LG Challenge: Culture comes to the fore in Calderdale

Candidates arrived in the Calder Valley for the latest round of the LG Challenge – using their skills to design a destination marketing plan. William Harley reports.

Refreshed following a three-week interlude from the opening of Local Government (LG) Challenge 2024, this year's contestants reassembled in Halifax, West Yorkshire for the second challenge this time hosted by Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council.

Arriving in the beautiful Calder Valley, and in an area steeped in cultural heritage with renowned sites such as the Halifax Minster and Wainhouse Tower, the cohort caught a glimpse of Halifax's many cultural attractions which would form the backdrop of this challenge.

Stunning local heritage extends to the Town Hall and Charles Barry's magnificent grade II listed building and the ornate council chamber that would be the arena for the opening of the challenge by chief executive, Robin Tuddenham and cultural services manager, Bobsie Robinson. Sat beneath the stained-glass ceiling which highlights the council ethos of talent, enterprise, kindness, resilience and distinctiveness- it was a typical warm Yorkshire welcome for the cohort.

2024 is Calderdale's 50th Anniversary, and to recognise that, the council have organised a Year of Culture (‘CultureDale'). The key message was that Calderdale are 'on a mission to unleash the creative spirit of our borough and put culture at the forefront of everything we do.'

So, to the challenge. This time contestants were tasked with designing a destination marketing plan that would weave the links between two established cultural assets, the Piece Hall (an eighteenth century Cloth Hall now acting as a multi-purpose venue) and Shibden Hall (the grade II listed historic house of Anne Lister whose life was serialised in the popular BBC drama ‘Gentlemen Jack'), and an emerging location, Dean Clough Mills - a sprawling set of buildings once home to the world's largest carpet manufacturers and now housing a plethora of amenities and attractions including an eclectic art gallery and underground theatre.

A challenge focused on culture and local heritage is an exciting one, however to fully grasp the scale of the task at hand, teams we were treated to tours of the three assets, as well as meetings with Jeremy Hall, whose family has led the 40 year regeneration of Dean Clough Mills; the Piece Hall's CEO, Nicky Chance Thompson MBE; and at the council owned Shibden Hall, Richard MacFarlane, museum manager. They all outlined the visitor offer of Halifax as well as some of the challenges facing the borough.

What stood out was how the profiles of Piece Hall and Shibden Hall have increased in recent years, through an expansive community-focussed events programme, and the raised interest through the TV and Film industries. Dean Clough Mills however, with its extensive regeneration programme, was less ‘on the map'. Ideas from our contestants had already begun to percolate on how Dean Clough can continue to adapt and become part of the fabric of visitors to Halifax.

The teams worked into the night to crystalise their ideas into practical proposals and the next morning were given a valuable opportunity to speak with Cllr Sarah Courtney (Portfolio Holder for Towns, Tourism and the Voluntary Sector).

The elegant surroundings of Dean Clough's Crossley Gallery played host to the teams' presentations in front of the judging panel of Robin Tuddenham, Cllr Jenny Lynn (Cabinet Member for Public Services, Calderdale MBC) and Laurie Sansom (artistic director/joint CEO, Northern Broadside Theatre Company) which was chaired by the LGA's Claire Holloway (head of corporate services).

A consensus from both teams was found regarding the need for a coherent marketing strategy. Team Victorious (led by Adam Towers, Wigan Council) dubbed their proposal ‘Calderdale Calling'; a three-pronged strategy to connect the area with better transport links, attract inward investment and enhance coordination with local partners. These themes were also heavily referenced by Team Dynamic (captained by Hannah Barton, Stroud DC) alongside an impressive video representation of an imagined daytrip to Halifax, programme of seasonal events to promote community cohesion and a review and evaluation system.

LG Challenge is not only a unique learning and development opportunity for talented local government officers but is also developed to provide valuable consultancy and fresh perspectives to each host council. For Calderdale MBC, both teams gave accomplished performances and provided potential blueprints for a marketing strategy which could help entrench the legacies of the Year of Culture and feed into the wider vision of the local area and all its communities.

Despite the strength of competition, Team Dynamic won a hard-fought victory due to their slightly more advanced and practicable solutions woven with their creative presentation. Councillor Jenny Lynn said of the benefits the Challenge brings to councils ‘"Both of [the teams] had quite rigorous marketing plans they wanted to put to us, which we are certainly going to take a look at."

With the halfway mark approaching on this year's LG Challenge, the teams will be heading to Wiltshire at the end of March to resume the series.

William Harley is programme support officer – adults peer challenge programme, Local Government Association


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