, with 8.5 per cent coming from Calderdale Council and 14.5 per cent from other public funders.

Sir Roger says the industry model is 60 per cent from own income and 40 per cent from public funding, indicating good performance with the 20 per cent or so public funding element essential if it is to remain a free-to-enter attraction.

Previously Sir Roger has said free entry is unusual for an asset like the Piece Hall but it has always been the trust’s aim for it to stay this way.