Just over six months ago, The Piece Hall – one of the most significant heritage buildings in Britain – reopened its gates after a ground-breaking transformation.
- Project: The Piece Hall transformation
- Objectives: To conserve the Grade I listed Piece Hall for future generations, whilst creating a world-class tourist attraction that would strengthen the local economy
- Timescale: 2009 – 2017
- Cost to authority: £19.2m
- Number of staff working on project: A core team of five, drawing on support from across the council
- Outcomes: An award-winning heritage regeneration project and a proven catalyst for tourism, economic growth and local pride in Halifax town centre
- Officer contact details: Claire Slattery
We have begun an exciting new chapter, putting Halifax and Calderdale on the map nationally and internationally as a heritage and cultural destination.
The Grade I listed building originally opened in 1779 and became the centre of the global woollen trade. Now it is one of only two cloth halls left in the world, and the only remaining one in the UK. Although the Piece Hall was still a retail and tourist destination that had long been the subject of great admiration, we wanted to make the most of a building that not many people knew about, to kick-start our transformation of Halifax and the development of our new cultural and learning quarter.
The reopening of the Piece Hall heralds the start of a realisation of the potential of our place – one of the key locations for enterprise and commerce in the North for the past 200 years – turning a beautiful heritage asset into a catalyst for new hopes and stories of our place.
Following a meticulous development and public consultation period, the Piece Hall transformation project was endorsed by full Council in 2012 in challenging times, showing real political and place leadership. This led to securing the investment of £7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and work started on site in 2014.
Our vision was to conserve the building for future generations whilst creating a world-class, 21st century venue that would strengthen the local economy. We wanted to attract visitors from across the UK and all over the world; enhance local civic pride and engagement with our unique cultural offer; boost local business and attract inward investment.
An independent charity, the Piece Hall Trust, was set up to run the Piece Hall for public benefit and to ensure the sustainable future of this magnificent building.
The reopening on 1 August 2017 – Yorkshire Day – saw 23,000 people visit. BBC Look North spent the whole day with us. By early evening all the cash points in the town centre had run out. We saw the beginning of the Piece Hall’s new life as a contemporary leisure, retail, cultural and heritage destination alongside our newly built state-of-the-art central library and archives, the recently extended Square Chapel Arts Centre (funded by the Arts Council), the reopened Calderdale Industrial Museum and Orange Box young people’s centre.
The Piece Hall transformation was made possible by funding from the council, the generous £7m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and support from the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation.
The Piece Hall Trust is doing a fantastic job of running the building since it reopened. In the first six months, the transformed Piece Hall has generated footfall of 1.4 million, won two national awards, from the British Guild of Travel Writers and Historic England, featured as a location for the BBC’s Children in Need programme and attracted praise from Lord Lloyd Webber, who, when awarding it the overall UK Historic England Angel Award in November 2017, described the building as “inspirational” and putting “Halifax on a par with major cities in Europe”. He said: “This stunning example of urban renewal should spur on the councils of every major city and town in Britain to do something similar.”
There is a real energy around the town. Businesses have seen a dramatic upturn in trade and The Piece Hall has become a key part of residents’ sense of place and identity, influencing community and cultural life. The transformation has also attracted significant inward investment to the area, including Leeds Beckett University’s decision to locate its upcoming business centre next to the Piece Hall.
2018 will see the venue host the Tour de Yorkshire, further national TV programmes including the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, outdoor music concerts, film screenings and a spectacular Christmas festival, bringing hundreds of thousands of new visitors to the area.
Getting to this point did, unsurprisingly, have its challenges. We had a 230-year-old building that was in danger of falling into decline. How could we ensure it remained the centrepiece of Halifax and part of a thriving visitor economy, whilst being sympathetic to its historic significance?
The project began with a critical development phase, drawing on the council’s expertise in heritage, planning, economic development and conservation planning. We developed a scheme that would adapt the Piece Hall for modern use, whilst maintaining its integrity and identity. The council oversaw the transformation project, bringing in recognised specialists to help with the conservation and renewal, business planning and sustainability, ecological aspects and public realm development.
Every aspect of the transformation required great care and attention to detail. The 18th century stonework needed to be carefully conserved and restored and the original 315 units, once used for selling cloth, had to be upgraded into exceptional retail and public facilities. We installed new lighting to bring additional safety and to highlight the new water features, steps and seating areas, creating a beautiful atmosphere at night. We brought heating into the units for the first time in the building’s history and fitted new doors, windows, electrics, wifi, security systems and floors.
The Piece Hall was built on a slope, but this has now been levelled out to make it the perfect venue for events and festivals. The new surface also gives enhanced safety and accessibility.
Typically for a Grade I listed Georgian building, there were no detailed historic drawings for the design and construction teams to work with and peculiarities were only revealed during the works, so flexibility was key. Once teams were on site and able to fully address the future needs of the building, plans had to be adapted. This included introducing additional measures to strengthen the building and addressing the discovery of a foundation wall akin to a dry-stone wall, which was not sustainable.
As part of the planned preparations for the transformation, we commissioned an archaeological dig on the adjacent Square Chapel site. Whilst West Yorkshire Archaeological Services staff were on site, they found more burials than we’d originally anticipated – more than 200 – meaning the excavation work was bigger than we thought. However, the outcome of the osteological analysis of the remains was a fascinating snapshot of local life around the time the Piece Hall was built, giving us an insight into the health and lifestyle of people living in Halifax 200 years ago.
In the context of austerity, transforming the Piece Hall was one of the boldest decisions the council has ever made. We’re delighted with the outcome and this is echoed by local people in comments such as, ‘now we have somewhere to be proud of.’
We’re confident that the venue will continue to impress for decades to come.
Robin Tuddenham, chief executive, Calderdale MBC