Behind the Scenes at the Piece Hall with Jenny Harris

Positive: Jenny Harris is looking forward to an incredible year.
Positive: Jenny Harris is looking forward to an incredible year.

Programming a year-round season of world-class events at The Piece Hall is a huge under-taking. From breath-taking sculpture to independent festivals and world-renowned cycles races, the eclectic line-up sees acting head of events Jenny Harris and her team start planning and preparations months in advance.

Jenny said: “We’re building a really great seasonal programme of events, festivals and spectacles, many of which have to be booked in at least a year ahead. We try and offer a broad mix of high-quality events, and it’s important that a lot of it is free as The Piece Hall is for everyone to enjoy. We also have a tourism remit, and big spectacles like this year’s ‘Zara’, which saw a giant puppet in the courtyard, and ‘FierS a Cheval’ – a magical herd of inflatable white horses from French outdoor theatre specialists Compagnie des Quidams, attract people from far and wide, who we hope will then return again and again.

“We have an incredible team of people working hard behind the scenes, from operations and security, to food and beverage and marketing, to make each event a success. I love working here as The Piece Hall is such a unique space to programme.

“There’s nowhere else in Yorkshire doing what we do.”

Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for the events team, with more than 300,000 visitors expected to flock to the former cloth hall over the festive period alone.

The festive events are the culmination of an extraordinary year at The Piece Hall which featured a brand-new sculpture commission, food and art festivals and a live music weekend which saw major artists including Elbow and Embrace enthral crowds in The Piece Hall’s piazza.

Jenny said: “My favourite event to date has to be the Embrace gig as part of The Big Gig Weekend in June, which saw more than 10,000 people come to The Piece Hall to enjoy four days of live music. It was a real game-changing moment. Everyone could feel that it was a big milestone for The Piece Hall. There was something magical in the air.

“We’ve already announced an incredible line-up of music across two weekends in June and July in 2020 including The Specials, Richard Hawley and the Kaiser Chiefs.”

No two days are the same for Jenny. Her role can include everything from meeting new artists and briefing security teams, to visiting a lock up in Sowerby Bridge and climbing over a mountain of furniture to source vintage pieces for the pop-up Christmas bar.

It can also be long hours for the events team, which also includes Denise Webber, Kane Rattray and Martin Clarke, and during busy periods they also recruit extra staff to ensure the events run smoothly and safely.

Jenny said: “It’s a hands-on role but that’s one of the things I love about the job. You never really know what’s going to happen and you have to keep on your toes.”

2020 looks set to deliver a spectacular programme of events at this Georgian landmark. The programme will kick-off with a new outdoor sculpture commission entitled ‘People Play’ by London-based artist Alice Irwin as part of a new partnership with Dean Clough and Artworks in Halifax which will see the artist showcasing work across the three sites.

Other calendar highlights include the Tour de Yorkshire returning in May; a Festival of Play over the summer, as well as the return of the open-air cinema screenings.

Jenny added: “It looks set to be another incredible year for events at The Piece Hall.”