The Old Meeting House was built as a venue for Quaker meetings in 1812, at a cost of around £900. Quaker numbers had diminished in Helmsley by 1844 and the building was rented by the Primitive Methodists, who used it regularly until 1980, when the building became disused. It remained so until it was purchased from the Society of Friends in 1984 by the Old Meeting House Trust for the sum of £3,000, initially with a view to it becoming the home of the Helmsley Festival - the forerunner of the present Ryedale Festival.
The Old Meeting House Trust was supported by grants from the Arts Council and Ryedale District Council. Progress was impeded by problems of access and planning permission, but in 1988 these were overcome and charitable status was obtained. An Advisory Council of eminent figures in the arts was established; a feasibility study indicated that the project would be viable and architect Tony Burns drew up plans for a multi-purpose centre.
Before any alterations were made, and despite lack of heating and water facilities, the first performance took place in May 1993. Support grew and an application for a lottery grant was successfully submitted in 1995. This enabled the project to be completed, with total capital investment to date of around £450,000.
Sadly, on the night of 15th August 2000 the Old Meeting House was ravaged by fire, this was a disaster for everyone in Ryedale and visitors from further a field who love the Arts. But in just eight months the Arts Centre was rebuilt and renamed Helmsley Arts Centre, at the Old Meeting House and we reopened on 27th April 2001.
Thanks to the fantastically generous response to our Fire Appeal we were able to make vital technical improvements and replace our lost equipment.The Helmsley Arts Centre at the Old Meeting House is now a thriving performing venue for theatre, music, dance and talks, with cinema, exhibitions and a range of activities for children.
The staffing of the project was initially entirely voluntary, and has largely remained so.