a leeds revolution

Holbeck Holism And The Art Of Joining The Dots

November 15, 2019

Holbeck Holism And The Art Of Joining The Dots

For a plan to have an overall effect, sometimes you have to just join up the dots. It’s similar to the theory of holism, better known as the concept of the ‘sum of its parts’, whereby the total effectiveness of a group of things each interacting with one another is greater than their effectiveness when acting in isolation. If you can translate this ideology, or at least a need for it, to an area of a city, then Holbeck is perhaps a good example. And there might just be an organisation who are about to implement holism in LS11, before our very eyes.

Holbeck Elderly Aid is changing. It has already changed, and that’s why it needs to change again. It is a small registered charity based on Domestic Street in the heart of Holbeck and it aims to support older people to maintain independence and improve their quality of life, by alleviating social isolation and improving physical and mental health. This is done through a range of organised activities, but also through having an open door policy and being an anchor in the community; a reliable resource and somebody you know is always going to be there. Sometimes, that's all you need.

“I think one of the things as an organisation that we’ve really developed in the last few years,” explains Partnerships and Strategy Officer Bryony Redwood-Turner as we chat over coffee in St Matthew’s Community Centre adjacent to their offices “is expanding our scope and working in partnership with other organisations locally. I think there is a real appetite for interesting collaborations. I think Holbeck is often perceived to be a blank slate, when actually there are a lot of fantastic things that are already happening locally. The key is to build up our networks and connectivity within the community, particularly as more organisations are making Holbeck their home. With regeneration coming, there’s more attention, there’s perhaps more money available, and we believe that local people should be the ones to benefit, to enable the community to develop these initiatives.”

(Photo credit: HEA - Holbeck resident Chris Honnoraty - connectivity is vital for the people of Holbeck) 

Isolation is the key word here, and while it would be wrong to suggest existing people and organisations are forlornly shouting into the wind, the concept of holism can gather these disparate energies together and create a much stronger force for good. And Holbeck Elderly Aid could be about to become that galvanising influence with a re-brand, a name change and an official expansion of their key objectives. Holbeck Elderly Aid, or HEA, are now to be known as ‘Holbeck Together’.

“Holbeck Elderly Aid as a name is very outdated,” Bryony continues, also acknowledging that the organisation has existed for nearly 30 years “and I think everyone agreed on that. Our clients do not want to be called elderly, they don’t think of themselves as elderly, and ‘aid’ is just completely the wrong word to convey the work we do. We work with people and we don’t want people to think they have to be in crisis in order to come to us. What we’re trying to do is a lot of preventative work, supporting people to build social networks, so that they can come and enjoy a really happy and active lifestyle in later years of living, with opportunities to build friendships and access a range of benefits, including health benefits. ‘Aid’ was just the wrong word, so we shortened it to HEA. And this last year, and particularly since January, we have been working with Nick Ramshaw - an associate of CEG - our designer Jimmy Smith of Smiths Workshop, our existing clients, with our staff team and volunteers and also new people we were coming into contact with, to develop a new name and identity for the organisation, which has been quite a process!”

Having moved from a small and secreted office on Balm Walk in January 2017, the HEA team, led by chief officer Elissa Newman, moved to the Old Box Office on Domestic Street, the former cinema vacated by Leeds Building Society, and, appropriately, one of the most prominent locations in Holbeck. 

From this position it is very easy for people to reach them and for them to be seen as a vital local resource. Consequently, the scope of their objectives has evolved organically and become inter-generational, and over time it has become clear that there is a need for a much wider-reaching organisation in Holbeck, and that their mission statement, and indeed their name, was at risk of putting people off and inadvertently turning those in need away.

“I think the reality is that a lot of our clients will still call us Holbeck Elderly Aid,” Bryony concedes “they don’t really care what we’re called as long as we continue to do the work that we’re doing. And as we roll it out we’ll be at great pains to say ‘we are not changing our business’. We will continue to support older members of the community in exactly the same way that we have, developing new services for them and working with them to do that, that won’t ever change. It’s just we have this expertise now, we’re an organisation that can provide support to more people, so if there’s a need for it we’d like to be able to respond to that and we don’t want the name to be a barrier.”

