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Cultural cities: investing for community and place

The Tetley contemporary art gallery - in the restored Art Deco former brewery HQ, part of the evolving Vastint residential and commercial development on Leeds South Bank, which includes the new Aire Park

Leeds is using its rich heritage and cultural history to expand its offer for tourism and communities within the region. The British Library which has always had a foot in the city, is planning to open a larger museum and public archive centre at the historic mill, Temple Works. A new residential and mixed-use district in Globe Road is being created on derelict land between the Manchester to Leeds railway line and the canal and next to the South Bank regeneration area, which includes the new Aire Park and the Tetley contemporary art gallery as well as the proposed British Library extension in Holbeck. Leeds Playhouse on the northern side of the city has a new frontage referencing the past pottery industry and new facilities for more diverse audiences.

However, many have reacted strongly against the proposal by the UK government that Channel 4 should be privatised. Channel 4 physically moved into new headquarters in Leeds last year to level up the opportunities for production companies and to expand the regional offer of programming. The move has made a big cultural impact in the city region and created new jobs.

Above; Leeds City Square, with the Majestic building (where Channel 4 has located its HQ) on left

Starting our levelling up discussion, Sinead Rocks, Managing Director, Nations & Regions at Channel 4 said she thought it would be a very big mistake to privatise the broadcaster:

' I think that Channel 4, which is forty this year, has a successful model being publicly owned but privately funded. It doesn't cost the tax payer anything and we have kept our promise that we wouldn't make our own content but buy content from SMEs. We offer a lot to the cultural sector, and while the government has a right to question the model, privatisation won't help. It would change our status and we would no longer be a publisher. This would be a huge blow to production companies.

'We opened other Channel 4 centres in Glasgow and Bristol, ensuring more staff who worked for the broadcaster were outside London and ensuring that we spent more money outside London. Privatisation would mean less money in the regions and it would be a backwards step. I think we have tried to be good neighbours and good citizens in our move to the regions. We tell stories that reflect different parts of the UK to create a better understanding and put that out to the world. Our content is therefore not one homogenised lump. We are shining a light on more unheard voices and what it is to be a citizen of the UK.'

The British Library feels it has outgrown its northern collections and storage campus in Boston Spa in Leeds and wants to expand its operations to Temple Works where it can invite more visitors. Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, and who is in charge of the expansion explained how important it has always been to have a foothold in Leeds:

' We have been in Leeds since The British Library was created in the 1970s and our archive in Boston Spa has been massively important to us. The vast majority of it is stored here and will be forever in the city of Leeds. Over 100 million objects are located (at the Boston Spa site) in a former munitions factory but it is not a site that we can invite the maximum number of people to. At Temple Works we can have the digital and the human and start planning for the next 50 years. Only a public sector organisation could do this and guarantee stability.

CGI of what the restored Temple Works might look like with The British Library in situ in Leeds, South Bank (Courtesy CEG and The British Library)

'There are lots of wonderful features to Temple Works such as the Egyptian frontage. The building covers 8,000 square meters with cast iron columns. Concrete slabs at a later date were added to the roof and there is currently water ingress. The first action is temporary stabilisation but by the end of the decade we will be able to occupy it. The re-use of buildings is good for sustainability and it is a building that has defined Leeds, so good to keep it.

'Temple Works was always a large employer in the area and we see and capture the stories that this building has seen, which is part of our oral history tradition. We galvanised the knowledge economy in King's Cross in London in the 1990's and we are keen to continue to make Temple have both an economic value and a social space. We are continuing to build relationships and partnerships with all sectors of the community including families and migrants.'

Above: Leeds Playhouse in the Quarry Hill area of the city - facade with ceramic tiles (Page Park Architects)

The original playhouse in Leeds has also been re-worked and re-modelled to provide for a wider range of theatre-goer and Nicola Walls from architecture practice, Page Park, said it has pioneered the introduction of among other things, dementia friendly performances:

'One of the important elements when I was working on the building was to orientate the front of the theatre to face the centre of the city and to accommodate disabled parking at the back. Inside, the places for wheelchairs were not in a great place, so we altered that to provide a more inclusive experience.

