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Yorkshire Day 2018: Sir Ron Cooke on reasons to celebrate region’s rich history

Halifax's Piece Hall reopened a year ago thanks, in part, to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Halifax's Piece Hall reopened a year ago thanks, in part, to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
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CELEBRATING ‘everything Yorkshire’ is the excellent reason for marking Yorkshire Day – it is the county’s rich tapestry of history that also gives us so much to cheer.

Now in its 43rd year, Yorkshire Day started as an act of defiance against bureaucratic tidiness, in protest at the 1974 Local Government Act’s destruction of the historic Ridings.

And it was the Yorkshire Ridings Society that chose August 1, recalling how troops from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, sporting white roses in their helmets, helped beat the French at the Battle of Minden (in modern day Germany) in 1759.

Thankfully, modern Yorkshire Day celebrations are not so warlike, being a heady mixture of family fun events, fairs and festivals, and heritage high days throughout the county.

As a former chair of York Civic Trust, the Yorkshire Arboretum, vice-chancellor for the University of York and a deputy lieutenant of North Yorkshire, I have been fortunate indeed to become acquainted with a very wide sweep of this county’s unparalleled natural beauty and fascinating history.

Now, as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Yorkshire and the Humber committee, I am privileged to learn how the money made available thanks to the generosity of National Lottery players.

Since 1994, the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded over £500m in grants to more than 3,000 projects covering just about all aspects of life in Yorkshire and the Humber.

This money has gone to assist community projects; helping local groups to trace their roots and remember historic achievements; it has helped local councils create attractive public spaces for all to enjoy; it has restored many of our most noble and notable buildings including castles, stately homes, cathedrals, townhouses and museums; it has helped protect our natural landscapes and wild places; and it has assisted in the sensitive development of tourism so our local economies can thrive without damaging those many sites that people wish to visit.

Now, for Yorkshire Day, I’ve been sifting through some of the many wonderful projects that have been made possible.

Halifax’s magnificent Piece Hall was restored with the aid of an HLF £7m grant and today marks a year since its re-opening.

Then there is spectacular Bempton Cliffs RSPB nature reserve where, from March to October each year, half a million seabirds nest on the towering cliffs overlooking the North Sea. HLF helped fund a new visitor centre by investing £640,000.

As a steam trains fan, I have been fascinated by the work of the Bahamas Locomotive Society and its restoration of the 1934 Jubilee class steam locomotive 45596 Bahamas at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. A £775,000 grant helped with that.

So many people look forward to Leeds West Indian Carnival and the riot of colour, costumes and music that bring the city streets alive during the August Bank Holiday. Support to the tune of £100,000 helped it celebrate its 50th anniversary last year.

Nidderdale’s largest ever wildlife survey, involving hundreds of volunteers, has been assisted by £310,000 worth of HLF funding, helping people to learn about and enjoy the area’s natural heritage and equipping them with new skills to collect data on threatened species such as curlew, owls and native wildflowers.

York’s 18th century Mansion House has undergone vitally needed restoration and more of the impressive building is now open to visitors following an HLF injection of more than £1m.

Weston Park is just one of Sheffield’s excellent range of museums and galleries to receive our support and its current exhibition Circus! Show of Shows – made possible by a £98,000 grant – charts the enduring impact of the circus on the public’s imagination.

Of course, it goes without saying that none of this tremendous support would be possible without people playing the National Lottery week in, week out.

As a special thank you, and to celebrate Yorkshire Day this year, many of Yorkshire’s attractions will have special offers during August for visitors presenting proof of a National Lottery ticket purchase. I urge everyone to take advantage of this and, above all, to enjoy what Yorkshire has to offer.

And remember: even if a flutter on the National Lottery doesn’t make you a winner, Yorkshire’s – and the nation’s – wonderful heritage will benefit.

See www.hlf.org.uk for details of free offers at these attractions across Yorkshire for National Lottery ticket holders this summer.

Sir Ron Cooke is chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Yorkshire and the Humber committee.