Opera north to name new home after Yorkshire benefactor

Leeds-based national opera company Opera North today announces that its redeveloped headquarters will bear the name of leading philanthropist, Dr Keith Howard OBE.


The Howard Opera Centre will take on the new name in recognition of a significant personal gift from Dr Howard of £11.25 million towards Opera North’s current redevelopment project, Music Works. It is thought to be among the largest private donations ever made to a UK arts company outside of London.


Dr Howard, a lifelong opera lover and cricket fan, is the founder of Emerald Group Publishing, and President of Opera North.


The Howard Opera Centre will contain Opera North’s rehearsal studios, costume and wigs workshop, and administrative offices. Situated in the heart of Leeds city centre on New Briggate and Harrison Street, the redevelopment work will create a world-class facility to make opera; a new Education Studio and additional rehearsal spaces, including a new rehearsal room for the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North and a suite of music coaching rooms.


The Howard Opera Centre will join another space named ten years earlier in recognition of Keith Howard’s support for the company, the Howard Assembly Room, an eclectic 300 seat performance venue offering a diverse calendar of jazz, world music, folk, classical concerts, children’s opera, talks, film and installations. Originally opened in 2009 following extensive restoration, the Howard Assembly Room is currently closed during the Music Works redevelopment project, and will reopen in 2021 with a new dedicated and fully accessible entrance and atrium, an increased number of performances, and a new restaurant and bar replacing a row of previously vacant shop units on New Briggate.


The redevelopment project, which began on site during summer 2019, is being delivered by Henry Boot Construction, an award-winning regional construction contractor based in Sheffield, which has a strong record in delivering high quality projects and a commitment to sustainable business practices, including utilising local supply chains and reducing environment impacts.


The overall target for the Music Works fundraising campaign is £18 million.  Opera North has raised £15.6 million to date, including a significant philanthropic gift of £11.25 million (comprised of a gift of £9 million and £2.25 million in Gift Aid) from Dr Keith Howard OBE, President of Opera North and founder of Emerald Group Publishing.


Leeds City Council has contributed £750,000, together with the lease of the vacant shops on New Briggate, and funding of £499,999 has been awarded by Arts Council England. The balance of the funds raised to date has come from private donors, trusts and supporters, including a £1 million donation from The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, as well as a significant contribution from Mrs Maureen Pettman and major gifts from a number of private individuals. In addition, gifts have been pledged by The Wolfson Foundation, Backstage Trust, The Kirby Laing Foundation, The Foyle Foundation and The Garfield Weston Foundation.


Although 87% of the target has been raised, there remains a funding gap of £2.4 million to close, and the Company is now looking to Patrons, Friends and audiences to play their part in the success of the redevelopment at many different levels. Work also continues to attract funding from further charitable trusts and foundations and the business community in Leeds.


Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, comments:


Opera North is delighted to be able to recognise the extraordinary generosity of our longstanding supporter and friend, Dr Keith Howard, whose contribution to this project means that we are able to create a new artistic home for the Company, as well as improving the infrastructure, access and visitor experience for the Howard Assembly Room.


“The Howard Opera Centre will be a true centre of excellence, bringing together rehearsal spaces for world class opera productions with coaching rooms where singers can develop their vocal expertise, and specialist costume workshop spaces. A new hub for our Education work will create an inclusive space for our work with young people from across the city, bringing children and young people right to the heart of our creative community.”


Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: 


We are pleased to see this significant redevelopment now taking shape, creating a vastly improved artistic and educational hub for one of Leeds’ leading cultural assets. Opera North makes a huge contribution to the city, both in terms of the vitality and diversity of work seen on stage, and also through its work with children, young people and communities throughout our region.


“Through the revitalisation of a neglected section of New Briggate, the improved facilities for the Howard Assembly Room will work in tandem with our wider aspirations for the area as part of the Heritage Action Zones and Connecting Leeds programmes, creating a vibrant destination and supporting our plans for a better connected city.” 



One of England’s largest arts companies, Opera North is a key driver of artistic innovation and skills in the region, permanently employing over 250 people including highly skilled costume-makers, stage managers, electricians, stage technicians, props-makers, sound and lighting technicians, educators, designers, and, of course, musicians, in addition to working with around 370 freelance performers, creatives and artists each year. Opera North’s award-winning opera productions are created and premiered in Leeds, and the Company performs at Leeds Grand Theatre each season before touring its opera productions to theatres across the country.


