The Piece Hall has always had the “wow” factor – and as well as appreciating its past more, it has a role to play in helping Halifax and Calderdale prosper in the future.
Leader of Calderdale Council, Coun Tim Swift, who first saw the Piece Hall a quarter of a century ago, said there were clear aims behind the £19m development of the Halifax landmark.
At the opening he told the crowd: “I could never have imagined that 25 years later I find myself here as leader of the council responsible for its transformation.
“It is the culmination of years of work, discussion and understanding of what it means to Halifax and the wider area.”
That meant recognising the need to preserve its architectural future and it was the most extraordinary structure; explaining its heritage, which was entwined with the storyof Halifax and Calderdale; rediscovering its potential as a public space that people want to visit and return to; and using it as a focus for the wider regeneration of the borough, also taking in Orange Box, Square Chapel Arts Centre, a new library and the re-opening of the Industrial Museum.
Harry Gration, compering the opening event, added that although it had been a difficult project to complete, Halifax was really on the map.
“I honestly beleive this place is one of the finest in all Yorkshire and it is fitting we are celebrating it on Yorkshire Day.”
The Mayor of Calderdale, Coun Ferman Ali, had welcomed townspeople and said: “The Piece Hall was built by local people, clothiers who came to provide a local buuilding on land provided by the Caygill family. It is fitting that people can enjoy the building for many years to come. The council secured it for their benefit.
“Last but not least, I thank everyone here today for coming and joining us to re-open the Piece Hall and make it a fantastic success, We can enjoy our Piece Hall once again.”
Coun Ali later officially handed the building over from the council to the care of the Piece Hall Trust.
Roger Marsh, chairman of the trust, thanked the council for its perseverance over many years to oversee the transformation and the Heritage Lottery, about whose work Ros Kerslake spoke, for its key role.
Guest and Halifax Para-Olympian Hannah Cockroft, who rang the restored bell to symbolically mark the start of the new era, said: “They have done such a fantastic job, it is so much easier to get around. It’s lovely to have it back - enjoy it.”
The Piece Hall’s cheif executive, Nicky Chance-Thompson, said as well as enjoying the opening, Welcome events throughout the month included jazz saxophone star Andy Sheppard’s Saxophone Massive on August 18, followed by free acts and artists at the Welcome Weekend of August 19 and 20, and, over Bank Holiday Weekend, the stunning Architects of the Air presentation.
The unveiling was also well received by Halifax people - and many from Calderdale and further afield - taking a closer look. Anne Skelton said “it’s amazing - a big achievement” and had already sent some photos of the event to her sister in Canada, while Brian and Susan Walker had come from Todmorden as they felt it was a day not to be missed.
Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, Kate Moreton-Deakin and her consort Tony Deakin were both impressed. Kate said the contribution arts and lifestyle had on a community should not be underestimated: “Everything about it is beautiful. This is stunning and it’s an absolute testament to partnership working and vision.”
Tony said: “It’s one of the most iconic buildings in the UK and to see it brought back and used is such a tremedous asset. It will grow and grow.”
The presence of one of the town’s best known stores among the new businesses is a real stamp of confidence in the Piece Hall’s future and Harveys of Halifax’s homewear shop was, like others, bustling.
Managing director Tracy Harvey said: “We have dreamed about this day for years and so see it come to fruition is incredible day for Halifax. We should all be really proud of what has been achieved.
“You always know within the first five minutes if it is going to be a success and it’s going brilliantly now.”
Carol Longbottom of Halifax Food Assembly said there had been a lot of interest from a lot of people in its role spreading the word about local produce, with a number of producers setting up ‘pop up’ shops in a unit. “Some of our producers are here today - there are 19 usually. We are an online market bringing local produce to the people of Halifax and beyond,” she said.
Businesses old and new opened their doors.
John Minshell of model shop Replicar has relocated back to the Piece Hall after being based at Dean Clough while the work was carried out. John, who first based his business at the Piece Hall in the 1980s, said he would have liked more time to prepare his shop but it was good to be home. The Piece Hall had better footfall and a lot of old friends and customers had already called in to see him. “I’ve had more regulars in this morning than for three years,” he said.
Opening his first business was record shop and coffee bar owner Mark Richardson of Loafers. “This morning has been amazing so I am happy to see the Piece Hall open and ready becaude it is such a beautiful place. It is my first business and it is so exciting because of the potential,” he said.
Mark believes good use of the paved public area in the centre of the Piece Hall for events would lead to good footfall. “It would be fantastic,” he said.