Music and arts venue opens at ex-Emmerdale mill

A completely derelict mill building has been sympathetically restored to become one of the most exciting entertainment venues in the Leeds region.

The Old Woollen, part of the flourishing Sunny Bank Mills complex in Farsley, now hosts an ambitious and eclectic mix of music, comedy, theatre and the spoken word.

Upcoming acts include music journalist and DJ Mark Radcliffe, Sunderland post-punk band The Futureheads and comedian Arthur Smith. There have also been recent appearances by national treasure Gyles Brandreth, historian and television personality Lucy Worsley and 1990s hit machine Space.

The Old Woollen is run by William and John Gaunt, owners of the award-winning Sunny Bank Mills, in conjunction with Yorkshire events company Trouble At Mill.

William Gaunt explained:

“Bringing the Old Woollen back to life has been a true labour of love. The building has been completely derelict for 50 years and had fallen into an advanced state of dilapidation. So far we have spent £150,000 on bringing back a section of the ground floor into use.

“We have ambitious plans to redevelop the whole building, once funds have been secured. We have intentionally left the Old Woollen in a state of ‘arrested decay’ which gives the audience a direct connection with the past.

“We have been absolutely delighted with the acts we have been able to book so far and the reaction to them. It has been a great success story and maintains the mill’s proud connection with the arts, as both Yorkshire Television’s Emmerdale and Heartbeat were filmed here, and we have a thriving art gallery on site, too, ” said Mr Gaunt.

Dick Bonham, a director of Trouble At Mill, commented: “We are the company behind the popular Farsley venue The Constitutional and it made perfect sense to join forces with Sunny Bank Mills to launch a new collaborative space, The Old Woollen.

“We’re delighted to be coming home to Sunny Bank Mills. We started the Trouble At Mill journey with a series of pop-up events at the Mill, which featured a whole range of great shows and acts. The team there have always been incredibly supportive, and we’re thrilled that they’ve decided to work with us to re-purpose and re-energise The Old Woollen.

“Working together we know it will have an incredible vibe, with some brilliant acts. People always say to us they can’t believe things like this are happening in a place called Farsley – well, this is only the beginning and we can’t wait to share some of the great events we have in store!”

Significantly Mr Bonham is also a director of the acclaimed production company LittleMighty, whose offices are now based at Sunny Bank Mills.

He explained: “Sunny Bank is a fabulous base from which to launch our tours across the country. As it’s grown and developed over the past few years, it’s become a real creative hub, with lots of interesting artists and companies. That’s a really nurturing and energising environment to be working in. Plus, it’s only five minutes from my house – what could be better?”

The Old Woollen was one of the first mill buildings at Sunny Bank, dating back to 1830. It was built by a group of men who included John and William Gaunt’s ancestor John Gaunt. It was originally used for a process called “scribbling” and “fulling”. Scribbling was the process of combing the wool fibres in order to straighten them. Fulling was the process of washing and shrinking the cloth after it had been woven. This made the cloth thicker and stronger.

Interestingly, the building – until recently – had no toilets. That’s because, before the advent of modern chemicals, urine was collected and used to clean the wool in the “fulling” process.

Altogether there are now 75 companies with more than 350 employees on site at Sunny Bank Mills. Sarah-Jayne Lishman of marketing agents Dove Haigh Phillips, commented: “The owners of Sunny Bank Mills took the brave decision to invest heavily in their mill and this decision has paid dividends. This is one of the most significant mill regeneration projects in Yorkshire. Steeped in history and with massive potential, Sunny Bank Mills is now one of the prime employment, retail, artistic and community locations in the Leeds area.”

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