A state of cultural emergency in Yorkshire
Two years ago, the Music and Arts Production (MAP) charity — who provide an alternative education provision for children at risk of educational and social exclusion in Leeds — were looking at what seemed to be an insurmountable task. They had to raise £2.4m to buy their home of ten years, a Grade II-listed industrial building called Hope Foundry, in the Mabgate area of Leeds City Centre which is currently experiencing extensive regeneration.
Partly funded through their highly-acclaimed club night Cosmic Slop, which boasts one of the best DIY sound systems in the world, the charity has been widely credited with boosting levels of social mobility in the area, reducing youth crime by providing at-risk kids with a vocation and supporting an already over-stretched education system by getting results with pupils who have specialist needs.
After starting their #TogetherWeHaveHope campaign, they found themselves on the receiving end of a deluge of support from all angles — from prominent DJs offering their services at Cosmic Slop to Leeds City Council discussing potential future funding to a landlord who is considering reducing the price of the venue and selling it to them if they can raise the capital. They are putting on regular fundraising gigs in Manchester, London their home city of Leeds. They are also working with social investors who are interested in the project.
“We’ve got a great team of people here, from the seller to the social investors and the donors who want to give the money to someone when they are certain that it’s going to be a success,” Tom Smith, co-founder and project director of MAP, told me. “That’s what we are working on. We’ve all been given eviction notices for the end of September, so that’s still a very real threat, but we still have a chance of pulling this off.”
Chris Madden, the Chair of Trustees for MAP, is quick to point to the unique nature of their educational pedagogy (focusing primarily on music, art and design before ‘creatively imbedding’ key skills into the learning program). “It’s not like any other alternative provider,” he says. “I’m a therapist and I’ve worked with excluded kids for years and what we do at MAP is unique.”
John Wright, of Treadwell Developments, is the owner of Hope Foundry. In an emailed statement, he said that he’s “proud to have supported the charity’s growth by gifting them additional space in the building”. He added: “MAP’s exciting plan to transform the historic Hope Foundry building into a vibrant creative hub has inspired me to explore alternatives to turning the building into flats; instead, I’m now on board to help them realise their vision for the building and for Leeds.”
“What’s going to happen now? We were still building the community.”
It’s unsurprising that the local community has rallied behind the MAP team; here is an educational provision, poised to take on students with complex, challenging needs and to partly fund themselves. “I’m not sure that a lot of the kids that we have worked with historically are getting the best deal or support possible at the moment even compared to what they would have been able to access five years ago,” Smith believes. With more financial uncertainty on the horizon as our politicians grapple with the Brexit boondoggle, increasing concerns about so-called ‘county lines’ drug dealing networks that exploit vulnerable children and adults, and sustained cuts to youth programming and education, keeping places like MAP effective seems more pertinent than ever.
This is all taking place to the backdrop of a tug-of-war, between creative components of the city and property developers keen for more shopping centres and flats. By late last year, it became apparent that the latter faction was winning the battle. The regeneration hammer came down hard and fast: Canal Mills, an 18th century old textile mill operating as a 1,400-capacity music venue for six years, announced its impending closure citing ‘property development’ as the reason. Plans to transform it into ‘canal-side apartments’ are currently being finalised.
One month later, MiNT Club, once voted ‘Best Small Club’ in DJ Mag’s Best of British Awards, announced it was also shutting down due to a ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ of the area surrounding the club. After operating for two decades, they had their final party last month. Another month later, Lady Beck, an artist studio complex in Mabgate who provided low-income grads with a place to work, was shut down to be turned into 1,200 student flats. In light of the wholesale redevelopment of the area, their rents were increased by 40% making it “too risky” to continue. A month after that, Tiger Tiger — a bar popular with students — shut down without explanation.
Two months ago, Koby Studio, a warehouse space in Mabgate which housed the popular not-for-profit Urban Dance Leeds which brings local dancers together and supports people with mental health issues, became the latest outfit to fall afoul of the regeneration. “Everyone started getting emotional,” Michelle Moreno who ran the studio, says. “To the point where people asked: ‘What’s going to happen now? It’s only been established for, like, 14 months and we have had 2,500 people through the doors.’ We were still building the community.” They are currently recruiting volunteers to help them start afresh, out of the city centre. Church, a live music and clubbing space opened in 2016 and housing iconic night Back to Basics, also announced its upcoming closure a week ago. There isn’t too much left.
Temple of Boom, one of the few remaining underground venues in the city, stands next to a creative studio — Byron Street Mills — who lost their lease last year. They could be the next to go. “For all of the independent businesses in Mabgate, the future is uncertain,” Simon Walker, manager of the venue, says. “We were born from DIY principles of creating a self-sufficient alternative. We’ve grown organically in response to the needs of the local music community so whatever the future holds we aim to continue in the same spirit.” He added: “There must be a point where planners realise the importance of already existing communities and the positive impact art, music and social interaction has on people’s lives.”
“What we need to do as a community is consolidate through safe spaces. So when the waters rise, so to speak, we still have places that benefit the younger people and benefits creatives.”
Leeds has a rich musical history, but is the clubbing scene fading fast? Well, some are more optimistic than others. “Leeds is really vibrant for clubs,” Ralph Lawson, perhaps the most prominent house DJ in Yorkshire, says. “There are loads of cool venues and there are several plans to open new ones. Underground clubbing will get pushed further out, as we are now seeing in London as well, but there are some really cool spaces already around and more coming soon.” Last year, Lawson curated the Inner City Electronic Festival which used 11 commercial venues across the city in one day.
“What we need to do as a community is consolidate through safe spaces,” Smith believes. “So when the waters rise, so to speak, we still have places that benefit the younger people and benefits creatives.”
For more information about MAP and their campaign, head to their website.