The power of culture in Calderdale


With the Anne Lister Birthday Festival(external link) just days away, and excitement building for Calderdale’s ground-breaking Year of Culture in 2024, the Council is reflecting on the power of culture to transform towns and lives.

From Monday 27 March to Monday 3 April, people from across Calderdale, the UK and the globe are expected to join celebrations for the 232nd birthday of Shibden Hall’s most famous resident, Anne Lister.

Showcased to the world through Sally Wainwright’s TV drama, Gentleman Jack, Anne’s legacy and historic Shibden home in Halifax are a key part of Calderdale’s local heritage, culture and visitor economy.

The ‘Gentleman Jack effect’ gave Shibden Hall its record year in 2019 after visits trebled, and in 2022 the second series helped generate the best visitor figures of all the pre-2019 years. This shows that people were keen to come back to the museum despite the closure periods in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with visitor numbers recovering as soon as the museum could reopen.

The Council made improvements to its museum offer during the closure period, including increasing the souvenir and gift selection and expanding café facilities, which have proved popular with visitors, bringing much-welcomed additional funding to the service. 

The Council-run Victoria Theatre – another major Calderdale cultural asset – has also seen customers keen to return after the pandemic’s enforced closures. 2022 was the theatre’s best trading year yet. Ticket sales exceed pre-pandemic levels by 22%, with the theatre welcoming over 90,000 visitors in 2019/20 and around 114,000 in 2022/23. Sleeping Beauty in 2022 was one of the theatre’s most successful pantomimes.

There are exciting times ahead for the theatre, with the Future High Streets funded plans taking shape to boost visitor numbers even more. The planning application for a new theatre café bar in the adjacent former newsagent, and a new box office in the vacant shoe shop building, has now been submitted. This, along with a proposed new lift providing access to all levels of the theatre, aims to welcome a greater number of people to the magnificent venue.

The Piece Hall, transformed by the Council and run by The Piece Hall Trust, has become an international symbol of Calderdale’s culture and heritage, and sparked the cultural regeneration of the area. Recently announced figures show that The Piece Hall has recorded its most successful year since reopening in 2017 – proof that the appetite for culture hasn’t faded since the pandemic.

Calderdale’s cultural assets are no doubt a key contributor to entertainment, but they also go beyond this. For example, local libraries have been a great help during the cost of living crisis, supporting communities and reducing inequalities through access to warm spaces. Libraries are at the heart of the community and, in the current difficult times, have stepped up to deliver the little extras that make a difference. During the cold winter months, all the Council’s libraries offered hot drinks and biscuits. They continue to offer extensive digital resources and are currently improving broadband speeds across the borough’s libraries. They are venues for creativity and host exhibitions and displays that showcase Calderdale’s talent, as well as providing their core services of loaning physical and digital materials, with 437,000 items loaned in the last year.

Cllr Jenny Lynn, Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Services and Communities, said:

“Culture is a major part of the activities we enjoy and the places we visit, and Calderdale has it in bucketloads. It plays a huge part in making our borough distinctive, helping our towns thrive, transforming people’s lives and recovering from the pandemic.

“Culture became incredibly important to help people through COVID-19, and it’s heartening to see that visitors have been so keen to return to cultural venues since the post-lockdown reopenings.

“We’re harnessing the impact of this through the new CultureDale brand, the Cultural Strategy for Calderdale and the eagerly-awaited Year of Culture in 2024. We know that the increase in cultural events and activities as part of this will help Calderdale stand out even more as a place, and will support our priorities for thriving towns and places and reduced inequalities.”

To see all the great things Calderdale has to offer, and for details of the Anne Lister Birthday Festival celebrations, head to link) and explore #CultureDale at link)

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