IT’S been a long haul for Skipton Town Hall - there were plenty who thought handing over its much needed refurbishment following decades of neglect to Craven District Council officers was a mistake; that it would be far better to put it into the hands of a trust, with more experience with the care of listed buildings.

But how wrong the dissenters were.

A team of officers and lead member, Simon Myers, successfully applied for thousands of pounds in funding, managed to secure the support of the rest of the council - even in times of financial pressure, and saw the project through to its very successful completion as a ‘cultural centre’ not just for Skipton, but the whole of Craven.

The town hall closed for its grand £4.7m refurbishment at the end of 2018; reopening was held up by issues not unusual for a building of its age; and then the coronavirus pandemic came along.

It finally opened again in June this year, with coronavirus restrictions still in place. A grand celebration for all those who had helped the project along the way, had to be put on ice, again because of the pandemic, but finally took place at the end of November - on the same day when the public venue was officially opened in 1862.

Guests were able to look around the new look Craven Museum, which amongst so many other treasures includes a rare Shakespeare first folio, and the now wonderful concert hall, with its fabulously restored ceiling - which no longer has to have a net suspended underneath it to catch falling plaster - once causing the consternation of anyone taking part in a blood donor session and having time to study the ceiling above.

Highlight of the event was a special performance of The ‘Baht at Variations’ performed by poet and broadcaster, Ian McMillan and orchestra in residence, the Skipton Building Society Camerata.

Ian wrote the words, described as a ‘back-story’ to the song ‘On Ilkla Mooar baht ’at’ while the music was created by Ben Crick, Camerata conductor.

He also performed a poem written specially for the event – ‘Let’s Hear it for Skipton Town Hall’. The poem reflects on the communities, past and present who have brought life to the town hall, and describes the venue as the ‘beating heart’ of the town.

Speeches were given by Cllr Simon Myers, deputy leader of Craven District Council, who has led on the redevelopment of the town hall; David Renwick of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Trevor Mitchell of Historic England.

Cllr Myers said: “It was an honour to thank everyone involved in the refurbishment and redevelopment of Skipton Town Hall whether it be funders, staff or volunteers. “We now have a town hall that has been utterly transformed; from the newly imagined museum that tells the story of Craven, to the first class concert hall plus new exhibition space, education room and associated facilities.”

Of the £4.7m so far spent on the town hall, Craven District Council invested £3m; £1.5m came from the National Heritage Lottery Fund and £183,000 from the High Street Heritage Action Zone, which seeks to enhance England’s historic town centres.

Cllr Myers added: “It has taken such a huge amount of work to secure the building’s future and we now have a town hall fit for the 21st century to be used and accessed by everyone across Craven.

Ian McMillan got it absolutely right when he described the building as the ‘beating heart’ of the town.”

Guests were invited to look around the museum, which includes so many treasures, and many items of social history, such as a display chronicling the Rylstone WI ladies and their fundraising nude calendar, and the Craven Heifer, a massive cow bred and fed at Bolton Abbey that toured the country in the early 19th century.

There are items from the first and second world wars, and an interactive display explaining the Craven Fault, as well as a history of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Settle-Carlisle Railway.

They also looked around the exhibition - A Yorkshire Vision by Kitty North, which finishes today (Thursday).

Skipton Town Hall is open from Monday to Saturday with free entry to Craven Museum, the Exhibition Gallery and Visitor Centre.

There is a programme of events, including popular tea-dances, performances by theatre groups, classical and contemporary music; and workshops for adults, children and families, all happening throughout the year. Skipton Camerata performs regularly, and the venue is used by Skipton Music Society, which on January 4 presents Borealis Saxophone Quartet.

There is also a gift shop which supports local independent makers and stocks environmentally sustainable products.

Every purchase supports the Skipton Town Hall cultural hub and its outreach work across Craven.

To find out more about what is going on at the town hall, visit: https://skiptontownhall.co.uk/