WITH the UK scheduled to exit the European Union this year and a new Prime Minister just appointed, it is clear that great change is ahead. Which of course brings risks and opportunities.
Many parts of our county face declining high streets, a sense they are left behind, a need for regeneration and the Northern Powerhouse to stop being rhetoric and start being a reality.
Our world-class heritage and great culture offering can be the catalyst to tackle these challenges.
Boris Johnson has spoken about the need to invest in regions outside of London and improve transport connections – he made reference in his Downing Street speech of reaching out to the forgotten people of ‘left behind towns’.
Of course this suggestion of investment is welcome, but the places being connected need more than simply a new bus route or train line to thrive.
Yorkshire is lucky to have some of the most outstanding showcases of British culture including art galleries, churches, markets, streets and squares in the world.
With a bit of investment and profile, they can – and do – draw in millions of visitors from around the country and internationally.
Traditionally heritage, arts and culture have sometimes been looked at a little like a ‘charity case’ – turning up at the taxpayers’ door with a begging bowl asking for money. This is completely wrong. We should treat this type of funding as what it is: an investment.
The venue or gallery itself on paper may not be directly making much money or anything at all, but this completely misses the point. When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, these cultural gems often make significant contributions to their local economy.
Would Channel 4 have moved to Leeds if it wasn’t for the West Yorkshire arts scene which includes the Leeds Playhouse, the Grand, York Minster, Northern Ballet, the Alhambra and the Hepworth Gallery?
In Calderdale we have seen the terrific impact of Sally Wainwright’s Gentleman Jack, Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley which brilliantly showcased our heritage, gritty cultural fabric and raised our profile even more.
The ripple effect of all these things combined becomes a great wave that builds the fabric of a community, adds to our heritage and puts us on the map.
In Halifax, The Piece Hall is helping to put some much-needed pride back into our town. It is providing performance spaces for powerful acts like Zara or international musicians like Elbow.
We have hosted the start of the Tour de Yorkshire and the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow which have started to change people’s reaction to ‘Halifax’ from being the place that has a bank to a fantastic Northern town.
All of this activity has brought millions of people to Halifax who otherwise would not have come.
Each visitor spending in local shops on food, gifts, and drinks creating and supporting jobs which otherwise would not have been there. It is no wonder that in a local survey eight out of 10 local people thought The Piece Hall has bought a significant benefit to the town with many people naming it as the best thing about the whole area.
And as well as all the direct economic benefits we should also remember that if done in the right way, with operating costs properly factored in, using our historical buildings to showcase the very best culture and great places to spend time in makes them more resilient.
Compared to when buildings are left empty and unloved they, of course, still need public money to prevent them going to rack and ruin.
Headlines today are so often dominated about what divides us. Red or blue, Leave or Remain or North versus South. Our heritage and the arts can bring us together, break down all of these artificial barriers and encourage communities to come together.
Heritage and culture are also symbolic of how a country feels about itself. Those who are proud of their past, while acknowledging where perhaps things were wrong, are more confident in themselves and sure of their place in the world.
With Prime Minister Johnson settling into Downing Street and building his government, hopefully he will embrace the power that investment in heritage and culture has – and the important role it has in the in post-Brexit Britain.
Nicky Chance-Thompson is chief executive of The Piece Hall Trust.