Evolving a Creative Space: Unit 27c


Weird new goings-on in the Calderdale Valleys – a shape-shifting report from Alan Dearling

Just over a year ago, June 2022 in fact, the remains of my old life up in the borderlands of Scotland were transported into my new home in Todmorden. A modest Yorkshire back-to-back. Small rooms, lots of awkward stairs. It was crammed to the gunwales, from deep in the bowels of the cellar in every room right up to the relatively large loft room and nooks and crannies under the roof. Books, vinyl, dvds, cds, music-making instruments from around the world. In fact, the very creative detritus of life! Trouble was, and it was pretty major trouble, there was no room to live amongst the piles of boxes. And so, onto the search for creative solutions…

I went out and about, mostly on foot, from Todmorden in each direction following the valleys towards Hebden Bridge, Rochdale and Burnley. I had a slightly wonky and vague dream – I was in search of storage that could also double up as a creative studio space for small(ish)-scale music and arts events. I wanted to provide opportunities to display my own photographs, art-works and info about books that I’d helped helm or nurture, especially those about the environment, making eco-spaces and dwellings, environmental actions and protests, Travellers, festivals, music and more.

There were a number of storage container units available, but none that offered any open access for visitors or looked like feasible venues for any small events. The Calderdale valleys contain rivers and canals which are bordered by old mills, many of which are decaying. Nearly all that I visited were also very damp…remember that I was looking to keep my books and music, indeed much of my ‘life’, in a reasonable state for use into the new futures being forged in Yorkshire and Lancashire.  I had already been overlapping my old life in Scotland with nurturing a new life taking photos and reviewing gigs around Todmorden (known as Tod). These local venues attract many major national and international performers at the Trades Club and Hope Chapel (Hebden Bridge) and the Golden Lion and upstairs at the night club, currently known as The Big Tree (Todmorden). The collage pic is of RDF: Radical Dance Faction playing in Tod. Covid had gotten in the way in my plans (and indeed my health), but I was already more than four years into the new-to-me creative landscape.

I visited rooms in an old college and more mills, even more mills and even more storage containers inside old mills. It was getting dispiriting and I still had no space at home to enjoy simple things like eating from a table, or watching TV. Then came information of the private development of one large floor in Robinwood Mill, just a mile and a half walking distance from my house up the Burnley Road to Lydgate. It had been part of the local Town Plan, but  perhaps it came up against the hurdle that the Mill was neither a charity or a not-for-profit co-operative. I’m led to believe from what the Robinwood crew told me, that this precluded it from remaining in the master plan for the regeneration of Todmorden.

In fact, Robinwood Mill is privately owned and leased out to range of existing companies and individuals including a kitchen fittings company, a pottery, a furniture removal company, two art galleries, artists, prop-makers for film and TV, up-cyclers of bicycles, motor-bikes and furniture, recording studios and more. So, it was already something of an artistic base at the point when I arranged to visit the Mill, and potential studio and storage spaces in late autumn 2022.

Long story – short: I took over a tenancy at what was to be designated Unit 27c in December 2022. It was literally just a corner ‘space’ in an empty mill room. I had

to try and envision the future for my space as a studio and store. Eventually to become a multi-function area. I asked the Mill owners’ permission to have a mezzanine floor constructed by their in-house caretaker and carpenter, Cliff. This was done effectively by Cliff and his colleagues, and a secondary wall of plaster-board was added, to help with noise and heat insulation. But, very much on the plus side, the studio possessed really stunning views over towards the railway viaduct.

I had a variety of shelving units constructed up and downstairs in the unit. But, it was humid…the hygrometer reading was 87%. That’s high and will damage books, cds and anything vulnerable to damp. And so, I worried and pondered, whilst needing to put my gear into the new unit… Eventually, the move of my masses of boxes, PA, sound and lighting gear took place in a couple of tranches late springtime 2023.

I added curtains and filled in holes in the wooden mill floor with corks. Unit 27c is above Eagles Crag brewery and the mill stream. I have then gradually added in rugs and carpets to help insulate the area more effectively and purchased a fairly powerful dehumidifier and an electric space heater. More small steps. I didn’t try to unpack any of the contents of my boxes until the hygrometer reading was below 65%.


The build of the new units in Robinwood Mill has been lengthy and is still ongoing at the time of writing at the beginning of September 2023. Probably it will always be ‘ongoing’ with maintenance, safety and access issues and challenges! The Mill is steeped in history (and dust!). The central, spiral staircase is worn with history ingrained in its steps. The new and old tenants really don’t know each other – yet – but hopefully it will all come together, develop and flourish.   


I have plenty of ideas, but not firm plans yet. But I have hung a small arts exhibition, welcomed the first guests into Unit 27c. Held pre-preview event with live music from Rik M. Small beginnings perhaps, but there’s plenty of potential, especially as the word gets out into the community about a new ‘creative arts and music space’ at Robinwood Mill.

A lot depends on that word of mouth messaging and social networking. Plus, of course, the creative endeavours of the old and new Mill tenants. Creators all. Hopefully, it is a saga that will evolve in positive ways














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