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The revamped Hat Factory Arts Centre will form part of a ‘creative cluster’ that aims to create jobs and attract 100,000 new visitors to the town.

A photo of a tall brick building
The new Hat Factory Arts Centre

Shaun Armstrong, Courtesy of Luton Culture Trust

An arts centre in a former hat factory in Luton is to reopen to the public this week in the first phase of a £10m regeneration project.

The Hat Factory Arts Centre, located in the centre of Luton, has been closed to the public since April last year for renovations.

Its reopening forms part of a larger ‘creative cluster’ project called the Hat District. Through the provision of workspaces for creative entrepreneurs, artists and micro businesses, The Culture Trust, Luton aims to create 158 new jobs and attract more than 135,000 new visitors to the town by 2022.

Education workshops

The new Hat Factory features a number of additional spaces and facilities. These include a bursary artist studio, project and education workshops, plus quiet areas where people “can meet and exchange ideas”.

Other improvements to the building are new seating for its studio theatre, a sound-proofed music venue, an expanded café, a new indoor gallery space and an outdoor screen to showcase digital art.

The venue’s programme includes visual arts exhibitions, comedy, theatre, dance, children’s activities and live music.

Creative ecology

The Hat Factory is one of four buildings that will make up the new creative cluster. The other venues are the historic hat industry buildings Hat House and Hat Works, and a new building called Hat Studios.

A statement from the Hat Factory said the cluster “will provide a creative ecology in Luton which will feed and grow talent by bridging the gap between education and cultural career success”.

It added: “The creative ecosystem of the Hat District means that businesses will be helping each other and sharing knowledge, nurturing and developing start-ups and entrepreneurs, and helping provide small to mid-sized creative industries with an environment in which to grow, thrive and achieve their true potential.”

The redevelopment of the area is expected to be completed by 2022 and is funded by Arts Council England, Luton Borough Council, South East Midlands Enterprise Partnership and the Wolfson Foundation.

New workspaces

The Culture Trust, Luton is also responsible for other cultural venues, museums and libraries in the town, such as Stockwood Discovery Centre and Luton Library Theatre.

Marie Kirbyshaw, The Culture Trust’s Chief Executive, said: “We welcome everyone to explore the newly renovated Hat Factory Arts Centre and enjoy the spaces, artistic programme, café, gallery and workshops.

“The history of the Arts Centre, as a former Hat Factory and place for arts production and presenting, has been considered throughout the redesign. Our aim has been to make it easier to see what goes on here, to be inspired and to get involved.”

The Hat Factory’s launch party will feature a specially commissioned performance by the physical theatre company Tangled Feet. In addition, the first 500 people to enter the venue will receive a commemorative, limited edition hat pin.