‘The Piece Hall is the only remaining Georgian cloth building left in the UK which is still intact,’ Nicola Chance-Thompson, Chief Executive of The Piece Hall Trust, says. ‘Traders used to trade pieces of cloth – which is where the name ‘Piece Hall’ comes from – that went over the world, but the Industrial Revolution put it out of business because cloth went from hand-loom to machine-loom.’
In the intervening years, the building has been put to many uses, but it was closed by the Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council in 2014 to undergo major renovation work costing around £20 million, carried out with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund. It’s hoped that the new-look Piece Hall will have a regenerative effect not on only Halifax town centre itself, but Calderdale and the wider regions of the area too.
Some of the highlights of the renovation include: the development of an amphitheatre-style square within The Piece Hall to allow for outdoor events to take place; the restoration of the building’s stonework, doors and windows (in keeping with its original Georgian style); the addition of both lifts and bathroom facilities, and an extension to the building to provide more room for restaurants on the site.
The Piece Hall will be handed over to The Piece Hall Trust from Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council on 1 August – a date that Nicola is very much looking forward to, as she and The Trust have big plans for the site. ‘We’re going to have world-class events, independent shops and food and drink retailers,’ she says. ‘Halifax has suffered from not having a town square or a centre for people to meet and be together. The plan is for The Piece Hall to be a very credible, international destination – we want it to be a reason for people to come to Halifax.’
Nicola also revealed what kind of events can be expected at The Piece Hall: ‘The plan is to have around four major events a year,’ she says. ‘Things like screenings of movies in the square, classical concerts, artistic dance and opera.
‘We’re also creating some Heritage Learning Centres for those who are interested in the history of the building,’ she continues. ‘Children can take classes, there’ll be adult learning and we’ll have dressed-up Georgian characters doing storytelling about what it was like to live and work in the area and The Piece Hall itself. It’s going to bring the history of the building and the area alive.
‘We’re also going to be working closely with our sister building, The Square Chapel for Arts,’ Nicola says. ‘It’s right next door and has also just undergone a major renovation – the building’s absolutely beautiful. I’m really keen to work with our colleagues around Halifax to offer a broad breadth of a programme, rather than offering things in isolation – we want to make sure that anything we do chimes with anything else going on. If The Square Chapel had a symphony orchestra playing, the last thing we’d want to do would be to book a band for the same night.’
The first day in August is, of course, Yorkshire Day, so it seems fitting that The Piece Hall will be handed over to the Trust and officially reopened to the public on such a special date. There are a number of events planned to mark the occasion, with a couple that Nicola is particularly looking forward to. ‘The point of the Yorkshire Day opening is for us to give The Piece Hall back to the town,’ she says. ‘Before the world descends on it, we want local people to explore the building. We’ll have some toddlers taking the first steps into the new Piece Hall; we’re running a competition to identify a community champion who will be the first person to ring the restored bell for trading for the first time in around two hundred years; and I’m just really looking forward to seeing people’s faces when they come into the square.
Nicola also tells us that there will be a range of welcome events happening throughout The Piece Hall’s first month of operation, as well as the Yorkshire Day event on 1 August, including Andy Sheppard’s Saxophone Massive which will involve 150 saxophonists playing a specially written piece of music. The Piece Hall’s first quarterly programme of events will be published in September, so watch this space.
For more information on The Piece Hall and its programme of events, visit www.thepiecehall.co.uk