Halifax Piece Hall five years on: How an ambitious restoration transformed the town's image

Yorkshire Day has a special significance for Nicky Chance-Thompson as it marks five years since the reopening of the iconic Piece Hall in Halifax. Catherine Scott reports

She refers to herself as the proud caretaker of Halifax’s iconic Piece Hall, but it is clear speaking to Nicky Chance-Thompson that the historic building means much more to her than that.

Following a multi-million-pound transformation project, Britain’s most spectacular and last surviving cloth hall

re-opened on Yorkshire Day 2017 with magnificent fanfare.

Nicky Chance - Thompson at the Piece Hall Halifax

Since then around eight million people have visited the impressive Grade I-listed structure which played a vital role at the centre of the world’s booming woollen trade in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

And the woman in charge was and still is its CEO and trustee Nicky Chance-Thompson.

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And she remembers vividly the first time she saw the Piece Hall.

Nicky Chance-Thompson

“I moved to Yorkshire temporarily for six months – that was 17 years ago. I just fell in love with the place.

“Before I moved here I’d meet people and they’d say ‘I’m from Yorkshire and I’m proud of it’ I never really understood what they meant until I came to live here. I just fell in love with the place and the people.

“My husband is from Halifax and he took me to the Piece Hall one day. I remember thinking how amazing it was but how sad it was quite run down and wasn’t being utilised as much as it should have been.”

Nicky’s background is in advertising and branding for big names such as Tesco, BT and Reebok before becoming involved in regeneration projects.

And so when she heard the local council with Heritage Lottery funding was planning to invest in the Piece Hall she knew that she wanted to be involved.

“I was invited to be on the board of trustees which was such an honour and a privilege. I really wanted to be involved in bringing this great building back to life for the people of Halifax and Yorkshire.”

In 2017 Nicky became CEO of the Piece Hall. “It was very unexpected and not really planned but it was my privilege to do it.”

After a lot of hard work and investment the Piece Hall reopened in that year.

Built in 1779 by the merchants of Halifax for trading ‘pieces’ of cloth, under Nicky’s stewardship today it is placed amongst the great town squares of Europe, with a treasure trove of high-quality independent shops, with restaurants and bars surrounding the huge open-air courtyard.

But the last five years haven’t quite gone according to plan.

“We had only been opened a couple of years when the pandemic hit,” she says.” “We were just getting going really, implementing our plans, testing things out and gaining the momentum of operating this wonderful building and the 43 independent shops, bar and restaurants and then Covid happened. We just didn’t know what it would mean for us.

“Everything closed down other than one retailer who sold food so could keep open. It was a very difficult time.

“Luckily we had some great leadership and received funding that was available for heritage and culture which enabled us to survive and place staff on furlough.

“We received some extra funding to enable to us to reopen, which has been an absolute lifesaver for us and the businesses here.”

But survive they did and despite the pandemic nearly eight million people have visited the Piece Hall over the last five years.

“Events, culture, music and shopping were all things I think we took for granted until they were taken away from us during the pandemic. We were busy focussing on careers and other things. I think one thing the pandemic has done is made us realise while those things are still important, they are not everything.”

Reopening as restrictions were lifted was challenge in itself as they had to restrict the numbers of people visiting. But Nicky remembers vividly the day they allowed the public back in. “One of the things I missed the most was hearing the children playing in the fountain. When we reopened and I heard them laughing and playing again it was a very special moment.”

Reinstating live music so that people are able to see world-class acts is another thing she is proud of and something the Piece Hall plans to develop further in the next five years.

Big names to have played the Piece Hall include Tom Jones, Duran Duran, Paloma Faith and Paul Weller.

It is not just the Piece Hall that Nicky is passionate about, it is also the area and the entire county. During 2018/2019 she was the Mayoress of Calderdale in a supporting role to her husband the Mayor and loved meeting and serving the communities of Calderdale.

She won Yorkshire Businesswoman of the Year in 2019 and is on the Northern Power Women’s Power List. She also holds several non-executive voluntary roles in which she is a director including: Northern Broadsides, Halifax Business Improvement District and The Halifax Culture Hub.

In other volunteer capacities Nicky works closely with women who are trying to rebuild their lives after addiction and supporting the homeless.

In her spare time, Nicky loves walking in the Yorkshire countryside with her dogs, horse riding, reading, going to the theatre or concerts, spending time with her family and finally catching up on The Archers.

As well as CEO of the Piece Hall, she is deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and involved in many local charities and organisations.

She was on the board of Welcome to Yorkshire, but quit after the resignation of former CEO James Mason.

“Yorkshire needs a large tourism organisation, especially with the problems with international travel, we need to encourage people to come and stay in the county and see what we have to offer. We are stronger than the sum of our parts and we need to sell Yorkshire as a whole.”

She believes that last five years have been a test for the Piece Hall and it has survived and shone and she is looking forward to the challenges of the future.

“We need to raise the profile of the Piece Hall to a wider audience, through more world class acts, more television. .

“We need people outside of Calderdale to realise the magic of the Piece Hall.”