Wakefield, West Yorkshire - Working towards a new future

PUBLISHED: 13:50 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:14 20 February 2013

The Merchant Gate development

The Merchant Gate development

The transformation of Wakefield continues in spite of the economic downturn as Amanda Griffiths reports

The people of Wakefield are a modest bunch it seems, preferring to hide the city's lights under a bushel. Even the leader of the city council, Peter Box, who is undoubtedly proud of the city's achievements, admits they could do more to tell everyone about its radically changing image.

'It's been said to me by other people, and I tend to agree, that we don't shout about the good things we have in Wakefield,'

he says, while telling me about some of the multi-million pound developments which will revitalise the West Yorkshire city.

The imminent opening of the city centre's redeveloped Bull Ring which centres on jets of water shooting high into the air is just one of the inspiring changes. 'I just happened to be sitting there one day when they were testing the fountains,' says Peter, 'it was amazing to see people's reactions. Children were running in and out of the jets of water and having their pictures taken surrounded by them. I thought to myself, this is exactly what it was meant to do, engage Wakefield people.'

The city's renaissance is a culmination of many years of planning and hard work which continues despite economically difficult times.

'It shows that not only the local authority but also the private sector has confidence in the city. It would have been easy for us, particularly now, not to invest or to put our plans on hold, but all the evidence shows that places that invest in times of recession come out of it quicker. I believe this is the way forward for Wakefield.

We're trying to think long term and make sure it will be a beautiful place to visit. I remember when I first became leader that people would write to the local paper and complain that nothing was happening in Wakefield compared to what was happening in places like Leeds. Now people complain they can't move for all the redevelopment'.

The Wakefield waterfront which faces on to the River Calder and the Calder and Hebble Navigation is seeing much of this redevelopment where a new cultural quarter is being created. Phase one has already been completed and phase two isn't too far behind. The work includes the restoration and conservation of a number of historical buildings including the 18th century Grade II listed Calder and Hebble Navigation Warehouse and the Grade II listed Pheonix and Rutland Mills complex which will provide new homes and office accommodation as well as riverside leisure facilities.

Among the most exciting of these is the Hepworth Gallery, a purpose-built art gallery named after the celebrated sculptor Barbara Hepworth who was born in Wakefield. 'The fact it's been designed by internationally acclaimed British architect David Chipperfield will hopefully not only make it a national attraction but an international one too.

We've recently announced a partnership with the London Tate, which will also help in terms of the pieces and exhibitions we will stage. You might think that Wakefield is starting to get some culture at last, but the truth is we're building on something that we've had for years but not shouted about.

'I believe we have one of the country's best public arts venues, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and we also have the National Mining Museum which celebrates our industrial heritage. And, of course Wakefield Art Gallery has what I think is the most beautiful thing ever, Henry Moore's Reclining Figure, a beautiful statue carved in 1936 from elmwood which I just want to touch whenever I see it,' says Peter.

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