By Leah Conway –
Local think tank, Same Skies, has launched a study to show the benefits of Huddersfield’s Piazza Shopping Centre. The campaign comes in response to Kirklees Council’s preparations to demolish the Piazza area as part of the Huddersfield Blueprint.
The Same Skies study says, ‘Exhibition audiences have trebled and new arts activity has brought national attention to Huddersfield since local arts and community groups began using empty Piazza shop units’.
The council bought the Piazza in 2019, the empty units around the Piazza have been used for arts and community groups to use for projects, exhibitions spaces and creating public activities.
Surrounding these events, the Same Skies think tank has documented the public response to exhibitions and activities. The study claims that ‘An exhibition organised by Huddersfield art gallery in the Piazza saw audiences treble compared to what was expected in their previous venue above the library.’
Following these positive observations, Same Skies is calling for Kirklees Council to adapt the Huddersfield Blueprint proposals to Huddersfield town centre. Instead of demolishing the Piazza, the think tank proposes that they put the Piazza arts centre at the heart of their plans for the area along with the central library.
An ‘incubator for new organisations’
Along with rising visitors, the Piazza has also acted as an ‘incubator for new organisations’. Many local organisations have used the space to develop new ideas, projects and display their work to new audiences.
As part of its study, Same Skies looked at the work of two local organisations. One being CollaborARTi and the other the Climate Emergency Hub.
The CollaborARTi used the units as a space for local artists who run activities throughout the week by volunteers. Co-director of Same Skies stated, “The success of CollaborARTi is remarkable and admirable. Local artists working together have taken five empty shopfronts that previously made the streets look ugly and depressing and turned them into colourful, creative spaces.
“That makes everybody who comes into the town centre feel a little bit better about Huddersfield. If we had to put a price on that, what would it be?”
The Climate Emergency Hub hosted a week long pop-up occupancy in the Piazza, which hosting a program of 28 events in 6 days.
The projects focused on engaging a local audience with the climate and ecological emergency. The events even attracted a presentation by international climate justice campaigner Farhana Yamin, who travelled from London to Huddersfield to give a keynote speech.
The study found that Mike Prior, the primary organiser of the Climate Emergency Hub, was invited to talk about the program to wider national and international audiences.
Both Mike Prior and Kath Wright, co-founder of CollaborARTi, advocated for the Piazza as a perfect, interesting place for local arts and community organisations. Kath Wright describes it as “mini-communities inside the units, then between the units”, fostering a collaborative environment for the organisations.
The study by Same Skies also evaluated the architectural qualities of the Piazza and claimed the architecture lends itself to small local businesses and meetings between people.
The study stated that the Piazza’s architecture is ‘ …ideal for arts and community activities. Each unit has its own shopfront to showcase what is happening inside, and the audience moves naturally from one to another, either window shopping or entering. Multiple activities can happen at the same time throughout the day and evening, attracting different audiences and cross-promoting each other.’
Same Skies also advocated for the environmental benefits of renovating over replacing the Piazza. The study acknowledged construction’s big impact on the environment and says that now architects and civil engineers recommend renovation over demolishment and replacement.
Professor Rebecca Lunn, co-author of a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering, stated that “Our biggest failure is that we build buildings, then we knock them down and throw them away. We must stop doing this.”
In response to this, Same Skies is advocating for an alternative approach to the Piazza’s regeneration. The campaign is encouraging repurposing the site over demolishing it, which will preserve the arts and communities hub, which they state will be a low-cost approach to regeneration, which is also better for the environment.
“We are encouraging Kirklees Council to pause, take a step back, and recognise their own success,” said Andrew Wilson, co-director of Same Skies. “The Piazza arts centre is flourishing and the council should adapt their Blueprint to put it at the centre of the regeneration strategy rather than knocking it down.”
Check out an example of the events that have filled the Piazza Centre with our video on Tray Tronic’s exhibition: