Yorkshire Day doubles as the first anniversary of the re-opening on the Piece Hall. Here, its Chief Executive, Nicky Chance-Thompson spells out her vision for Calderdale.
Since The Piece Hall reopened on August 1, 2017 an incredible 2.4million people have walked through its gates. To put this in context, the Tower of London – the top visitor attraction in the UK attracts – 2.7million visitors a year. Just recently, Historic England made The Piece Hall one of its top 10 historic places to visit in England.
It is the Trust’s vision to make The Piece Hall a world class destination and we are well on our way to achieving that.
Our visitors tell us that the town and The Piece Hall are nothing short of amazing. Many of them had never heard of Halifax and they didn’t know The Piece Hall existed. Overwhelmingly, we hear wonderful comments about the buzz around the place and there seems to be an understanding that this is a work in progress which will continue to be reinvented as it has always been.
The original investment from Calderdale Council, Heritage Lottery Fund and others restored and transformed arguably the most beautiful and most important heritage building in Yorkshire.
The Piece Hall was once at the epicentre of the world’s woollen trade, and we want to put it on the global stage once again. There really isn’t anywhere else in the world to compare it with.
All sorts of references have been made by visitors; from Somerset House, Covent Garden, St Mark’s Square in Venice, the ‘Vienna of Yorkshire’ – all wonderful comments, as they are spaces that inspire people – but what we have here is truly unique.
Unlike many heritage destinations, we don’t charge an entry fee, except for specific events, because it’s vital to the lifeblood of the town that The Piece Hall remains accessible for everyone. This brings many business challenges for the Trust as it costs £5k per day just to open!
There are also a number of different and sometimes competing aspects to the business – independent shops; heritage and learning facilities; educational programmes; bars, cafes and restaurants; cultural events – and we need to make all of these dynamics work together – which is also the fun bit.
Every day we hear about retail and restaurant closures on the high street and these are difficult market conditions for businesses. Despite that, at The Piece Hall we’re developing a retail and leisure model that is showing promising signs for the future with our tenants flourishing in the digital age, combining online sales and search with probably the best showcase space around.
The transformation carried out has, in some ways, divided people’s opinions of The Piece Hall. It’s sometimes hard to change perceptions of a place, when so many people have recollections from the past.
As an example, my husband’s father had a market stall here over 25 years ago when it reopened in 1976, and his memory of The Piece Hall was that it was a great market space but the overall environment of the building felt a bit tired and needed some TLC. Indeed, there are many who felt that The Piece Hall was an overlooked asset which did not command the much-deserved national attention in the way it does today.
Others have more positive memories of this wonderful community asset and didn’t really see the need for change.
People buy into ambition at different speeds. Some immediately share your vision and others take longer to understand what you are doing. Just look at the major changes that have enabled a number of UK cities to become wealthier, healthier and happier.
We’ve seen the likes of Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Hull and Liverpool all reinvent themselves with great success, when many people said it couldn’t be done. And this is what I want for Halifax and Calderdale.
We’re already experiencing a growing sense of excitement and self-belief, in particular with children and young people who are coming to The Piece Hall inspired by what’s happening here. For the Instagram generation, it’s a backdrop that needs no filter.
We’ve played host to world class events such as the Tour de Yorkshire; Grammy Award winner Father John Misty and friends, Chow Down food and drink festival and the Antiques Roadshow which have drawn comments like. “I can’t believe this is happening in Halifax.” This tells me we’re on the right path.
As we reach our first anniversary since the transformation on August 1, we can say with absolute conviction that the spirit that once put Halifax on a global stage is alive and kicking.
There are no shortage of ideas and there’s loads of work yet to be done, but if the tremendous support we’ve had in this first year continues to build, we’ll be well on our way to becoming not only one of the top heritage destinations in the UK, but across the world.