(The new logo for Holbeck Together) 

So the outreach meal service, weekly community cafes, assisted shopping trips, social afternoons and group excursions will continue, but Holbeck Together has officially changed its remit to include different age group activities and services, which have grown to become critical for all members of the Holbeck community.

In making these changes Holbeck Together has certainly acknowledged the help it has itself received from various local people and businesses along the way. And its journey has in some respects mirrored that which Holbeck is still going through, the sense that short sprouts of recovery are clearly visible, and they just need space and air and goodness to keep growing, as Bryony explains.

“The most recent arc for the organisation started when we moved up to Domestic Street to the Old Box Office, which was facilitated by Leeds Building Society. They have very generously given us the very end part of their building, on a peppercorn rent, which has been so transformative. To be in such a central location with no rent has just enabled the organisation to expand in lots of different ways. The building was boarded up when we moved in, and actually most of the buildings on Domestic Street are in use but have the appearance of being boarded up. That was the case with our building and it was just nice to open a space up and support the area to look less abandoned, which of course it isn’t. So it was nice to bring that to life and be more forward facing.”

“It has totally changed the way we are able to support people,” Bryony continues “more people drop by in crisis and a lot of the new work we’ve been doing is supporting people of all ages, because there aren’t other organisations located so centrally that can offer assistance ‘on the ground’. So people just drop in if they’re wanting help with a benefits problem or a very immediate crisis, either housing, financial or personal, people come in with immigration concerns and don’t know who to turn to. And a lot of the things we can support them with in-house, as well as providing emotional support and checking in on people after the fact. But we also signpost on, ensuring that we help them get the expertise they need from other professionals, where relevant. Our outreach worker will coordinate with a range of partners to provide wraparound and multi-agency support for people.”

Of course it is this natural desire to help everybody, which led the organisation to an inevitable conclusion. But the change has been embraced also as an opportunity to move on to different yet equally valuable things, because the need is there. 

“So in this last year for instance,” Bryony explains “one of our volunteers Nikki, who is a young mum, told us that she wanted to see more youth services nearby, and she was really eager to set up some holiday activities for her kids and for other kids locally. So since last October we’ve been developing that with her and in the summer holidays we did a kids’ camp. Our focus so far has been activities ‘with’ parents rather than having a children’s-only activity. We’re supporting families to engage together and do an activity together in the school holidays, often with a focus on food. It’s been a really lovely project and we’ve done it in collaboration with some of our older clients, who either help out or participate in the activity. It went very well and Nikki said ‘yes it was hard work but it was rewarding’. Nikki has been a mum for 12 or 13 years, hasn’t yet worked and she said it was really great work experience. She had an idea, she brought it to us and we supported her to bring that to fruition, which is really exciting. And that’s how we want to be working with the community, hearing from them, and then saying ‘what do you need and how can we make that happen?’”

(Photo credit: HEA - Grace Hayes - family activities in holiday periods are a new community-led initiative) 

“The objectives of the charity have widened to say we are supporting all members of the community,” Bryony adds “so the legal stuff has been adjusted in our constitution and articles of association and we’ve worked on the new name. Everyone was very keen for ‘Holbeck’ to remain in the name and we went through many different iterations and this was the one that everyone felt the most positive about.”

This leaves Holbeck Together in a very central position, both figuratively and physically. They quite literally have the opportunity to bring Holbeck together, and already they are working with various neighbouring organisations to ensure a sense of collaboration exists and that there is a continuity in ethos and approach. This includes being prepared for the inexorable outcome that change and regeneration brings, that new people will come to the area.

“Slung Low have absolutely been this wonderful light and I think them moving to ‘The Holbeck’ has been really interesting, because they’ve really achieved great integration. They have facilitated people from further afield to join the community, to have a role in the community and build relationships with local people. It’s the oldest working men’s club in the country and it’s a very interesting example of how regeneration can be done well. Regeneration can sometimes have something of a bad reputation. It’s not just building things, it’s asking how you can engage local people in that process, so they can say ‘this is what I want to see in my community and this is what I need’. And that can be done in some really interesting and beautiful ways.”

Holbeck Together’s partnership with Northern Monk started with the 2019 ‘Humans of Holbeck’ calendar project, and 2020’s ‘True North’ follow-up is almost complete. Meanwhile, the two organisations have also worked together to raise funds through selling the distinctive glassware produced by the trailblazing Holbeck-based craft brewers.

