Dame Jenni Murray Champions The Civic in Barnsley

The Civic, has just welcomed one of Barnsley’s most famous of all female voices – Dame Jenni Murray to be its new champion, joining luminaries such as Sir Michael Parkinson, ballerina Tala Lee-Turton and hairdresser to the stars, Andrew Barton.

Despite a life and career with the BBC, predominantly in London as she celebrates 30 years with Woman’s Hour this year, the influence of her home town resonates.

As a much loved Grade II listed building, The Civic has been part of the town since 1877. It reopened in 2009 after investment to refurb, but did so with a third of the building unfinished and unused.
The Civic was given over in Trust to the charity, Barnsley Civic Enterprise Ltd, and with the recession then in full force, it had to adapt and make the venue work in its current form. The £5m fundraising campaign aims to open up the whole of The Civic, add a new theatre, café, and extended gallery, and re-open 22,000 sq ft creating a wow-factor.

“I think that’s a terrific idea, I would give them all my support, absolutely,” Dame Jenni said. “The arts are just vital. My memories of the Civic are going there to see musicals with my mother, and she would tell stories that she remembered from her childhood.”

The Civic’s patron, Sir Michael Parkinson, recently spoke out to the media in support of its fundraising campaign to bring the building back to its former glory. He said: “Barnsley sits there and it’s vulnerable, and what it deserves, and what these areas didn’t get, was an adequate replacement for the pits.”

He said the town, and communities across the North, were “dying on their feet”, adding: “They need something to aspire to. Arts, music particularly, are important. Without entertainment, where are we?”

Today, the Arts are promising a brighter future.

In fact, Jenni believes access to the Arts in regional towns like Barnsley are crucial.

“It’s incredibly important,” she said. “Access to the arts is incredibly important. I was very lucky because my mother was very worried that I’d have a broad Yorkshire accent. She sent me to elocution lessons, I think I was five when I started, which was quite young to be taught posh. And the teacher that I went to was a speech and drama teacher, and she would take us to Leeds and to Sheffield when the big companies toured from London. I saw Laurence Olivier – all the great actors of the time – we went to the Sheffield Playhouse regularly and we went to music concerts too.

I had that range of culture, right down to going to Locke Park in Barnsley where they hosted an open air musical every summer, so you saw Oklahoma or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers perform. That formed the basis of my life really. I went on to study French and Drama (at Hull University), and it’s given me my career. It’s absolutely vital that we consider the arts every bit as important as the sciences.”

Helen Ball, CEO of The Civic, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Dame Jenni as a Champion of our cause. As she, and Sir Michael and the amazing calibre of our Champions show, Barnsley punches above its weight and makes an important contribution to the nation’s cultural landscape.”

To support The Civic’s campaign, visit www.barnsleycivic.co.uk/supportus/connect or join the debate #connect @BarnsleyCivic

A History of Britain in 21 Women is Dame Jenni Murray’s latest book, out now.