In Yorkshire, we’re known for sticking together and Leeds has long since been a city with a strong sense of community. Just ask anyone that’s lived here over thirty years about the days when you could leave your front door unlocked, back in the days when everyone knew everyone who lived on their street. The rise, however, in the student population in areas of the city such as Headingley, Hyde Park and Woodhouse, has robbed some locals of their community spirit and left them feeling like strangers in their own neighbourhoods. But all is not lost and there are many organisations in the city that are trying to keep the community spirit alive through arts, creativity and community venues.
At the heart of one of Leeds’s busiest student hubs, lies Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre, or HEART. Run from the grounds of an old primary school, HEART offers a workspace for those looking to find a flexible and friendly, shared office space. They boast a range of ever-changing art exhibitions whilst also supporting three independent community groups in developing their passions and interests in film, music and poetry. Nestled in between Skyrack and The Headingley Taps, the centre is also home to Assembly bar and kitchen, where customers can not only enjoy a range of drinks, home baked cakes and light bites but, also a weekly night of live music performed by local talent.
If you’re artistic and looking for a space to work and meet other creatives, then check out Aire Place Studios on Kirkstall Road. The female-led organisation, that offers workspaces, workshops, exhibitions and events led by both volunteers and members, have an ethos of showcasing unrepresented talent from minority groups like LGBTI, BAME, working class, mothers and women. According to founder, Sarah Francis, Aire studios are more than just a workspace- “We’re a community working together to strengthen and up lift each other through an uncertain time. We’re trying to reshape spaces for creatives of all walks of life to inspire and uplift each other. We offer many different studios packages and are working towards removing barriers people face being creative.”
A little further afield in Chapel Allerton, Seven Arts are celebrating their twelfth year as an entirely independent creative space. The CIC do not receive funding form Arts Council England and relies entirely on donations, sponsors and benefactors. Seven was born out of a group of local people’s efforts to improve community spirit through the arts. They see themselves as having a crucial role in the linking of the various cultures in and among the LS7 area, hence the name ‘Seven’ was chosen.
Their inhouse café/bar, which boasts a range of homemade cakes and local ales also hosts several events such as art exhibitions, comedy acts, live music and film festivals that are aimed at bringing the community together to celebrate local talent and performing arts.
Run from a former church in Hyde Park, Left Bank is a multidisciplinary arts venue which, after being closed in 1995, was reopened in 2002. A group of residents with a vision to develop the place into a community lead venue for arts, rallied together to restore this grade II listed building. According to Director, Courtney Spencer, the main goal at Left Bank is to inspire growth, connection and wellbeing whilst also offering a stunning setting for celebrations.
She said, “At Left Bank Leeds we are working to create a welcoming and sustainable space that connects the people of Leeds through an accessible programme of arts and events.” Creatives can get together to learn and socialise at several different events on offer at Left Bank such as drawing workshops, sculpture exhibitions and creative open houses.
Just a short walk away from Left Bank sits another church that is hoping to bring the community together. All Hallows is an inclusive Anglican Church who believe that we are all equal and loved in God’s eyes. “At All Hallows we aim and pray and work to bring a little taste of heaven into our parish and city.” Resident vicar, Rev Heston Groenewald said. He went onto explain how the church also dedicates a large proportion of their efforts to helping asylum seekers and refugees in the area, “We know that for many of our neighbours, life can be more hell than heaven. So, we campaign for equality and justice and inclusion- and through our Interfaith and Asylum Support and Inclusive Church work, we try our best to put these principles into daily practice.”
As well as their community garden and LGBT+ support groups, All Hallows also plays host to Rainbow Junk-tion, a pay as you feel, donation café. Opened in 2014, the café intercepts food that would otherwise be destined to be thrown away and aims to bring the community together whilst also reducing food poverty and food waste.
And these are just some of the many different organisations that are doing all they can to support local communities and celebrate local talent, interests and passions. It’s apparent that, whoever you are, whatever you’re interested in or whatever you’re going through, Leeds has a community of likeminded and open people who want to help, support and celebrate you.