Piece Hall Trust's chief executive on the hopes the iconic building will drive economic and social recovery

A major tourist attraction is ready to play a part in helping Calderdale’s economy – and its people – recover along the road out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sunday, 11th April 2021, 12:30 pm

Before the pandemic, the Grade I listed Piece Hall in Halifax was fulfilling its role as a major driver of Calderdale’s economy while remaining much-loved among the borough’s people and

The Piece Hall Trust believes it is ready to fulfil both roles in the weeks, months and years ahead.

The Trust has published its first Annual Review today, covering the year 2019-20, with analysis showing it is now bringing a return of £5.30 to Calderdale for each £1 invested in it.

The Trust’s Chief Executive, Nicky Chance-Thompson,

The Trust’s Chief Executive, Nicky Chance-Thompson, said: “The vision behind The Piece Hall’s transformation was for it ’to become an internationally admired, widely visited and highly successful attraction in its own right – and be the key driver in the wider economic regeneration of Halifax and Calderdale‘.

“Our first Annual Review demonstrates that the Trust is living up to that promise, and that despite the challenges of Covid-19, and thanks to our funders, we now stand ready to play an important role in national recovery efforts.”

She said it was as important that it continues to be a place local people enjoy.

“It is woven into the very fabric of our town and is something that so many people are proud of.

“In a survey conducted by the Halifax Courier’s Love Your Town campaign, eight out of 10 local people felt that The Piece Hall is the best thing about the town.

“Calderdale Council’s 2019 Visitor Economic Survey identified The Piece Hall as being a key factor in the 14 per cent increase in tourism experienced in the borough.

“All of this is evidence of our ongoing contribution to the local economy and our important role in helping improve people’s lives and livelihoods,” she said.

The Piece Hall cost £22 million to renovate and £2.5 million start-up costs, but has already returned in excess of £26 million to the borough’s economy by playing a major role in increasing tourism, says the report.

Since re-opening on August 1, 2017, seven million visitors have come through its doors of the restored 18th century former cloth hall – 2.5 million of them in 2019-20 – with the survey showing 84 per cent of visitors to Halifax had come because of the Piece Hall.

This brings benefit to other businesses, fulfilling the remit agreed when the council began providing some funding of it being a main driver of the economy.

Historic England has described the Piece Hall’s business model for a building of this type as “exemplar”.

Calderdale Council’s Chief Executive, Robin Tuddenham, says the Piece Hall is a part of the borough’s heritage and now also cementing Calderdale’s place on the map as an international cultural destination.

“It’s fantastic to see the impact that this magnificent building, and the local talent within it, is having on our visitor economy and our local sense of pride and place.

“The Piece Hall contributed to the record-breaking year for Calderdale’s tourism economy in 2019, with research showing that it creates £5.30 for every £1 invested.

“The historic building’s transformation kick-started the regeneration of Halifax, Calderdale and beyond.

“It makes a significant contribution and will now play a key role in our economic recovery from COVID-19, which will have culture and tourism at its heart,” he said.

Trust Chair Roger Marsh believes the money invested in the Piece Hall has purposed it for the future.

“The Piece Hall is a gem of history, renovated, restored and purposed for the 21st century – and the centuries beyond,” he has said.

He said the pandemic has caused significant financial challenges for organisations and businesses of all sizes and sectors but funders had recognised its importance, including the

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, Historic England, The Foyle Foundation and Garfield Weston Foundation.

“We are in a strong financial position and ready to support Calderdale’s post-pandemic recovery.

“Prior to the pandemic, I remain proud of the work and economic uplift that The Piece Hall Trust has achieved in three short years.

“It really has created a sense of pride at a local and regional level.

“Our aim remains to take The Piece Hall to nationally and internationally iconic status in the future and continue to create an ‘extraordinary’ economic return to the people of Calderdale,” he said.

Running the Piece Hall and keeping it free to enter requires some public money but the aim is to keep reducing this.

The year 2019-20 report shows the Piece Hall received £3.21 million in income while total costs were £3.96 million, reducing the gap on the previous year and making further progress towards its goal of being funded 80 per cent from its own income and 20 per cent from combinations of public money.

The year 2019-20 saw the Piece Hall grow its income by 33.5 per cent and reduce costs by a fifth, says the report.

The attraction’s reliance on Calderdale Council’s portion of funding has been reduced by 42.2 per cent through that year.

The Trust has indicated the average business model for a heritage building like this is 40 per cent private funding and 60 per cent public funding – at the Piece Hall 77 per cent comes from its own income leaving just 23 per cent reliant on public money, of which 8.5 per cent is coming from Calderdale’s Council Tax payers at the moment.

A previously produced independent report summarises the cost to Calderdale residents as the price of a cup of coffee per household.

In terms of the next three years, the first will be about recovering from the pandemic, ensuring the Piece Hall can continue to be preserved and sustained, with the Trust believing in years two and three it can prepare for going into growth.

Trust Board members believe the building and what they offer has a key role to play in helping Calderdale recover economically and emotionally from the pandemic and make the most of a staycation boom.

Through the pandemic the Trust has generated £1.3 million of external grant funding and it has supported the businesses it houses through measures including six months of free rent, helping them sell through a Piece Hall online shop as well as their own websites and organising a click and collect service for tenants.

In terms of its own staff, redundancies resulting from the pandemic due to the uncertainty around furlough were kept under ten and it is now re-recruiting.

The Piece Hall also organised more than 20,000 meals for front line workers and has been an integral part alongside the council and the Community Foundation for Calderdale in the Never Go Hungry campaign feeding local families.

In the coming months, the Board sees a role of the Piece Hall as having an important role in getting people used to being together again, providing some fun alongside some healing when it reopens on April 12.

All retail will reopen at the history Halifax landmark, with the early emphasis on community based sessions and attention to mental health and welfare workshops, aware people may have suffered from isolation and loss.

Depending on the road map out of COVID, on May 17 restaurants and bars will be able to receive customers inside subject to social distancing and the same month will see the Piece Hall host a Spring ‘Makers’ Market’ enabling people who could not sell at the Christmas Market which had to be cancelled to make some income.

On May 31 music is back with Ellie Sax, who played for the Piece Hall during lockdown, then on June 19 a get-together is planned in conjunction with the Jo Cox Foundation, providing a family day out.

July will see the Piece Hall host Indie Fax, a food festival for independent bar and food operators in the courtyard and August and September sees the return of the hugely successful Piece Hall Live music shows with concerts ranging from The Specials to Richard Hawley.

Nile Rogers and Chic are among those who are being lined up for 2022.

Having started as novices at staging gigs, within a couple of years top stars are approaching the Piece Hall wanting to play there, and music looks set to become a bigger source of income for the Trust.