(The glassware partnership with Northern Monk is a great example of community collaboration) 

“Northern Monk have been incredibly philanthropic with their commitment to us and other organisations,” Bryony beams “they are really trying to expand their internal ethos in terms of community and collaboration, sharing ideas and cultivating creativity and they really want to expand these ambitions outside of their organisation, which is brilliant. They’ve been fantastic supporters of us and we’ve been able to do some really interesting projects, in particular the True North photography project, which we’re launching this November.”

In recognising the influence of fellow neighbourhood organisations, Bryony is also happy to acknowledge the role played by CEG in current regeneration plans, but also in facilitating the development of relationships with key partners in Holbeck. As a result, Holbeck Together, as it now is, stands in a prominent position and has many ambitious plans to gather together the varied strands of revival in Holbeck and offer some central focus.

“We’ve been incredibly fortunate with the relationship we’ve had with CEG for a number of years now,” Bryony explains “they’ve been supportive of us in many different ways. As part of our new work becoming Holbeck Together, we’re referred to as a ‘community anchor’ organisation by Leeds City Council and our goal is to fulfil a number of functions; bringing money into the area, delivering a range of services, facilitating opportunities for the whole community and being a tool through which the community can try out new ideas. It’s an ongoing process and one of the key things that we’re very committed to is undertaking the management of St Matthew’s Community Centre, which is a much-loved building and well-used community asset with a fantastic heritage that has played a large part in a lot of local personal histories. But it’s just not able to support the community’s needs in the way it should at the moment, for obvious funding reasons.”

Holbeck Together are working with Leeds City Council to undertake the management and development of St Matthew’s Community Centre as a key community hub. CEG, along with partner organisation Pierre Angulaire, have helped Holbeck Together to develop a business plan and have introduced them to key partners to help them along the road. There is much more to come with that, but it is an example of how Holbeck Together are embracing a timely opportunity to become emboldened, and there is a lot to be confident about. But their position as a ‘community anchor’ is critical: bringing together local people, organisations and businesses for the benefit of the community.

(Photo credit: HEA - Service Development Officer Matthew Springthorpe & Holbeck resident Jane Jefferson on the recent Keighley & Worth Valley Railway trip) 

“The new name is the first stage,” Bryony continues “we’re very eager to be led by the community in terms of the service development and what they would like to see. I suspect there will be more services for young people. In terms of developing the services that are run from St. Matthew’s, I feel like the possibilities are endless. It’s so exciting, but what we want to make sure of, is that there’s no duplication. There are adult education classes at Ingram Road Primary School for example, there’s the Cultural Community College running at the Holbeck, so between us we want to make sure everything is covered. We’re really committed to that so that there’s no more isolation between these organisations, and if someone’s an expert in something, why on earth would we step in?”

Bryony explains how the organisation, in addition to creating social connections for people at all stages of life, wants to facilitate skills development and expand Holbeck Together’s volunteer programme so that, even if it is not through paid occupation, people can still make a purposeful and meaningful contribution to the community. And ideas are coming thick and fast.  

“An avenue we are exploring at the moment,” Bryony concludes “is developing a social enterprise project and hopefully that will be a charity shop. We’ve been very fortunate partnering with clothes distributors who we hope will be able to provide a model of bringing high quality clothing to the area at cheap prices, as well as rejuvenating the high street via a shop outlet on Domestic Street, and giving people the opportunity to shop locally rather than go into Leeds, which is what people used to do. I’ve taken great pleasure in talking to people who remember shopping in Holbeck as a thriving place, where there were multiple fish shops and multiple grocers and clothing shops and multiple picture houses on one street. And we want to contribute to that kind of community development I suppose.”

Holbeck is changing, and for the better. And while regeneration is great, and new people and new organisations and new infrastructure and new money is great, you always need a local anchor. You need continuity; someone to uphold the legacy, someone who knows the history and the people and the stories. You need someone who has the perceptual vision to see both ways and manage that transition between the old and the new, and to make sure important things are prioritised. You need someone to keep Holbeck together whilst also bringing Holbeck together. I think you know who that is.