Barnsley steps up its bid to make The Civic a world class venue
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:50 08 May 2017
West End choreographer Steve Elias brought dance to the streets of Yorkshire in his BBC series Our Dancing Town and now he's helping to bring a sense of pride back to one of the county's oldest arts venues.
The heart-warming series saw miners, majorettes, police offices, glass workers and office workers in Barnsley, Huddersfield and York dance their way to small-screen stardom under his expert tutelage. And it was while he was filming in Barnsley that he first came across The Civic, a much-loved Grade II listed building that has been part of the town since 1877 and now houses an independent arts charity.
A modern extension was opened in 2009 but a third of the historic building is unoccupied, with its traditional front entrance and foyer on Eldon Street disconnected from the rest. But a current fundraising campaign is hoping to change all that, returning the venue to its full glory and helping to boost Barnsley’s profile as a significant cultural destination.
‘I think places like The Civic should become the hub of any town,’ Steve said. ‘It should be a one stop shop. A place with an open door, where you can have a coffee, look at the art gallery and be the first place you think of for performing arts in Barnsley. That’s the only way it can survive.’
The redevelopment plan includes a box office and café on Eldon Street, the refurbishment of three currently unused floors, an extended gallery and a new theatre space.
‘If you can just see it through for another couple of years, the achievement and sense of pride will be on a different scale,’ said Steve. ‘It will be a destination. I think culture does that.
‘The services I used at The Civic are as good as any country-wide. The rehearsal space, the people working there and running it – they’re all amazing. Times that by 10 by really opening it out, and it will be 10 times as amazing. It really will energise the community.’
He sees the arts as a celebration of identity and community and thinks Our Dancing Town was a success because viewers were looking for a light-hearted antidote to the current turbulent political and social climate.
‘It’s a simple thing but it permeates deeply,’ said Steve. ‘You get a group of people sweating together, laughing together and failing together in a studio. They’re trying to learn steps, keep getting them wrong but are also collectively helping each other. Colour, creed, religion – they don’t come into it.
‘Just look at Huddersfield. It’s one of the biggest multi-cultural towns in Yorkshire, and we got the Bhangra and the Kurdish on the same platform, living side by side, dancing side by side and Yorkshire through and through. That strong sense of community spirit and bringing people together is something that the performing arts can do.’
But getting people to raise money for the arts isn’t easy – a bit like getting miners to dance.
‘On a personal level, I think Barnsley is an incredible town,’ said Steve. ‘The people are open, passionate, loyal and I was welcomed with open hearts. Yes, the miners were a little resistant at first but later they presented me with a celebration plate with all the names of the mines on it, and one of them even gave me his Davy lamp with his mining number still on it as a way of saying thank you and welcome to Barnsley. It really touched my heart.’
You can add your support to the campaign to redevelop The Civic by visiting barnsleycivic.co.uk