The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns have been difficult for many reasons, whether physical, psychological, operational or commercial. However, it has also generated some fantastic stories of optimism, positivity and people coming together.
For many years those of us working in the heritage, arts or museums sectors have been fighting to be recognised for the social and economic contribution we make to society.
Historic England research just before the pandemic showed that the heritage sector directly provided over 206,000 jobs, with the growth of jobs in the sector outpacing the rest of the economy. In the North of England specifically, the NP11 group of Local Enterprise Partnerships found that our sector adds around £4 billion a year to the economy; thus playing a critical role in levelling-up the UK and generating local pride.
Thankfully, that long-fought battle for recognition seems to have been won. Recognising The Piece Hall’s major contribution to Halifax, Yorkshire and the UK, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, National Lottery Heritage Fund and our local authority stepped up with unprecedented grants and financial support to help us weather the pandemic.
This support helped us to bounce back stronger than ever with an improved, friendly and safe public courtyard which is helping families reunite after many months apart. Few things make my role more rewarding than looking into our Georgian courtyard and seeing the elation on the faces of children, grandparents and parents as they come together after time apart.
I think the well-known phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” really does apply to our heritage attractions, museums and galleries after months of lockdown. For instance, in our first weekend in April alone we welcomed over 12,000 people through our gates.
People are drawn here by our unique blend of history – being the only remaining Georgian cloth hall in the world – over 40 independent shops, restaurants and bars, and our music and arts programme.
By creating a place with a purpose and getting the support needed, we have a powerful tool that will help Halifax and Yorkshire to come back stronger after the pandemic.
We are also working hard to put heritage on the international stage, with all eyes on late summer as we eagerly anticipate our 2021 ‘Live at The Piece Hall’ series.
We’re incredibly excited to be welcoming world-class artists and local talent to play gigs in the open-air courtyard, including multi-platinum-selling band the Kaiser Chiefs and indie rockers The Cribs. Not only will this enable people to experience the thrill of live music once again, it’s also set to boost the local economy by driving visitors to Halifax town centre and facilitating recovery.
Over the last few years, we have established a strong track record as a driver and catalyst for Halifax’s renewal and transformation. An independent study using the official HM Treasury analysis approach found that for every £1 spent running the Piece Hall, £5.30 is generated for the local economy.
We have a model and approach that can and should be replicated elsewhere around the UK. By creating a place with a purpose and getting the support needed, we have a powerful tool that will help Halifax and Yorkshire to come back stronger after the pandemic.
With most international travel and holidays off the agenda for the foreseeable future, heritage attractions have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reach new audiences that might normally look to holiday abroad. And once people get a taste for what the UK has to offer, there’s no going back.
Let’s use the help we’ve received to support recovery, reach new audiences and make memories that stick with people for decades to come. That’s certainly what we will be doing at The Piece Hall.