Jewel should shine on world stage
Halifax people voted with their feet when the refurbished Â£19m Piece Hall re-opened this week '“ they just kept on coming and coming!
Hundreds arrived at the Piece Hall gates in time for the 9.30am re-opening on Yorkshire Day and by the end of the day a whopping 22,799 –the official footfall count – had taken the chance to get their first look in three years at the Grade I listed Georgian Halifax landmark!
As the gates opened some of Calderdale’s youngest citizens, many of them unable to remember the Piece Hall before it closed for the extensive work, were first in as town crier Les Cutts exclaimed his welcome.
The grown-ups followed, and people of all ages came to explore the new shops, which opened their doors at 10am when Halifax and Great Britain para-athlete Hannah Cockroft rang the restored Piece Hall bell to signal the start of trading - and a new era.
Attention switched to the stage, where BBC regional news presenter Harry Gration introduced guests on the stage, beginning with Hannah, who then left for the bell room.
Mayor of Calderdale Coun Ferman Ali, Calderdale Council leader Tim Swift, chairman of the Piece Hall Trust Roger Marsh, Ros Kerslake of the Heritage Lottery and Piece Hall chief executive Nicky Chance-Thompson all spoke about different aspects of the Piece Hall’s past, present and especially its future - as a jewel in not just Halifax’s crown but the county’s and the country’s.
Mr Marsh, who had first seen the Piece Hall 30 years ago, thanked the vision of Calderdale Council and its perseverance over the years to oversee the project to fruition, with a key role paid by the Heritage Lottery and Partnership.
He said: “This is all about making sure the Piece Hall is an iconic asset that is globally recognised and draws people in from across the world. Tell your friends, tell the world and be proud of what we have in this town of Halifax, Yorkshire and the north.
“The heritage is there in the stone but the heritage of the future is what the trust will be developing over the next decades. The intention is we will create a lasting, long-term success. In time, we will put this building on the national and international stage,” he said.
There is a belief that the beautiful Piece Hall should be a landmark known worldwide - in turn encouraging people of the world to come and visit it, exploring the wider town, borough and county while they do it.
Combined with its architectural beauty, in business terms the aim is to ensure it is used more frequently and for longer, with bars and restaurants being given an ideal setting when the back-lit water feature lights up the evening.
Other investments in the quarter, including the £6m revamp of Square Chapel Arts Centre, the eventual moving of the library to the Piece Hall and the impending re-opening of Calderdale Industrial Museum, indicate a revitalisation of that quarter of the town with the aim of drawing more and more people in to discover Halifax, and wider Calderdale.
Harry Gration said: “Think about what’s happened in Halifax recently - Square Chapel, the new library. The place is really buzzing now and what a place you have here with the Piece Hall. That will draw people in from all over the country.”
As the trading bell rang, businesses all opened their doors at once - and echo of when the 18th century merchants did the same in a frenetic two hour spell each Saturday morning after the hall opened in 1779.
Business was frenetic as the morning drew on, visitors packed the shops, heritage spaces and exhibitions, the sun holding firm to encourage people to take their time.
The Piece Hall bustled like it would have done in its heyday, and as crowds increased progress slowed as the crocodiles of people made their way around.
At one point the Piece Hall’s security team had to direct the traffic of people in, out and around the packed colonnades on all three levels.
Music from bands including the West Yorkshire Police Band, North Yorkshire Brass band and The Night Creatures punctuated the day - the hall was open until around 11pm - but on a day when it was given back to the people it was the building itself that was rightly the star of the show.
Generations of families sat in the square, or stopped to take pictures of each other on the colonnade balconies, telling each other stories, about the Piece Hall’s history and about their own experiences there in the past.
If the success of the 21st century opening day is anything to go by, the jewel should have a bright future at the heart of Calderdale.