Monday, 19 September 2016

HALIFAX REBORN: Square Chapel reopens as works continue

Halifax Reborn
Big Issue North magazine article 
Square Chapel reopens as works continue 

The first phase in the development of Halifax’s new cultural quarter will be completed this month as staff move back into the newly renovated Square Chapel Centre for the Arts. The £6.6 million capital fund project has been funded by the Arts Council and Calderdale Council.
Extensive renovation work is being carried out on several historic buildings in the Yorkshire town, including the Square Chapel and nearby Piece Hall. The three-year, £27m project, which includes an extension to Piece Hall as well as new shops, offices and outdoor spaces, is being funded by Calderdale Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. 
Staff will move back into the Square Chapel at the end of September after spending three months in the nearby Orangebox Young People’s Centre. The public will have access to the revamped arts centre from January 2017, with an official launch planned from autumn 2017. 
The Square Chapel, a Grade II listed building, was opened in 1779 and is one of only a handful of square churches ever built. In the decades that followed, it was used as a Sunday School and a base
for community events. 
It fell into disrepair in the 1980s, but was then brought back to life by businessman Robin Sutcliffe and his wife Jessica, an architect specialising in building conservation. Ignoring signs saying ‘Dangerous – Do Not Enter’, the couple climbed into the building to investigate whether it could be turned into a performing arts centre. 
“It was a wintry afternoon in 1983 when we groped our way up a dank staircase. I was completely unprepared for what greeted me,” said Jessica Sutcliffe. “It was a remarkable space, unexpectedly large but intimate at the same time, still with traces of Georgian elegance despite its ruinous state.” 
Over the next five years, the Sutcliffes assembled a team of people, the Square Chapel Trust, to bid to buy the building from Calderdale Council. They are both still on the board. 
Robin Sutcliffe added: “We could definitely see that this wonderful building could be turned into a performing arts centre and help play a role in culturally redeveloping Halifax town centre. 
“We knew it would take time to realise our objectives but from the start we used the building for arts activities.” 
As more funding became available, building work at the Square Chapel was undertaken, interspersed with theatre, poetry, music, dance and children’s events. 
“Ten years ago, with the support of Yorkshire Forward and the Arts Council, we began seeking funding for a major redevelopment,” Robin said. “The Square Chapel welcomes 40,000 visitors
a year and the building is no longer large enough for everyone who uses it.” 
The newly refurbished facilities will include a 108-seat multi-purpose cinema/studio theatre space, a dedicated space for volunteers and a cafe-bar area. There will also be direct access to the nearby Piece Hall. 
A new library designed around the remains of the nearby Square Congregational Church, which was built in the 1850s and closed its doors in 1969 before being destroyed by fire, is also under construction and will include a new IT area and media store. 
Meanwhile, volunteers are working towards the reopening of the Calderdale Industrial Museum, just yards away from the new library. 
“It’s a real thrill to see everything coming together to help form a really vibrant cultural heart to Halifax,” Robin said. “It was what we dreamt of all those years ago.” 
David McQuillan, the Director of Square Chapel, believes: “what is particularly exciting about opening the new building is that it affords the opportunity to programme more art, to welcome more people to take in live performances, watch films and eat and drink with us. 

“What won’t change is that Square Chapel will remain the red brick building heart in this grand stone town.”

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