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Kirklees in West Yorkshire has a vision for local development rooted firmly in its historic links to the textile and music industries, says Kath Davies.

A graphic of Asian dancers, a woman playing a guitar and two people using a switchboard

Peter O'Toole

The district of Kirklees in West Yorkshire has a strong tradition of textile manufacturing and today still produces the finest cloth for major designers and fashion houses. The textiles industry’s historical investment in music involved brass bands and orchestras, positive immigration and communities coming to work in the mills bringing with them new sounds to the area. The cultural reach and impact go far beyond the walls of any mill or manufacturer, resulting in a strong and vibrant music ecology.

Our ambition is to be a district with a resilient music ecosystem that celebrates its richness and diversity

Therefore, to strengthen and celebrate our identity, 2019 sees the launch of two initiatives. The first is a new textiles festival called WOVEN in Kirklees: Innovation in Textiles. And the second is the launch of the Year of Music in 2023.

They are for everyone to get involved in, and represent the story of Kirklees, the communities, the businesses and the people. We work in partnership with our cultural, industry and educational collaborators, who all contribute to shaping what it looks and feels like.

Celebrating textiles

WOVEN in Kirklees is being piloted this year in June, celebrating the district’s globally recognised industry from the past, present and future. It has really caught the imagination of everyone in towns and villages across the district, from yarn-bombing and film-making to sound works and fashion shows.

WOVEN tackles the perception that the textiles industry is from the past. It is actually an area of considerable digital entrepreneurialism and creativity. The festival will promote new employment opportunities through careers events, schools programmes and teacher training.

The event is also about an industry that knows it has to improve its sustainability practices to reduce its impact on the environment. WOVEN showcases innovations that are radically changing textiles, as well as challenging our relationship with clothes and fast fashion.

Musical showcase

In April, we launched our journey to a Year of Music in 2023, as our contribution to the 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 we have 17 music festivals, encompassing jazz, folk, reggae and soul, ukulele, piano, brass, electronic music and the renowned Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. And we have five classical programmes: the Kirklees Concert Season with Opera North, two amateur philharmonic orchestras, a series at the University of Huddersfield, and the Huddersfield Choral Society. 

Our study on voluntary participation shows that a third of all volunteer time is spent on music, from brass bands and choirs to the Friends of Beaumont Park organising an event for ‘Make Music Day’. And the commercial music sector includes venues, studios, rehearsal rooms, promoters and two 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. 

Changes and opportunities

However, our ecosystem has not maximised the potential and the opportunities we have. Our close proximity to major cities and easy road and rail connectivity could attract and draw bigger audiences. The growing strength of the creative sector and the relocation of Channel 4 to Leeds provide possibilities for music in the realms of games, film and TV. We have not established a clear and supported career pathway or explained the diversity of roles within the music industry to the next generation. 

Therefore, the Year of Music 2023 is about changes centred on music. And right now we are asking “What does 2023 look like to you?”, quickly followed by “What are the interventions we need to make together between now and then to make your idea a reality?”

Our 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. We want to strategically embed music within partnerships with the NHS, public health and education.

We have started the journey towards place-based cultural development, and it is a busy and exciting time. Our new approach has successfully combined local enthusiasm with ambitious plans that celebrate our textile and music heritage and future.

Kath Davies is Creative Economy Manager at Kirklees Council.

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A photo of Kath Davies