Wakefield's buzzing cultural scene boosted by major regeneration schemes
PUBLISHED: 19:37 11 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:04 20 February 2013
Wakefield's buzzing cultural scene has been boosted by major regeneration schemes<br/>and a plan to renovate the city's iconic cathedral. Tony Greenway reports. Photographs by Kirsty Thompson
How to get there: Wakefield is nine miles southeast of Leeds in West Yorkshire, just off the M1 at junction 40. It sits at the centre of a busy transport hub for both buses and trains. To check bus and train times, call MetroLine on 0113 245 7676 or visit wymetro.com
Where to park: There are more than 1,500 off-street and 600 on-street council-controlled parking spaces in the city centre. For a downloadable map of all the citys car parks, visit wakefield.gov.uk
What to do: Art is a big attraction in the Wakefield area. Visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (ysp.co.uk) off junction 38 of the M1 to see giant works of art in a beautiful open air setting. Its free entry, although parking charges apply. The National Coal Mining Museum (ncm.org.uk) is also free and a great day out for young and old. The Hepworth Wakefield (hepworthwakefield.org) is free, too, and features works by Barbara Hepworth, works from Wakefields art collection and exhibitions by contemporary artists. Until November, new collection exhibitions will focus on post-war painting and sculpture, with work by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland, Eduardo Paolozzi and Reg Butler.
Unique Wakefield (@uniquewakefield) September 26, 2012
There was an awful lot going for Wakefield before the Hepworth art gallery opened last year- the sumptuous Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a fizzing cultural life at the heart of a beautiful Victorian theatre, the fascinating National Coal Mining Museum at one of the oldest working pits in the countrY, a splendid landmark cathedraL, some of the best walking trails in the UK, good shopping and a blooming urban caf and culinary scene.
But it was the Hepworth that really put this former industrial city in West Yorkshire on the map as far as the national press was concerned, anyway. Conceived as a venue to celebrate the work of Wakefield-born sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth, one of the biggest names in 20th century art, it was also earmarked as the place to see internationally recognised collections and exhibitions. Yet before the gallerys launch date in May 2011, there had been rumblings of discontent in the London media. Would it be a white elephant of Millennium Dome proportions?
When the Hepworth Wakefield opened, however a striking, iconic, modernist building sitting squarely on the riverside it was an enormous critical and popular success, exceeding all visitor expectations and out-performing its rivals.
National journalists and critics went mad for it along with everyone else and wasted no time in declaring Wakefield undiscovered territory.
The locals had always known the city as an art hub, of course, and so had Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council. When we asked him, back in 2008, if the Hepworth would do for Wakefield what The Deep did for Hull, he said: Itll be bigger than that. He was right.
Whatever way you cut it, the Hepworth has been a remarkable achievement. Over 500,000 visitors came within first 12 months of opening, when the original target had been 150,000. One hundred thousand people poured through the doors in the first five weeks alone.
The Hepworth Wakefield has been a huge hit since it opened, says Peter Box. Its great to see visitors coming for a day out or cultural weekend in Wakefield. Weve had visitors from as far away as Canada, Japan and Australia. Its great to see the gallery become such a success and, along with Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Henry Moore Institute, put Yorkshire on the map as a new world centre for sculpture.
The Hepworth has now roared into the UKs Top 50 most visited attractions and is one of the countrys Top 10 most visited art galleries. Earlier this year, it was shortlisted for the prestigious Art Fund Prize. The chair of judges, Lord Smith of Finsbury, didnt underplay it.
This wonderful new gallery has completely transformed the physical and cultural landscape of Wakefield and the wider region, he said when the shortlist was announced. So much more than just a stunning architectural achievement, the displays of the museums permanent collections and the quality of its contemporary art programme are equally commendable.
Its clearly one of the success stories of the museum world in the past 12 months.
Yet Wakefield is an evolving success story in its own right. As a centre of regeneration, the city is booming, attracting 210million worth of investment over the last three years. The 120million Trinity Walk shopping development, which also opened in May 2011, drew in six million visitors in just one year and is attracting big retail names to the area.
The Merchantgate development, meanwhile, is Wakefields new office quarter, and work will be starting on its new Westgate rail station in January 2013 for an opening date of December 2013.
The council also notes that plans have been drawn up to preserve the architectural and historical character of the Civic Quarter area of Wakefield by acquiring key properties in the area, restoring and transforming civic buildings, and encouraging the creation of a high quality new developments to bring employment opportunities to the area.
Its not just the external built environment thats changing. The interior of Wakefields historic cathedral is also undergoing a makeover in time for 2013 the 125th anniversary of the former All Saints Parish church being granted cathedral status (which, in turn, gave the town its city status).
To fund the work, the cathedral launched Project 2013, a multi-million pound redevelopment scheme to renew and restore the medieval building and make it fit for the 21st century.
To help accomplish this, the Heritage Lottery Fund gave Wakefield Cathedral a major grant of 1.58m at the end of May 2011; although the Dean the Very Reverend Jonathan Greener got a nasty shock in this years Budget when the Chancellor announced his intention to raise taxes on historic building restoration a decision which saw the Deans wife take to YouTube to sing a song about the cathedrals troubles.
The Chancellors plans risked landing us with an extra bill for 200, 000, said the Dean in his summer newsletter, but mercifully he has had a change of heart. The new provisions, while not ideal for the heritage of our nation, at least provide a welcome respite for us in Wakefield.
Fund-raising events are constantly being planned and, ultimately, will result in a restored nave creating a more flexible space for worship, public events and future celebrations.
Ive been in talks with the architects and the contractors and they assure me were on course to deliver on time by March 1st and on budget, said the Dean. Its going to be very exciting when the work is completed. Unfortunately were in that strange desert now where were over our initial excitement but cant yet see the overall picture.
Financially were not badly off. We still have fund raising to do, but we now have enough to pay for the capital work but not yet enough for the furniture.
Were having exciting discussions with a North Yorkshire designer to provide sanctuary furniture a lectern/pulpit, stools for the clergy and big chairs, etc. These need to be solid, high-quality and made to last, so it makes sense to ask a Yorkshire designer, because we have some wonderful craftspeople here. Also, we want to patronise locally wherever we can.
This is a community building. Clearly, worship is priority, but we have said many times that Wakefield Cathedral is for everyone, and we hope that people will take the opportunity to come through our doors at least once a year.
Wakefield, then, is looking good and if youre on a budget its looking fantastic. Melanie Armitage, visitor services officer at Wakefield Council, points out that The Hepworth, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the National Coal Mining Museum are all free to enter.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park opened up a whole new section of parkland last year, says Melanie. A lot of work has been done on landscaping and they have some beautiful lakes there. So art and culture is a big draw for people in Wakefield but theres something for everyone here.
The Coal Mining Museum has opened a new furnace shaft this year, giving visitors the chance to stand on a glass platform and look down 140metres.
We have major festivals: the Food, Drink and Rhubarb Festival at the end of February with cookery demos and a tour of the rhubarb forcing sheds; the Pontefract Liquorice Festival plus were developing a new Victorian Christmas festival in November this year.
Wakefield looks very different now. Theres a whole new area of the city that wasnt even there before.