The work of artists, community groups and business start-ups in the Piazza generates at least £400,000 per year of value for Huddersfield, according to new research.

The Piazza, which became an arts hub called ‘Temporary Contemporary’ as shops closed down, is due to be demolished by Kirklees Council as part of the Our Cultural Heart development.

But analysis by Huddersfield-based think tank Same Skies has found that renovating the remaining Piazza buildings as a venue for the arts, community groups and new businesses could prove a more cost effective option.

Same Skies began researching the Piazza in 2020 and adopting their proposals rather than Our Cultural Heart could already have saved Kirklees Council £5 million in consultant fees alone, the think tank claims.

Over the past four years, the Piazza Arts Centre has been home to numerous activities including Worst Album Covers, the town’s most successful ever art exhibition which gained national media coverage and has gone on to tour venues around Britain.

It has also housed Dark Horse theatre, a theatre company for adults with learning disabilities, and the Ame music venue that attracted performers from all over the world to Huddersfield, among many others.

This activity creates additional value for Huddersfield in a number of ways, the think tank says:

  • The ever changing, high-quality programme draws recurring footfall and dwell time in the town centre, with long established arts organisations such as Huddersfield Art Society reporting greatly increased attendance;
  • The quality of events generates positive publicity for the town in the wider region and nationally, for example one small weekend exhibition was covered twice in two days by BBC Radio Leeds;
  • Organisations can apply for funding independently, with one group alone bringing in a £250,000 grant;
  • New businesses are being created, with at least four business start-ups happening because of the Piazza along with support for numerous sole traders.

Same Skies also points out that the Piazza even helps the council to deliver its own services, with adult social care, community cohesion, economic development and the museums and libraries service all reaping the benefits of the Piazza Arts Centre.

The findings of the Same Skies research are supported by policy advice from national think tanks. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts advises councils not to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on cultural “white elephants.”

Instead councils should focus on developing unique local initiatives such as the Piazza Arts Centre.

Former council leader Shabir Pandor (left) with director of regeneration David Shepherd and an early model of the Cultural Heart

Andrew Wilson, co-director of Same Skies, said: “Our latest figures show how the Piazza Arts Centre could be a national success story for Huddersfield.

“Its success is down to the architecture of the Piazza which has proved to be a revolutionary design for an arts, culture and business start-up venue.

“Our Cultural Heart is a project of the previous leadership of Kirklees Council. The scheme has already been drastically scaled back and Phase 2 faces years of delays and uncertainty, while our continuing research demonstrates there is a viable, cost effective alternative,” added Mr Wilson.

“The council has a new leader and a new chief executive, and they don’t have to be bound by decisions made by their predecessors.

“I’ve shared our research with Clr Cathy Scott, the leader, and Steve Mawson, chief executive, and I trust they will begin a conversation to consider all the options for Huddersfield.”

David Shepherd, strategic director for growth and regeneration at Kirklees Council, said: “Through the Our Cultural Heart development we’re creating a vibrant culture, art, leisure and nightlife offer to boost the local economy and attract visitors from near and far.

“In order to bring this vision to life, the existing Piazza will be demolished to make way for the area’s new offering, which will include a food hall, museum and art gallery and a modern, community library, events square and urban park.

“Temporary Contemporary is a programme which is about temporary cultural interventions in vacant properties.

“It has never been about providing permanent space to artists and other creative practitioners – however, due to its success in making artists more visible within our town centre, the council will continue to look to facilitate temporary opportunities for artists to take over empty retail spaces in Huddersfield town centre and other towns across Kirklees.

“We hope that artists will continue to be involved in Temporary Contemporary and, once open, that they will collaborate with the council to make Our Cultural Heart thrive.”


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