The Kirklees Media Centre offers far more than coffee and chat, says Stephen Wade
Huddersfield is an easy and vibrant place nestling comfortably between the old and the new. Just up the road is Holmfirth, the nostalgic, media-soaked playground of Compo and his pals from BBC's Last of the Summer Wine. A university squats beside the busy ring road, and the town centre boasts a fine spread of towering Victorian buildings.
It is a town with a buzz, and Keith Jeffrey, director of the Kirklees Media Centre, proudly shows off a newsletter, with a picture of Prime Minister Tony Blair visiting the cybercafe last August. The complex has a conference centre, cafe, computer-imaging facilities and a gallery. All this is housed in an attractive stone and glass shell, welcoming and calling out modernity.
The centre was the result of a Pounds 1.5 million gamble funded by Kirklees Council and central Government. Traditional industries were receding and the town needed something futuristic and youthful. A development worker was appointed, internal markets cultured, and the centre opened in March, 1995, offering 62,000 square feet and a field of dreams for someone. The latest move is a lottery bid which may allow further expansion.
One innovative plan is to create a national centre for sonic arts. Composer Trevor Wishart has already been involved.
Mr Jeffrey has been in the centre for three and a half years, and clearly enjoys the challenges and his liaison role. He points out that people of all ages and background call in for a coffee and an hour surfing the net.
But ambitious plans are afoot. Mr Jeffrey wants to give local schools and colleges increased access to media training, particularly in the area of imaging and photo CD-Rom. The expertise is in place and events are planned with Huddersfield Technical College, for instance.
The centre is home to tenants including graphic designers, audio production, media training facilities and electronic arts video.
More than 500 hundred people have had their first experience of using the Internet here. More than 16,000 visitors have called in since it opened and 21 businesses are involved. There has also been a multimedia broadcast called Channel Wow, in which a local group, the Albert Poets, teamed up with technologists to inhabit a website of the future.
And what of the future? It seems like a case of more students required - oh, and that lottery money.
Kirklees Media Centre, 7 Northumberland Street, Huddersfield HP1 1RL. Tel: 01484 431289. On November 15 the centre will be holding a conference for teachers on using the Internet. Details: 01535 663737