Sunny Bank Mills dates from the days when Yorkshire’s textile industry ruled the world, but today it is probably best known for its links with the ITV dramas Emmerdale and Heartbeat, which were often filmed there.
Owners and directors John and William Gaunt have invested £2.5m to regenerate the site, which once employed large numbers of textile workers from the surrounding villages.
They want the mill to reclaim its status as the major employer in Farsley, near Leeds.
For almost two centuries, the imposing Sunny Bank Mills was the hub of Leeds’ textile industry.
In 2008, the site’s guardians, the Gaunt family, took the decision to halt textile production at the west Leeds mill.
Now they have set out their vision for the mill’s future, after taking inspiration from the World Heritage site in Saltaire, near Bradford.
Saltaire is dominated by Salts Mill, which was built by the Victorian philanthropist and businessman Titus Salt, in the 1850s.
In recent years, the mill has become a major cultural attraction, which attracts tourists from around the world.
William and John Gaunt recently opened up Sunny Bank Mills to give residents the chance to find out about their plans for the historic site.
Three lettings have now been secured at the mills complex, and others are expected to follow soon.
Pudsey & District Civic Society, Capital Design Build and Dave Spink Photography have all moved into Sunny Bank Mills. Pudsey Civic Society and Dave Spink Photography will be based in Red Lane Mill, where they have taken combined office space of 1,560 sq ft, while Capital Design Build has moved into an 813 sq ft office in Sandsgate.
Both Red Lane Mill and Sandsgate have recently been refurbished to transform them into business centres.
Molly Johnson, of Pudsey & District Civic Society, said yesterday: “We are delighted to be taking advantage of larger premises in the newly-opened complex at Sunny Bank Mills.
“Sunny Bank Mills offers an ideal site for storing our important documents and memorabilia.”
Kay Land of Capital Design Build said: “The company is delighted to be contributing to the commercial life of Farsley.
“Within months of moving in we are already expanding our workforce from the local community.”
Mr Spink said: “This has been a tremendous move for me. The modern office space is perfect for my creative work.”
The Sunny Bank Mills complex, which has been owned by the Gaunt family for nearly 200 years, is being renovated to provide space for small and medium-sized businesses in West Yorkshire.
So far 120 jobs have been created.
John Gaunt said yesterday: “We believe very strongly that we must preserve the legacy of Sunny Bank Mills for future generations. These three lettings, to a diverse and enterprising trio of tenants, are an important step towards achieving this goal.
“We are retaining and refurbishing existing historic buildings such as Sandsgate and the 1912 Mill, where Yorkshire Television filmed Emmerdale and Heartbeat, to create new jobs and regenerate the site.
“We estimate that 500 new jobs will have been created here by 2020, making Sunny Bank Mills the economic powerhouse of Farsley once again.
“I think the pedigree of business which has relocated here already reflects the quality of the refurbishments being undertaken and that even in the teeth of recession, Sunny Bank Mills and Farsley can succeed in its mission of being a creative space for business,” he explained.
Mr Gaunt said: “We are now definitely open for business and have a number of small offices, from 300 sq ft upwards, available at Sandsgate now.
“Rents are very competitive. Meanwhile we have completely refurbished the iconic 1912 Mill and have 20,000 sq ft of quality office space available to rent.
“We are also looking at imaginative uses for other parts of the Sunny Bank Mills site, including a 130-cover restaurant with a terrace fronting Town Street, the main street in Farsley,” he said.
“This is a long-term project. We are not rushing into anything and we are taking great care to get this restoration absolutely right.”
Mike Haigh, of Leeds-based property consultants Dove Haigh Phillips, said that this was one of the most significant mill regeneration projects being undertaken in Yorkshire.
He said: “This is a genuinely exciting development.
“Steeped in history and with massive potential, Sunny Bank Mills is becoming one of the prime business locations in the West Leeds area. The lettings so far underline this.
“The mix of historic buildings with first-class modern business facilities is a winning combination, while the location, in between Leeds and Bradford, close to Yorkshire’s motorway network, one mile from the nearest station and just five miles from Leeds-Bradford Airport, is perfect,” he said.
John Gaunt added: “Ultimately, we are the guardians of this exceptional site.
“While it has a tremendous history, we must look to the future. This is a labour of love and we are very conscious of the need to get it right, not just for us, but also for Farsley.”
Mr Gaunt, who used to work on the shop floor during his school holidays, told the Yorkshire Post last year: “When I have worked here the site has been a manufacturing unit and it has become quieter and quieter.
“In my mind’s eye I’m seeing buildings lit up and lots of people pouring down the yards, just as they did 50 years ago.”
A giant in the textiles world
THE 1950s and 1960s were times of great prosperity for the Sunny Bank Mills Complex in Farsley.
There was a thriving export trade for its cloth.
It was an era when millions of people were employed in traditional industries around Britain.
In the mid-1970s it made a decision to reinvest in weaving and cease its combing and spinning operations. However, by 1991 the Gulf War had disrupted trade in the mill’s most important market and sales were never to fully recover.
In 2008 the production of fine worsteds ceased at Sunny Bank Mills after 180 years. Two years later John and William Gaunt began their regeneration programme and, last year, they announced that they had completed the restoration of the 1912 Mill and Sandsgate offices.