On Saturday 10 June, MSc Enterprise students along with some of our enterprise scholars visited Halifax, West Yorkshire. The visit was organised by the MSc Enterprise course representative; Oli Burbage-Hall, in an effort to demonstrate to students the heart of Halifax.
Halifax is home to Dean Clough, formerly the largest carpet factory in the world. It was redeveloped by entrepreneur Ernest Hall to form a business, arts and leisure destination that is now home to around 4,000 of the town’s workforce. The town’s economy was founded on the textile industry, initially in the wool trade, with the cottage industry and smaller mills seeing a major transformation through the Industrial Revolution that ultimately resulted in the architectural heritage now visible. The town is currently undergoing a number of major regeneration projects and entrepreneurial ventures are springing up from within Halifax’s former industrial workhouses. This was the focus of the visit.
The first stop was at the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, offering facilities for start-ups to flourish and home to local MP Holly Lynch and a variety of businesses, including Oli’s own venture, Piece it Together Design. The building housing the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre was created from the redevelopment of two textile mills that were repurposed and joined together with modern features; highlighting the town’s common theme of regeneration by using something old to make something new. The Centre is managed by the Halifax Opportunities Trust; an anti-poverty charity with the mission to improve lives in Calderdale. The Trust offers support ranging from enterprise to childcare and family in an all-encompassing provision. Jason Bell, Business Services Manager, welcomed us in and introduced the Centre and the Trust’s work.
The next stop of our visit was at one of the tenants of the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, Limehouse Communications, which happens to be the largest tenant of the Centre. Limehouse was founded by Nick Howard, a Leeds alumnus, with the help of proof-of-concept funding and his success in the University Business Plan Competition, offered by SPARK. Nick welcomed us in his office space and talked about starting his business and building it from the ground up. He is now proudly managing the business, including 17 staff, and working with well-known brands such as Lloyds Banking Group, Nestle, M&S and Yorkshire Tea. When asked what advice he’d give to the students who are now considering starting their own businesses, Nick bravely said to get started and not be afraid of the mistakes that will be made along the way.
After a quick stop for a photo opportunity in front of a commemorative plate made by a local artist, which celebrates fashion entrepreneur Elsie Whiteley after whom the centre is named, we then went on to The Piece Hall.
Amy Leader, Commercial Director at the Piece Hall Trust, greeted us at the entrance, providing some hi-vis vests for us to wear in order to enter the building that is currently being renovated as part of a regeneration project. The building is Grade I listed and the work being done at the moment aims to expand on its trading heritage by making it the place to be nationally and internationally with shops, cafés, bars, office space, restaurants, conference facilities, meeting rooms and a landscaped courtyard perfect for cultural happenings. This project is undergoing and will be completed next month with a reopening event happening on the 1st of August where toddlers will be the first people to walk in the newly refurbished building, coinciding their rite of passage with the Piece Hall’s baby steps back to its former glory as a new cultural and commercial centre. The Trust’s ambition is to surprise both residents of, and visitors to, Calderdale and our group were certainly pleasantly surprised.
Next, we stopped by Harveys of Halifax, a department store that has been a family business since it was established in the 1920s. Tracey Harvey, Managing Director, agreed to be interviewed by Oli prior to our visit and we watched the pre-recorded video. Tracey is part of the fourth generation of Harveys in the business and discussed with Oli what the business is all about, what challenges and opportunities it faces and what it means to her to be a female entrepreneur.
Last but certainly not least, we visited Christian Scott Hairdressing; a unisex salon in the town centre founded by one of the best hairdressers out there. Christian has been in the hairdressing business from a very young age and he shared with us his story. Back when he was a teenager, working as a barber for his mother, Christian was bullied by other teenagers for his occupation. However, he stated that this taught him to persevere and be as confident as he is today. His business is a very successful one with customers coming from all around the region to receive the high quality customer service he strongly advocates. Christian emphasised how important customer service is and added that it has to do with treating people as equals regardless of their status or incomes. His advice to students was to create a strong brand image whilst he also noted that location is not that important; as long as the brand image is strong enough, people will believe in it.