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The PPG Partnership

Back in 2012, I was approached by representatives from Johnstone’s Paints (part of the PPG Industries Group) here in Birstall to enquire if we might be interested in receiving some funding to support our programme of activities here at Oakwell Hall Country Park. Each year the company supports local community initiatives throughout the world, wherever PPG operate. It’s called the PPG Global Charitable Contributions Program and is an expression of the company’s philosophy of sharing the success of the business with their neighbouring communities. To quote them directly; “the mission of the PPG Global Charitable Contributions Program is to demonstrate the values of PPG Industries, Inc. by enhancing the quality of life in communities where PPG has a presence throughout the world”. 

Over the years, the Birstall site had shared out funding among a huge range of local projects and groups but last year came up with the idea of working closely with one organisation, to maximise the impact of their funding by channelling funding through a body with an infrastructure in place already to serve the local community.

Oakwell Hall Country Park and our diverse events programme, particularly those aimed at families and children, were known to representatives of the company. What was also known was that Oakwell, along with many other services of the council, was facing challenging times with reductions to revenue budgets.
The timing couldn’t have been better.

Further exploratory talks with the company revealed that my role as Heritage Manger also now included Red House Museum, which we were keen to also include in the scheme. Incidentally Red House, Oakwell and PPG Birstall all share connections with Charlotte Bronte. Charlotte visited both Red House and Oakwell and featured both properties in her novel ‘Shirley’. She also visited The Rydings, the home of the Nussey family, which is now part of the PPG site in Birstall.

A further strength to our potential partnership with the company was the support of our respective friends groups. Here’s where you come in. The Friends of Oakwell Hall had a history of working to support the house and country park for 25 years; the Friends of Red House by contrast were only in the early stages of development, but were already having a really positive impact on this important literary and heritage site.
Working closely with colleagues from both sites and, particularly with Patrick Crowley from our country park ranger team, we put a proposal together covering a range of ideas; from the repair of the chimney on the west wing of Oakwell and a new period carpet for the staircase and balcony of Red House, to family activity days, the return of brass band performances in the gardens, an archaeological dig at Oakwell and of course, Yorkshire Day – all in all a mixture of site improvements and a diverse programme of activities to engage the local community.

Well we made our pitch and waited. Despite encouraging comments from our new friends in PPG, the final decision was ultimately to come from company headquarters in the USA.

Winter turned into spring then, just when we feared the worst, the news broke that we’d got the money – nearly £20,000.

We were ecstatic but knew we had work to do. Because summer was just around the corner, we had to work fast. There were events to plan, people to book and of course, publicity to get out.

But in the end, we did it.

Emma Crowley, once a member of Oakwell’s ranger Team, had a new post following our recent restructure, co-ordinating and marketing the whole Museums and Galleries events programme. However because much of this is still delivered at Oakwell (and we hope increasingly at Red House too), she is based with us at Oakwell and has been invaluable in helping co-ordinate this programme and getting the publicity material out.

We hope at the end of the year, PPG are happy with what have delivered. We have so many photos, stories and visitor figures that show the positive impact this money has already had, and we look forward to more of the same over the rest of the year.

Not only have PPG provided us with this incredible financial gift, they have also provided volunteers who have so far helped at Yorkshire Day and, later in the year, we will have a team working in Oakwell Hall to re-decorate the main visitor staircase leading up to the Great Parlour Chamber.

So thank you PPG. You have given us a fantastic 2013.

As for 2014, we’ve go a couple of event ideas……….more later, perhaps.

Eric Brown