a leeds revolution

Something for everyone: how ‘South Bank for South Leeds’ aims to promote inclusive growth

December 08, 2019

Something for everyone: how ‘South Bank for South Leeds’ aims to promote inclusive growth

To build a successful community, according to Rolf Mason, curate of St Luke’s Church in South Leeds, as he addressed a packed room of local residents at the Holbeck Working Men’s Club on a chilly November evening, you need three things; 1. People first and foremost 2. Businesses and employers to create money and 3. A great council to organise everything.

The intimation was that South Leeds already has all that, and the positivity that bounced around the room before, during and after the launch event of Leeds Citizens’ ‘South Bank for South Leeds’ scheme certainly supported that view, except that the whole crux of the exercise was to demonstrate that number one was a given, and that people should never simply presume that numbers two and three were too.

As it happens, the event did showcase everything that is positive about the South Leeds area - not just Holbeck and Beeston, but Hunslet, Middleton and Cottingley too – and also put some building blocks in place to ensure that imminent regeneration provides credible employment opportunities that are filtered directly into the local community, and that the council supports these developments and provides the necessary infrastructure.

Figures taken from the Council’s official South Bank Leeds Regeneration Framework, and frequently repeated during the evening, promised 35,000 jobs and 8,000 new homes through various schemes in the area, and Leeds Citizens – a community organisation committed to listening, researching and establishing what local people REALLY want to see in these developments – is charging itself not just with doing what it can to ensure these things actually happen, but also is helping to make sure that these jobs and houses directly benefit those in the local community who really need them the most. And where money for new local infrastructure is forthcoming from developments - via a percentage of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – input to decision-making is given that responds to the root cause of some long-standing issues as well as responding to any challenges of new development.

(Photo credit: Becky Howcroft - Jackson Turner addresses a packed room at The Holbeck)

In an area that has a strong sense of community but is too often highlighted as an example of urban degeneration, social isolation and modern infrastructure planning gone wrong, it was absolutely understandable that an air of scepticism surrounded the launch of a scheme that’s very foundation is to ensure that promised regeneration does not become just another empty pipe dream. This was the basis for the theatrical opening from Jackson Turner of St Luke’s Cares, a satirical dig at the Utopian vision that regeneration is often peddled as (or perceived to be), but perhaps a revealing aide-memoire that people in South Leeds have been sold these kind of quixotic dreams once-too-often.

A message of hope and positivity was also overpowering amongst some dire realism portrayed in poetry and song presented by local people and which showcased the past, present and future of an area brimming with a talent, passion and articulation that is all-too-easy to keep hidden under a bushel. 

But in terms of Rolf’s three pillars of a successful community, the evening’s events proved to be an encouraging indication that, if they are not firmly in place yet, there is a visible pathway to making sure they are.

The people were definitely there, with the 100-plus audience packed into Slung Low’s main auditorium at The Holbeck club, consisting of representatives from the many local community groups that make up the Leeds Citizens assemblage. This included local churches, schools, charities and community groups and represented the wide diversity of cultures that exists in South Leeds. Perhaps most importantly, the people all came to the event with a positive attitude; a commitment to listen, to be open and honest, but also to be realistic in their expectations.

(Photo credit: Becky Howcroft - a choir of parents from Ingram Road Primary School sing their own composition 'Holbeck - our promised land")

Local businesses were represented also, but the significant presence in the room was undoubtedly CEG, the developer and investor undertaking the most high profile scheme in the Holbeck, South Bank area, in the newly-named Temple district. There are other developments going on of course, but CEG were the only developer at the meeting. They were the only developer invited to the meeting. Because they were the only developer that anyone in the community knew well enough to invite.

In speaking, CEG – represented by Community Liaison Manager Lucinda Yeadon and Development Director Nick Lee – confirmed their long term vision for the South Bank area, but also how that vision needs to impact on South Leeds in general. The need for a positive legacy built around local people was stressed, and an existing working relationship with Leeds Citizens was referenced, as well as long-established relationships with Holbeck In Bloom, Holbeck Together, St Luke’s Church, Shine, Slung Low and the dedicated people in the Holbeck Neighbourhood Forum, who had pushed on with the award-winning Holbeck Neighbourhood Plan.

Through these relationships, and historical consultation at events such as the Holbeck Gala, CEG are already helping to build a stronger community, but the development scheme at Temple will also have a legacy in extending the Forging Futures campus at Kirkstall Forge into the South Leeds area. This will help to upskill local people and provide a pathway into work and further training opportunities, as the development expands. On the night, CEG also committed to opening up roundtable discussions with other developers, to work towards providing Living Wage jobs and to helping representatives of Leeds Citizens increase their knowledge of the planning and development process, so that the understanding and appreciation of significant hurdles and barriers can be a two-way thing.

(Image credits: CEG)

The third requisite community segment was also represented in the form of local councillors Paul Wray (Hunslet and Riverside), Angela Gabriel and Gohar Almass (Beeston and Holbeck). They were each asked to commit to similar discussions and transparency over the forthcoming developments, and their existing working relationship with CEG – as well as that with Hilary Benn MP, also present - means that facilitating this becomes much easier.

If an overall message came from the launch meeting it was that ‘inclusive growth’ is very much the name of the game, and very much a possibility. Whilst acknowledging the underlying problems the area has and committing to involve all sectors of the community, however disparate, troubled or isolated, the ‘South Bank for South Leeds’ scheme also pledged to focus on the positive assets in the area, and what is already good, not just what is wrong.

It is that kind of thinking that makes things happen and promotes a bold, ambitious but achievable mentality rather than being consumed and debilitated by ongoing problems. Ultimately, the significant output of the evening was that South Leeds is ‘stronger together’. And as an example of a wide-ranging regeneration scheme, the collaboration and inclusivity being made possible by all the three community pillars working in unison makes the South Bank scheme all the more exciting and attainable. And for the South Leeds area, finally the stars are aligning, or at least, a sometimes neglected local community can finally have a hand in moving towards their alignment.

Years of promised change that is always waiting in the wings, and unfulfilled ambitions, can wear you down, but the message from this ‘South Bank for South Leeds’ launch event is that this time it is different. This time people can shape their own future, and this is the vehicle through which they can do it, and in our lifetime, that is a pretty unique opportunity.

(Header image photo credit: Becky Howcroft - the representatives of various local groups which make up 'Leeds Citizens')