The Music Works redevelopment is scheduled to be completed in phases, with the Howard Opera Centre opening in late 2020, and the Howard Assembly Room, restaurant and atrium scheduled for completion in 2021.

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Watch a short film about Music Works:





More live music, for everyone


  • More performances in the Howard Assembly Room every year
  • A dedicated entrance for the Howard Assembly Room
  • An open, welcoming building that is fully accessible at all levels
  • New public spaces and a beautiful atrium


The Howard Assembly Room will be given a dedicated public entrance for the first time since it was restored in 2009. A ‘hidden gem’ managed and programmed by Opera North but accessed via the adjacent Leeds Grand Theatre, the redevelopment of the venue’s entrance will offer a greatly enhanced environment for artists and audiences alike, with new communal spaces in a beautiful glass atrium, direct stairs and lift access and improved front of house facilities.


Music Works will enable us to host a full year-round programme of performances, workshops and small-scale productions in the Howard Assembly Room, increasing the number of performances given at the venue. We will bring more of the best global musicians and artists to Leeds each year, creating a diverse calendar of jazz, world music, folk, classical concerts, children’s opera, talks, film and installations.


Extraordinary experiences for audiences


  • A new restaurant and bar, open to everyone all day
  • A fully accessible estate
  • A refurbished Opera North Box Office and reception for Leeds Grand Theatre
  • Restoration of a Grade II listed building


Music Works will regenerate a row of vacant shops directly beneath the Howard Assembly Room to create a new restaurant and bar alongside a refurbished Box Office. A new dedicated “front door” will be established for Opera North and the Howard Assembly Room; our building will be open to everyone from morning until late at night for coffee, lunch, dinner and drinks. Ours will be a welcoming place for meeting, socialising and relaxing and will provide a greatly enhanced audience journey, from booking a ticket to curtain down. The creation of a new city centre restaurant and bar serving concert and theatre goers, as well as the wider public will add resilience to the Company’s future income streams.


We will make significant improvements to the Grade II listed frontage of the building. This regeneration of a historic building on New Briggate will help improve an important part of Leeds city centre, including the approach to Leeds Grand Theatre and the wider civic space.



Cutting edge facilities for making opera: The Howard Opera Centre


  • A new purpose-built Music Rehearsal Studio
  • Three new music practice rooms
  • Refurbished Costume Workshop and Dye Room
  • A new artist and Company green room


Music Works will transform Opera North’s estate on Harrison Street, between New Briggate and Vicar Lane, to create the Howard Opera Centre, an outstanding artistic base for the Company’s creative work.


A new Music Rehearsal Studio will be built on top of the existing opera rehearsal studios, providing a state-of-the-art, dedicated home for the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, alongside three private coaching rooms for singers and musicians. The production offices will be revitalised, including refurbishing the Costume Workshop with new specialist facilities for making costumes and wigs for our mainstage productions.


A home for Opera North Education


  • A new, flexible Education Studio
  • A new music coaching room for students
  • Break out spaces and ‘secret garden’ for school groups
  • A shared entrance for students, artists and staff, placing young people at the heart of the Company


Music Works will create a specially designed Education Studio, to house our award-winning education work in Leeds. The ground floor of our main building will be transformed into a series of interlinking teaching rooms and studio spaces. For the first time, youth ensembles, early years and family groups, schools’ workshops, and singing groups for adults will have a permanent base within Opera North, with participants working within the same footprint as artists from across the globe.


Our growing lifelong education work is a vital and extensive component of Opera North’s output. This new Studio will be a centre of excellence and a home at the heart of the Company, where audiences of all ages and backgrounds can learn about and participate in making music. We will help shape futures and inspire deep-rooted engagement with opera and musical theatre.



An environmentally sustainable cultural flagship for Leeds


  • An environmentally sustainable and efficient estate
  • Photovoltaic panels to generate energy
  • A significant contribution to the New Briggate public realm
  • A major capital investment in the run up to 2023 Leeds cultural celebrations
  • Investment in digital infrastructure to increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact


We will invest in state-of-the-art and environmentally sustainable facilities to house our staff of over 250 people and more than 370 visiting artists who work with Opera North each year. Music Works will support artistic exploration and excellence, making a valuable contribution to the cultural and civic fabric of Leeds and beyond.