Building a stronger sense of community in Headlingley

PUBLISHED: 17:52 16 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:06 20 February 2013

Andy Fogarty head groundsman at Headingley

Andy Fogarty head groundsman at Headingley

Attempts are being made to build a stronger community in the Leeds suburb of Headingley. Ruth Addicott reports Photographs by Joan Russell

There is a strong resilience about the residents of Headingley. The suburb, made famous as the home of Yorkshire county cricket, has been the subject of much dispute in recent years. Community relations became strained as houses were bought up by landlords to rent to students from the Headingley campus of Leeds Metropolitan University. Schools closed and families began to move out.

Headingley was becoming known as the least cohesive community in the country. Those who stayed, however, are beginning to reap the rewards of a stronger community spirit.

The turning point, according to some, was the creation of the Headingley Development Trust (HDT) which has more than 1,000 members. The trust was founded in 2005 initially to fight plans to close Headingley Primary School. Today the collection of concerned residents and small businesses work to take back some control over the environment and offer exciting new possibilities for creating a thriving community.

The community-owned development trust aims to make a difference in Headingley by acquiring buildings and land and using them for the good of the community. It also aims to run enterprises which produce income to promote businesses and services that a balanced community needs.

The trust organised a community share scheme to fund the conversion of the former Headingley Primary School into Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre (HEART) which provides a meeting space, cafe and platform for emerging artists. Its their flagship project, the result of a five year dream to keep a much loved old primary school building in community use

The trust is also responsible for community enterprises such as the Natural Food Store and Caf Scientifique as well as small community orchards which not only improve the environment but also enable locally grown fruit to be sold at Headingley Farmers Market, as well as to encourage healthier eating.

John Dammone, co-owner of Salvos, a long-established Italian restaurant in Headingley, and who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, says there has been change. The tide is turning. Headingley is going back to how I remember it in the 1970s when it had more of a bohemian atmosphere, he says.

He enjoys the fact that Headingley is just two miles from Leeds city centre yet close to Meanwood Valley Trail and Woodhouse Moor. There is plenty of green space with most amenities within walking distance, he says. Its great for public transport, the number one bus to the city centre runs so often its like the London tube, he adds.

Salvos opened its Salumeria (Italian delicatessen) in 2005 which has proved hugely popular serving delicacies such as prosciutto, salame and buffalo ricotta. It was voted the UKs Best Neighbourhood Italian Restaurant by Gordon Ramsay and regional restaurant of 2012 by the Good Food Guide.

Ive seen customers grow up, says John. Were not only serving their children, but grandchildren of customers who came in the 1970s.
Another place loved by locals is the Cottage Road Cinema (formerly Headingley Picture House) which is one of the oldest cinemas in the country.

The building dates back to 1835 and has been showing films since 1912. Seats were sixpence then (theyre 5.50 now). The cinema underwent a 20,000 revamp in 1972 and faced closure in 2005 before being rescued at the final hour by its owner today, Charles Morris.

It is now part of the Northern Morris group and shows classic films such as Casablanca and Top Hat, every six weeks. Charles puts its success down to the fact it is run on a personal basis and he is on first name terms with many of its patrons.

A cinema that has survived this long deserves to keep going, I couldnt bear to see it close, he says. If it had been on the high street, it would probably have been swallowed up by a shopping development or bingo hall by now.

To keep up with the times, the cinema will have to convert to digital projection by the end of the year, costing around 50,000 but which will allow it to screen operas and concerts via live satellite transmission. I think it will suit the audience; the crash, bang, wallop action films arent really their cup of tea, adds Charles. As well as taking part in Leeds International Film Festival in November, Headingley hosts events throughout the year including a literary and music festival.

The Far Headingley Village Society, which formed in 1971, also continues to play a key role in rebuilding community spirit. Their main worries at the moment surround parking and the future of Tetley Hall, a former hall of residence for university students. Proposals have ranged from returning the building to student accommodation to creating a hostel for asylum seekers. Id like to see a country club and bowling green, but I cant see that happening somehow, says society chairman Donald Hood.

Meanwhile the South Headingley Community Association, chaired by Sue Buckle, says the impact of students on the suburb is her main concern including the buying up of family homes to rent out as student accommodation. Beautiful stained glass windows have been thrown into skips and replaced by PVC windows and gardens gravelled over to provide more parking.

Sue, who came to Leeds as a student herself in 1963, believes there is still a demographic imbalance. When people have politely asked for the music to be turned down at two in the morning, theyre told this is a student area and for many people it has been the last straw. A lot have been driven out, she says.

Residents are also opposing plans to build 25 houses on a nearby playing field. In the year of the Olympics, there are plans to knock down a swimming pool and sports hall and replace it with a convenience store. We are vigorously opposed to this, says Sue.

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