Is Horsforth a village, a town or a Leeds suburb?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 February 2018

Town Street, Horsforth

Town Street, Horsforth

Joan Russell Photography

Jo Haywood heads to Horsforth to find out

St Margarets ChurchSt Margarets Church

It’s a cold winter morning, one of those Yorkshire zingers that leaves you with a nose like a cherry tomato and a vague recollection of having 10 toes but no longer being able to feel any of them. It is, in other words, not the sort of morning most of us would contemplate venturing out for a trudge round the shops, but no one in Horsforth seems to have got the meteorological memo and the high street is chocka.

And not just the main high street either. All three of its high streets are positively humming with activity. (No, I didn’t know Horsforth had three high streets either, but you live and learn in this job.)

‘Town Street is the main “high street” high street, but we actually have three,’ said local resident and manager of The Courtyard Café Kaldip Chaggar-Brown. ‘And they’re all thriving.’

Well, that clears that up. And while we’re tackling thorny local issues, let’s have a run at this doozy: are Horsforth’s three high streets in a village, a town or a Leeds suburb?

Horsforth Museum features all aspects of life in and around HorsforthHorsforth Museum features all aspects of life in and around Horsforth

Once trumpeted as the village with the largest population in England, it is now officially a suburb of the city but has its own town council. It’s just six miles from the city centre (12 minutes on the train) but doesn’t feel like part of the urban sprawl, retaining its island-like quality with the help of its surrounding waterways (the River Aire, Old Mill Beck, Gill Beck and Scotland Beck).

‘Historically, Horsforth has always been a dormitory extension of Leeds, with the wealthy mill and factory owners making it their home and building commodious dwellings along the turnpike that was to become the A65,’ said Councillor Chris Townsley, who has lived in the village/town/suburb since 1971.

‘It’s also difficult to enter or leave the place without crossing water, which means that Horsforth is practically an island. That’s how it’s believed the place got its name – Horse Ford – the crossing point of a river or a beck.’

Once you’ve successfully dropped anchor in Horsforth, there’s plenty to keep you busy while ashore. Town Street, a narrow, one-way thoroughfare, is packed with independent shops on either side as a well as a supermarket and myriad cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Hall Park, a large community park in HorsforthHall Park, a large community park in Horsforth

At one end, you’ll find the Brownlee-Stone Centre, named after local Olympians Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee and champion Paralympic cyclist David Stone, which acts as a community hub, library and meeting place. At the other is Horsforth Village Museum, a picturesque, friendly little gem housed in the former council chamber.

If you can drag yourself away from the central hubbub, Horsforth Hall Park is well worth a visit. This impressive community space, open 365 days a year for strolling, bowling and, erm, rolling (although not across the cricket pitch please), is an absolute credit to the hard-working Friends of Hall Park. As well as its web of scenic walks, it’s also home to a spider’s web playground, a trim trail, a Japanese garden, a skate park and a host of integrated play facilities specially designed to help disabled and able-bodied youngsters play together.

‘One of the best things about Horsforth is that we have more or less everything we need right here,’ said Coun Townsley. ‘We also have the advantage of geography. On a good day, 30 minutes to the east we find ourselves in the bustling city of Leeds, whereas to the west we can enjoy the gateway to the Dales. That’s pretty unique.’

If you decide to stay in town rather than heading east or west and are looking for somewhere to enjoy a quick tea-break before hitting the shops, might we suggest The Courtyard Café? Set up in 2012 when day centres around North West Leeds began to dramatically reduce capacity, the eatery and neighbouring creative craft space offer people with learning disabilities the opportunity to work, learn new skills, make lasting friendships and contribute to their community.

‘We’ve received nothing but positive support from the Horsforth community from day one,’ said Kaldip, as we enjoy a great cuppa served with a side order of smiles from the friendly, attentive staff. ‘People generously provide materials for our crafters next door and we have lots of regular customers here in the café. It helps that we’re a very visible presence here on the high street, but if our food and service weren’t good, people wouldn’t come back – there are plenty of other places they can get a cup of coffee.’

The café currently has 33 service users. Some work for a couple of hours a week, others for a couple of days, depending on what they feel able to cope with.

‘We encourage everyone to challenge themselves, but we also went them to feel comfortable and confident in everything they do,’ said Kaldip. ‘Everyone sets the tables, serves customers, clears away and washes up, then, if and when they feel able, they can learn how to use the coffee machine and start to do a bit of cooking. Some of our guys are now expert soup and cake makers. Honestly, they’re delicious.’

David, who has worked at the café for five years, is a wonderfully positive case in point. Since joining the team, the practical skills and confidence he’s gained mean he has been able to leave home and set up on his own in supported accommodation. He’s also now self-assured enough to walk to and from work on his own, is a key member of the café’s decision-making community committee and has even taken part in roundtable discussions held by the city council on disability issues.

‘I do a lot here,’ said David, ‘but my favourite things are talking to people and bringing them their food. I like to help.’

The rest of his colleagues at the café and the crafters next door obviously all feel the same, helping their community by raising funds for Horsforth Museum and other local charities, creating hanging baskets for Morrisons, planting bulbs and tidying the town’s flower tubs for Horsforth in Bloom and taking an active role in the Walk of Art (an annual event in which local artists open their homes to the public to share their work with friends, neighbours and fellow Horsforthians).

‘We’re all part of the same community – it’s only right we all help each other,’ said Kaldip. ‘It’s also about breaking down barriers. Some customers are a bit nervous when they first come to the café; they’re worried about saying the wrong thing, or not knowing what to say at all. But after a few minutes with our guys, they soon realise we’re all just people. We all like to talk about the same stuff, and we all live in the same community.

‘Horsforth people take a great pride in where they live, and our guys are no different.’

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