Trade unionists have joined calls for Huddersfield’s Piazza Centre to become a permanent arts centre.
Since buying the Piazza for £3.25 million Kirklees Council has moved Huddersfield Art Gallery in there and handed over empty units to community arts organisations.
The temporary scheme has been an unexpected success and calls have been made for the Piazza to be retained as a centre for the arts.
The council has plans to demolish the whole site as part of the £210 million Cultural Heart regeneration but rising construction costs generally have led some to question whether the scheme will have to be scaled back.
Now Huddersfield Trades Council, which represents various trade unions, has written to leading councillors urging a rethink.
They want to see a second regeneration proposal drawn up which keeps the Piazza Centre and boosts the flourishing Piazza Arts Centre.
According to the Trades Council, which can draw on the expertise of trade unions in the cultural and leisure industries, the Piazza has become “one of the most innovative arts and community facilities in the north of England.”
They say the diversity and quality of activities now happening in the empty shop units is unique, ranging from dance classes for people with learning disabilities to experimental music concerts featuring performers from around the world.
The trade unionists point out that exhibition audiences in Huddersfield have trebled because of the arts centre, with one exhibition in particular – ‘Worst Album Covers’ – proving a big draw.
Research into the success of the Piazza found that all of the arts and community groups are convinced that the architecture of the Piazza makes participation in arts and culture accessible to a wider range of people than traditional arts venues.
The Children’s Art School, for example, attracts up to 150 people every Saturday for its free arts classes.
Bob Stoker, secretary of the Trades Council, said: “Kirklees Council deserves proper credit for its part in the success of the Piazza Arts Centre.
“Buying the Piazza shopping centre was a bold move, and by stepping back and letting Huddersfield people and organisations run their activities in the empty units without pre-conditions, the council gave them the best possible starting point.”
Supporting Huddersfield-based people and organisations in this way means that ticket sales, public funding and jobs stay in the local economy, the Trades Council claim, and this embodies the principles set out Yorkshire TUC’s Cultural Manifesto 2022 as well as national policies of unions representing workers in the creative and leisure industries.
The Trades Council are contrasting the proven success of the Piazza Arts Centre with the possible risks involved in the £210 million Cultural Heart scheme.
Mr Stoker added: “We are in facing volatile global conditions and after Boris Johnson’s resignation there are no guarantees of any ‘Levelling Up’ funding in the future.
“Under such difficult circumstances it’s hard to understand why Kirklees Council still refuses to consider building on its own success by renovating the Piazza Arts Centre.”
As well as being in the best interest of Huddersfield people and organisations, the trade unionists say that renovating the Piazza is also better for the environment.
“The construction sector is responsible for 11% of global carbon emissions, and architecture and civil engineering bodies around the world are united in urging that we should renovate existing buildings and reuse them, rather than demolishing them and building new ones,” said Mr Stoker.
“Kirklees Council is one of many that have declared a climate emergency and the Piazza Arts Centre has the potential to be a nationally leading example of climate friendly regeneration.
“We urge the council to put Huddersfield people and the planet first and save the Piazza Arts Centre.”