Creating resilient place making through culture and heritage in Kirklees

Culturally, change has been driven by the textile industry, which has given rise to a diverse range of communities and music, an innovative reputation and a strong global brand. Kirklees is a real example of a place where business drives cultural activity.

The challenge

Managing the impact of reductions in public funding over the last ten years is a challenge facing many local authorities in the UK. In West Yorkshire, for Kirklees Council’s Creative Development and Museums & Galleries teams, the focus is on nurturing a cultural eco-system and harnessing the incredible creative energy of the area to shape place making.

Underpinning this work is real recognition of the influences which shaped Kirklees, the unique qualities making this area special, and the huge potential of the future. Culturally, change has been driven by the textile industry, which has given rise to a diverse range of communities and music, an innovative reputation and a strong global brand. Kirklees is a real example of a place where business drives cultural activity.

This case study outlines three examples of culture and heritage work undertaken by Kirklees Council:

  • WOVEN Innovation in Textiles Festival;
  • Kirklees Year of Music 2023; and
  • A resilient museum service.

Weaving together the fabric of place

The first WOVEN Innovation in Textiles Festival in June 2019 was conceived to celebrate the district’s globally recognised industry and its inspiring past, present and future. Practically the festival was a textiles showcase through 100 events across 50 locations in towns, villages and hamlets of this diverse district. It encouraged exploration of proud industrial and social heritage, hands on creativity, recent innovations and future opportunities for careers and creative thinking. Strategically the project was more complex, aiming to strengthen Kirklees’ unique identity, bringing four distinct sectors together: the council, the textile industry, education (Huddersfield University, schools and further education colleges) and the cultural sector.

By bringing diverse partners together, the programme grew organically. A shared passion led to a shared vision and collective understanding, with a realisation of how important textiles are to many people, for many different reasons. 62% of festival audiences said their experience had made them more proud of living in Kirklees and 81% of audiences agreed that the festival has shown them that textiles is a modern-day industry. WOVEN tackled the perception that the textiles industry is past history, demonstrating that it is all about building on the past to inspire tomorrow’s innovation and creativity. The programme promoted new employment opportunities through careers events, schools programmes and teacher training. It highlighted the industry’s sustainability practices and environmental impact, and showcased developments that are radically changing textile manufacture, as well as challenging our relationship with fast fashion.

This first WOVEN festival was a pilot, funded by Kirklees Council, providing the foundations for this now biennial festival. It’s the start of an exciting journey, to make this a festival of local, regional, national – and perhaps even international – significance. The impact of textiles in Kirklees does not stop there. The textile industry’s historic investment in music involved the development of brass bands and orchestras, immigrant communities coming to work in the mills, bringing with them new sounds. The cultural reach and impact go far beyond the walls of any mill or manufacturer, resulting in a strong and vibrant music ecology.

Journey to a Year of Music 2023

In April 2019 Kirklees’ journey to a Year of Music in 2023 was launched as part of Leeds City Region’s Year of Culture. It will be a year that showcases the talent of the district, welcomes new partnerships and sees large-scale music events and programmes.

Kirklees lives music. In 2019 alone there were 17 music festivals, encompassing jazz, folk, reggae and soul, ukulele, piano, brass, electronic music and the internationally renowned Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. There are five classical programmes: the Kirklees Concert Season with Opera North, two amateur philharmonic orchestras, a University classical series, and the Huddersfield Choral Society. 

A third of all volunteer time in Kirklees is spent on music, from brass bands and choirs to festivals. And the commercial music sector includes venues, studios, rehearsal rooms, promoters and record shops. Music actively contributes to health and wellbeing, from the Alzheimer’s Society’s weekly singing sessions, to activities commissioned and delivered by outfits such as Hoot, an arts and health organisation. 

However, there is further enormous potential. Close proximity to major cities and good transport connectivity could attract bigger audiences. The growing strength of the creative sector and the relocation of Channel 4 to Leeds, provides possibilities for music in the realms of games, film and TV. For young people there is not yet an established, clear and supported career pathway into the sector.

Therefore, the Year of Music 2023 is about changes centred on music. Kirklees’ ambition is to be a district with a resilient music ecosystem that celebrates its richness and diversity, as well as providing opportunities for all to grow, experiment and create, and embedding music within partnerships with the NHS, public health and education. A new MUSiK brand, Music in Kirklees, has just been launched.

Museums and Galleries: Bringing out the Best

These exciting cultural programmes are underpinned by Kirklees’ incredibly rich heritage. The museums and galleries team has been working innovatively to echo the themes of textiles and music, and drive the message of the past inspiring future place making.

Their manifesto states: “strong identity comes from a sense of belonging, connection and trust gained from being proud of our past and understanding how we came to be who we are now”. Kirklees Council has enthusiastically embraced the evidence from cities such as Hull and Liverpool, that culture supports economic growth and social change. In June 2019 the Cultural Heart was proposed as a priority within its recently launched Huddersfield Blueprint plans for Huddersfield town centre. The Cultural Heart proposals comprise a Sound Space, linking strongly with the developments of the Year of Music 2023, and a new Museum, Gallery, Library and Archive offer.

Despite the closure of two of its museums in 2016, the museums service is strengthening its impacts and reach, having learnt a lot about resilience during this period. To ensure Kirklees residents still had access to heritage, it developed a pop up museum and a Museum in a Tent. Funded by Arts Council England, this innovative Sustainable Collections project also provided semi-permanent pop up displays in railway station waiting rooms, the leisure centre, town halls and libraries. A museum volunteer programme was also launched, which delivered the highest number of volunteer hours in 2018, in the West Yorkshire local authority region. The service is now focused on growth and partnerships, and as a result was awarded £219,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Resilient Heritage programme for the Bringing out the Best project. The strategic programme, will create masterplans for Oakwell Hall in Birstall and Bagshaw Museum in Batley, plus a long term vision and investment strategy for a new museum and gallery offer in Huddersfield.

Extensive and creative public engagement will be a strong foundation for resulting strategy, and the whole project has been designed to work on making the most of the thriving interconnections between heritage, culture, learning and community partners. The ambition is to create a great place by creating a great museum and gallery offer with heritage acting as a catalyst for dynamic and radical change across the district. The project will complete in early 2021, but will lead to new pathways and a compelling future for heritage in Kirklees.


The benefit of a place-based approach has been to maximise opportunities for engagement and to galvanise support from all sectors, at all levels. Joining up Kirklees’ authentic story and its heritage, is propelling Kirklees forwards and growing the reputation of the district as a culturally rich and thriving place.

There have been significant learning outcomes from these projects already, the most notable being the incredible dynamism of place-based projects. These projects surpassed all expectations in terms of local community and business support and engagement, and the ability to create enough evolving capacity to manage their growth is now sustained by a shared ownership of the agenda.

Some of these projects are already being talked about internationally, with Kath Davies the Creative Development Manager being invited to speak at global music conferences in Sweden and Colombia during the course of 2019.

So, next steps will be to direct all of the interest and engagement generated by these projects into the development of heritage and cultural sites across the district, and particularly those within the exciting new Huddersfield Blueprint proposals. By doing so, there will be tangible, accessible and resilient cultural and heritage provision for Kirklees for the long term.

Author: Deborah Marsland, Kirklees Museums and Galleries Manager,