Lumb Bank: Writing retreat previously owned by Ted Hughes to be turned into 'beacon for Northern voices'

It was from the craggy landscapes of his Calder Valley that Ted Hughes carved a craft, to weave his words as a writer and poet and as a giant of his genre and time.

Now with investment from Arts Council England a building once owned by the former poet laureate is to be transformed under ambitions to serve as a "beacon for Northern voices".

This corner of Yorkshire has delivered some of the world's greatest writers through time, said Helen Meller, co-director of Lumb Bank, now a writing retreat with Arvon Foundation.

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This project is about more than the building's fabric, though that too is be updated. It's about creating new strands of creative writing opportunities and more.

Co-director Helen Meller at Lumb Bank in Heptonstall, Hebden BridgeCo-director Helen Meller at Lumb Bank in Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge
Co-director Helen Meller at Lumb Bank in Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge

She said: "We want to use the site as a beacon for Northern voices and Northern writers. To do that is to connect with partners like Bradford with the Brontes and Halifax with Anne Lister - to create a real sense of what it is to be Northern.

"It goes beyond bricks and mortar," she added. "What if we look at different ways of using Lumb Bank? How can we satellite outwards to create a community of writers. To create an engine house of creativity in the North, championing the literary potential of the region."

Ted Hughes, born in Mytholmroyd in 1930, was raised in the Calder Valley. In 1969, he bought Lumb Bank, leasing it to the Arvon Foundation in 1975, which bought it in 1989.

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Like many old buildings, said Mrs Meller, it is now looking a little bit tired. The award of £725,000, part of Arts Council England’s Capital Investment Programme, will go some way to updating its fabric, making it more accessible and bringing it into the 21st century.

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The aim is to take what the foundation does and bring it to more people in different ways.

Mrs Meller, who is also vice chair of the Bronte Society, said she drives past Hughes' parents' house at The Beacon in Heptonstall every day on her way to work.

She said she always imagines Hughes, and Sylvia Plath who visited, immersed in this landscape, feeding it into their work.

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"You can still feel it today," she said. "The place can't but fail to inspire. Ted Hughes' voice is one of the most iconic in this Northern landscape. A lot of the imagery is carved and hewn from the very rock of the Calder Valley.

"You can feel it, when you enter Lumb Bank. He was very excited by this idea that everyone is a writer, everyone can be a writer. And never has there been a time when unlocking creativity has been so important."

Hughes was writing at a time of transformative change for the Calder Valley, as old textile mills began to die and communities like Hebden Bridge were "on their knees".

It's almost unimaginable now, said Mrs Meller, with such communities now thriving on the arts and indepence. She said: "We want to celebrate and amplify that creativity. We need to do all we can to champion past, present and future voices.

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"There's something indomitable about the Yorkshire spirit - it won't be put down and it will come out, somewhere, somehow."

Lumb Bank has had a rich and colourful history, built as a mill master's house and with the chimneys of its three mills still visible in the distance.

It has served as a horse and pony ranch and tea rooms, a mink farm, a family home. Now, with Arvon Foundation and Arvon at Home, it hosts residential courses and retreats. Each year, dozens of courses are with vulnerable groups and schools, funded through donations.

"I'm very proud Arts Council England wants to invest," said Mrs Meller. "It's about more than the building. It's about what the fabric of the building can do for writing in the North."

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