An empty 1970s shopping precinct in Huddersfield has been transformed into a unique arts centre, trebling exhibition audiences and leading to the formation of new cultural initiatives that have gained national attention. Our report documents the transformation and has identified the architecture of the precinct as an important factor. With the recent levelling up white paper calling for renewed “pride of place”, based on engagement in local culture, we recommend the Huddersfield experience as a model for low cost regeneration of other town centres. By making the most of existing resources, this approach is a positive response to the climate emergency.
In the summer of 2019 Kirklees Council1 bought the failing Piazza shopping centre in Huddersfield.
The purchase was intended to make way for the implementation of The Blueprint2, the council’s strategy for regenerating the town centre. The strategy is based on two principles: regeneration through landmark arts buildings and reducing the number of empty shop units by knocking down the Piazza, concentrating retail activity in fewer spaces.
However, in the interim between buying the centre and being able to begin demolition, the council found itself directly and publicly responsible for some of the empty shop fronts which were blighting the centre of Huddersfield and are commonplace on high streets across the country.
As the result of a meeting between the then strategic director for economy and infrastructure at Kirklees Council and The Making Space, a local arts organisation, the council decided to open up the empty shop units to arts and community groups, following the model demonstrated by The Making Space in another smaller, privately owned, shopping centre in the town.
The turnaround has been remarkable. The Piazza has been converted from a failing shopping centre into a flourishing arts centre.
The report highlights how and why that has happened. It does so by talking to some of the Huddersfield citizens who populate the empty shops of the Piazza with fantastic art, community activity and new organisations, and have transformed it into the Piazza Arts Centre (PAC).
Compiling this report was the first time anyone had thought to ask the people and organisations involved to tell their story and share their ideas for the future of arts, culture and community activity in the town.
We have nothing but praise for Kirklees Council’s decision to buy the Piazza and open up the spaces to arts and community organisations.
We recommend that other councils adapt the Piazza Arts Centre experience as an approach to regenerating their own town centres.
In relation to Kirklees Council’s The Blueprint this report plays an unusual role. Rather than recommending that the council starts doing something new, we suggest they allow themselves to recognise, and then build on, their existing success.
By doing so we pose an important question: how do civic institutions learn?
If you would like to read our report on the Piazza Arts Centre, please drop us a line.
Kirklees is the name of the local authority area covering the West Yorkshire towns of Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley and surrounding rural areas including small towns such as Holmfirth and Marsden. ↩
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