My Yorkshire: Barnsley Civic’s Helen Bell

Helen Ball. PIC: Scott Merrylees
Helen Ball. PIC: Scott Merrylees
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Helen Ball grew up in Yorkshire and is now chief executive of The Civic in Barnsley. She lives with her family in Penistone.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory? I grew up in Yorkshire and so my first Yorkshire memory is of playing in my backyard in Ravensthorpe on a swing my grandparents had bought me in the glorious summer sunshine.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

My favourite part of the county is Penistone where I live. It has a wonderful community and a great village centre. I love that I can choose to be on the motorway heading for the city or surrounded by beautiful countryside in a matter of minutes depending on my mood. It’s a great place to raise a family and somewhere I hope to be for a long time

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire? A trip to Filey on the east coast with my family is my idea of a perfect weekend. Gorgeous beaches, a lovely friendly town and the chance to breathe in all that sea air. I’m also a sucker for an ice cream and Filey is the perfect place to indulge in that!

Do you have a favourite walk – or view? Can I choose both? My favourite walk is along the Trans Pennine Trail from Penistone in either direction. My favourite view is from the top of Hoylandswaine hill. You can see down into the whole of Penistone but also further and beyond to the rolling hills that border the Peak District. It’s beautiful in all seasons and ever changing as a landscape.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch? Jessica Ennis-Hill. She is an amazing ambassador for women in sport and a role model for young girls to look up to. Her determination and commitment to her field is inspirational.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? Dame Judi Dench. I have admired her and her career for many years, inspired by its breadth and range. As a young girl who dreamed of being an actress, her career is the one you would love to have.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be? I will have to say The Civic in Barnsley. It is a hidden gem because of its location – people sadly do not expect Barnsley to be rich in culture and the arts which, of course, it is – and because the programme we offer is unexpected, exciting and tucked away behind the hustle and bustle.

If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be? My favourite stretch of beach at Filey. It’s only a short stretch but it’s a place which holds some amazing family memories for me. I would of course have to own the weather too so it would be glorious sunshine and my family could have a wonderful day together making memories.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? In every corner of our county you will find the same strong hard working people with family values and an honest and direct way of talking. It always astounds me how generous people in this county can be. Especially when people need help or support.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub? I don’t have one favourite. There are so many amazing ones. Leeds and Sheffield alone boast some amazing restaurants and there are some fabulous pubs to be found all over Yorkshire. It’s impossible to choose just one.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it? Yorkshire has grown and developed significantly during my lifetime. You only have to consider the city of Leeds as a case study and measure the level of investment and change that has happened there supporting economic growth and all sorts of new opportunities over the past 10 years. Change is inevitable. It’s how you respond and live through it that matters.

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be? I’d improve the public transport network across the region but between West and South Yorkshire in particular. Yorkshire is such a big county it really would be great to be able to use the trains and buses to get around it easier and enjoy it whilst travelling.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire? The poet, writer and broadcaster Ian McMillan. He is a fantastic advocate for the arts and culture in Barnsley but also for the town as a whole. He is also one of the kindest and more sincere people I have ever met.

Do you have a favourite food shop? Paul Schofield’s Butchers in the centre of Penistone. He is an independent small business who provides the highest possible quality and always that lovely Yorkshire welcome.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work? My Yorkshire roots have definitely given me a strong work ethic and an inner steel that has helped me face some of my toughest challenges.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer? My favourite Yorkshire author is Alan Bennett. I was introduced to Alan’s work when I attended youth theatre as a teenager by a friend who let me borrow a copy of Talking Heads. He was a real influence on my early career and training and continues to be one of my absolute favourites.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? Barnsley. There is sadly still a perpetuated image in the public domain of Barnsley as an industrial and downtrodden place left bleak after loss of industry. Yes the loss of industry did hit Barnsley hard, but the borough you can visit today is about much more than that.

The Civic in Barnsley recently launched a £5m appeal to create a world-class destination of the arts by 2023. For more details go to barnsleycivic.co.uk

Gary Barlow

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