'The physical connections of the building interested us and we wanted to open up the front to newly developed public realm gardens but also took note of the plasticity of the ceramics history in the city. So the new facade has four parts representing this with ceramic tiles, the black tiles suggesting the actors standing in the footlights looking out at the audience.

'We wanted to cut out the thresholds and barriers in the theatre and create resilience and sustainability and doing this we looked hard at the history of Leeds to provide inspiration.'

Above; CGI from Sheppard Robson showing Globe Road development's relationship with the canal and riverside - in central Leeds

Much debate has taken place recently on the need to provide cultural activities in cities beyond just retail and Nick Ffoulkes, Partner at Sheppard Robson, who joined our discussion, has been working on a new residential development of housing, adjacent to the South Bank regeneration area where The British Library will be built:

We have been working on Globe Road for four years, which we want to make as publicly permeable as possible and with imaginative public green space. Our front doors open onto secure landscaped spaces where people will want to spent time. It is hugely positive for Leeds as it’s a development that is releasing brownfield sites that have been lost for generations. Our ground floors connect to wider communities and offer small-scale employment opportunities.

'I feel lucky to have worked on projects in Leeds for over 15 years and as a practice we feel Leeds is a city that is open and has always been keen to question itself in terns of improving the City framework and improve to create connections. Since the early 2000's we have enjoyed working with John Thorp and Mark Burgess and others within Leeds to create a connected city. The post-industrial heritage can either be viewed as a barrier or benefit and it is up to the city to determine how it is embraced positively to create a sense of place that is unique to Leeds.

'Globe Road is a good example of the challenges that Leeds faces with a car dominated environment with limited or no priority or space for pedestrians, so moving towards a pedestrian prioritised and Green City will be hugely positive for Leeds. Interestingly, we did consider closing Globe Road for pedestrians only at the early stages of the project and then connect back to the waterfront but this proved a significant challenge for Leeds’ city network. Strategic decisions on re-balancing are important decisions that are the priority for the next ten years in the city.

'Housing is a huge part of the city's social infrastructure and not just an economic facilitator for other things. How we use our assets should be driven by different views. Some people find this difficult and it all takes time but we need to do this to evaluate what cities will become, it is all too easy to stereo-type.'

The investment partnership behind Get Living Plc, the UK’s largest build to rent operator, is investing £180m in the creation of the five-acre Globe Road residential neighbourhood of more than 780 homes for rent comprising studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments as well as family townhouses. The development will create eight residential buildings linked by a series of new public spaces and a new Hub building overlooking the canal.

According to the developer, the design for the district moves away from creating a single monolith and allows for new pockets of public realm to be created in-between the buildings. These spaces will be brought to life by a range of amenities – such as food stores, retails units and a gym – which activate the ground floor and streetscape. Residents will also be able to retreat to communal terraces found on the first floor of the development and the townhouses benefit from private gardens.

There will also be a Hub building, a pavilion that sits on the waterfront to the east of the site. This lighter structure with glazed facades includes restaurant space at ground floor, with co-working space positioned above offering a workplace destination for small and emerging businesses.'

Trevor Mitchell, Head of Region (North West and Yorkshire) at Historic England, asked the question about whether Leeds was getting 'this sense of place and connectedness?'

He commented:

'You can walk past fantastic buildings in Leeds all the time and they are all individual but why do people come into the city? They want to be in and around public buildings where there is a sense of identity - where we can all belong. Historic England puts its money into communities not just capital works.

' If I turn on my television to Channel 4, I can see the city of Leeds represented every day and we can therefore give Leeds a recognisable branding through heritage, which is marketed to the world. We have a pride in our place.

'We need to be marketing our cities and there is always going to be a tension between protecting the past and moving forward - but I don't think for Leeds anymore. The city is getting recognised for its work on climate change and next year is the 2023 cultural festival. The city will gain its share of brand.'


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