Square Chapel Arts Centre celebrates 30 years with exhibition on its community that made it a success

Square Chapel Arts Centre is celebrating 30 years by showcasing diverse community that has turned it into the vibrant and exciting place it is today.

The centre has curated a ’30 Stories’ exhibition to coincide with 30 incredible years since the original Square Chapel building was saved from demolition by a group of six passionate local people.

30 Stories' exhibition at Square Chapel with Keiron Higgins, right, and Shantha Rao from Halifax

30 Stories' exhibition at Square Chapel with Keiron Higgins, right, and Shantha Rao from Halifax

The ‘30 stories’ exhibition will be on display within the arts centre until July 2020.

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It showcases 30 unique stories from the people who have helped shape the organisation; one of the largest cultural providers in the Borough, providing over 300 live performances and engaging nearly 3,000 individuals, including school children, young people and vulnerable and hard to reach adults in our communities every year.

Each of the professionally shot images and the accompanying stories uncovers the life changing moments and inspiring stories that Square Chapel has helped to create over the last three decades; the stories that have had the most impact on the people from across its communities, stories that bring people together and stories that demonstrate the importance of diversity in our society.

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Square Chapel Arts Centre Director, David McQuillan said: “The two most powerful things in the world are people and stories.

"People are capable of the greatest inspiration, the most amazing kindnesses, people are charitable and benevolent; people create wonders, they care for each other and other species. Stories don't exist without people.

"Stories endure; it is in stories that some people, some communities, live on; potentially infinitely.

"They last longer than concrete, glass or bricks. Square Chapel is built from stories: the people who live them and the people that tell them.

"It has been an honour to know these people and hear these stories. There are 30 here, but there are thousands more. We'll keep telling them and we'll keep writing more.”

Here are just some of the stories from the exhibition

Shantha Rao from Halifax

When I first started my work with Annapurna Dance, I noticed there was a local arts centre, so I went and met then Director Sally Martin.

When she informed me, she was originally from Sri Lanka, I knew she was not a stranger to classical Indian dance.

I was excited when she gave me my first ever booking for The Story of Rama and Sita, a performance for school groups.

I then got help from other staff at the arts centre including Linda Franklin (then Marketing Manager) with the marketing.

Ever since then I’ve brought many projects to Square Chapel.

I have a good memory of it as a place that supports diversity and other cultural experiences for audiences and have faith in them. In recent years I’ve been very much supported by Michaela O’Sullivan (Head of Audiences) who has always given me encouragement and advice.

Eric Hunter from Halifax

We moved to Halifax to live in a shop in town on 3rd March 1953. I remember the date because 3rd of the month was always stocktaking day. After moving to Halifax in 1953 I used to attend Square Church in the morning, then Sunday school at Square Chapel in the afternoon. I was ten years old.

Square Chapel used to have a dramatics society and I played Buttons in a performance of Cinderella here in the 1950s. There was a small stage with a domestic curtain surround that sagged, and I had to trip up as I entered – that was where I learned it was fun to make people laugh. I once also performed the Charlie Chaplin song ‘Smile’ in a concert here – that was when I learned I wasn’t a singer.

It was damp and cold in those days, so we had to move Sunday school into the caretaker, Mr Fawcett’s house – one of many houses that once butted up alongside the Piece Hall.

It’s hard to visualise now, but the whole area around here was a slum. When the local housing was pulled down it impacted on Square Chapel and Square Church. It was really strange going away to college in Manchester in the early 1960s and coming back to find my house had gone. The bottom end of town was transformed.

I have a massive connection to Square Chapel. I’ve always tried to keep in touch with more than my own generation. My first re-connect was through my dance group, Dance 4 Fun, when we did some filming here (fellow dancer Valerie had won a prize that included being filmed).

I’d been to see Snake Davies in Barnsley and had such a great time I sent them a poem. I came to see them in Square Chapel in 2014, and at their show in 2018 I read one of my poems. I’ve been to a lot of events here and particularly enjoy the Q&A events.

I feel extraordinarily at home here. Very comfortable in this part of the town.

Keiron Higgins from Halifax

I first came to Square Chapel in 2008, as I was recommended to a music performance group called Opportunity Rocks.

Being a dyspraxic, I had a passion for music and creativity but no idea at the time on how to share it.

The project, which only got better when I decided to switch from guitar to vocals, provided me with the confidence and a route to perform live when we started a little group called The Eccentrics on Holiday.

We mostly did punk and new wave covers as I was quite a follower of that music at the time.

We performed at the Piece Hall and we recorded a small group of songs in a recording studio which were then put onto a CD.

Because of this project I received a lot of confidence from learning how to perform on stage, which, in the later 2000’s, took me down a route of DJing in a funk/soul/reggae collective.

These days I have returned to the main stage performing spoken word, which has led to me publishing a book of my own poetry, which has been welcomed with critical acclaim.

This exhibition is sponsored by Grand Central, And Digital, Chadwick Lawrence, Pickles Printers, Lister Horsfall, Colden Warter – Electricity Power Company and Wilby Insurance Brokers.