Take care of this jewel in the crown

Tom Ratcliffe, chairman of Friends of the Rydings, at the Smith Art Gallery, Brighouse
Tom Ratcliffe, chairman of Friends of the Rydings, at the Smith Art Gallery, Brighouse

TEN years ago the fight began to save one of Brighouse’s most historic and distinctive buildings.

In 2001 a Best Value Review, then being undertaken by Calderdale Council, threw doubt on the whole future of the Smith Art Gallery. Within weeks thousands of people had signed a petition calling for the gallery to stay open and a new campaigning group had been formed to take on the battle.

Today the building housing the gallery and library in Rydings Park has not only been saved for the town but almost £700,000 has been spent on refurbishment.

It was more than the Friends of the Rydings could have hoped for when they started their campaign - but, according to Tom Ratcliffe, chairman of the group, there is no room for complacency in the era of public spending cuts and reduced services.

“The Friends of the Rydings are still alive and kicking but we have to be constantly vigilant as to the future of the Smith Art Gallery,” said Mr Ratcliffe.

“We have heard rumours that opening hours might be reduced to save money and we would be very opposed to any cut in services.”

The role of the Friends has now changed from pressure group to a support group, putting on around six-eight events a year and helping to promote the gallery’s programme of activities.

“We got together for a specific purpose in 2001 to safeguard the building but we are still keen to play an active role in the life of the gallery. To do that we need more people who are prepared to get involved and volunteer,” said Tom who lives in Rastrick.

“We understand that people haven’t always got the time to sit on committees and come to regular meetings but we would welcome help from anyone with specific expertise such as in accountancy or legal matters.”

The Friends became a registered charity in 2003. That has enabled it to access funds in the form of grants which have been ploughed back into the gallery. Musical concerts and recitals have been put on and there have been talks by Northern Broadsides founder Barrie Rutter, conductor John Pryce-Jones and Sir Ernest Hall.

“The gallery is a great space and presents many opportunities. We worked hard to make sure the gallery stayed open 10 years ago and now we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.

“We want to galvanise Brighouse people into supporting their local gallery and library and recruit more members.

“There is a lot of talk of the ‘big society’ but it needs volunteers to make it work.”

Improvements to the Rydings five years ago saw money spent on improved access, a new reception area, better meeting rooms and complete refurbishment of the gallery and library.

“It really is the jewel in Brighouse’s crown but, because it is a bit tucked away out of the town centre, it tends to get overlooked. It is a stunning building and has a lot of potential.”

William Smith was the first mayor of Brighouse in 1893 and served for five years. He was a keen art collector and amassed a fine collection of Victorian paintings. In 1897 The Rydings, an early Victorian house, was bought for use as a library and it opened in 1898. Nine years later, after extensive but sympathetic additions, the Smith Art Gallery was opened by Princess Louise.

l The Friends of the Rydings would welcome new members or anyone with specific expertise to take the group forward. For more information contact 01484 718324.