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Tetley brewery hailed as one of Yorkshire's most exciting new arts venues

PUBLISHED: 21:58 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 21:58 26 November 2013

Pippa Hale (yellow scarf) and Kerry Harker,Co-Founders and Directors of Project Space Leeds (PSL) pictured outside the Tetleys Building.

Pippa Hale (yellow scarf) and Kerry Harker,Co-Founders and Directors of Project Space Leeds (PSL) pictured outside the Tetleys Building.

Joan Russell Photography

A brewery has been transformed into one of Yorkshire's most exciting new arts venues, offering a brighter future for an area that has seen hard times. Andrew Vine reports

I, I, I, I and I - an exhibition of work by Rhana Zaman is just one of the projects at the new arts venue, The TetleyI, I, I, I and I - an exhibition of work by Rhana Zaman is just one of the projects at the new arts venue, The Tetley

Its oak-panelled rooms were once home to the masters of the brewing trade, but now they are going to be filled by some of the brightest talents in art. The historic Tetley’s brewery in Leeds has been restored and reopened as Yorkshire’s newest arts venue in a bold and imaginative move that will not only provide a showcase for exhibitions and learning, but also kick-start the much needed transformation of a run-down industrial area.

The main office block of the brewery, which shut in 2011 after a history dating back to 1822, is now The Tetley, the iconic gold lettering on its roof, for so long a Yorkshire landmark, lit up once more and announcing an adventurous future. Its inaugural programme is called, appropriately, A New Reality, and pays homage to the history of the site through contemporary art.

The transformation of the building, which dates from 1931, is the brainchild of the founders of Project Space Leeds (PSL), a charity established in 2006 to provide a showcase for up and coming artists. Kerry Harker and Pippa Hale are both graduates of the University of Leeds, who made a home for PSL at the city’s Whitehall Waterfront from 2007 to 2012. But as they looked to expand, the old brewery site caught their attention.

‘We set foot through the front door and thought, “Yes, we like this very much”,’ said Kerry. ‘It’s an amazing building, full of character. Artists really like the context that comes with a heritage building, and it has stunning architecture. It’s solid, and it was built to last.

‘We felt it was really important to talk about the heritage, because it is recent history and so many people in this city know this building, and there were sensitivities surrounding the closure of the brewery.’

Its closure caused concern in Leeds, not only because of the loss of such an historic part of the city, but also because of uncertainty over what would happen to the huge site it occupied. Pippa said: ‘The first thing you see when you walk down the road is the iconic gold letters on the roof and the flagpoles, so even before you get here you’re aware of the rich heritage of the site. You walk in and see the old lift and the stairs, the war memorials, the panelling.’

Kerry added: ‘That’s why we went with the name, The Tetley, because it’s there on the rooftop, we wanted to really embrace that heritage because people are passionate about Tetley’s and there has been a lot of curiosity around what we’ve been doing.’

The Tetley is at the heart of an ambitious reinvention of the area around it to give a new lease of life to a former industrial heartland. An urban park is being created, a new school built, and there will also be new premises for Leeds City College. Pippa said: ‘We feel very much that this is something that is embedded into the fabric of the city and is very much a catalyst for regeneration, particularly on the south bank in Leeds.’

The Tetley has been created with the backing of the site’s owner, brewing giant Carslberg, as well as support from Leeds City Council. It has been a complex restoration project. A central atrium that occupies the height of the building has been reopened after it was closed off years ago to create more office space, allowing light to flood through the building. Eighty-year-old parquet floors have been sanded and polished back to their original sheen, and the opulent boardroom brought back to its original splendour. The oak-panelled offices once occupied by Tetley’s directors are now galleries.

There is also a bar – serving Tetley’s beer, of course – and a restaurant specialising in food sourced from Yorkshire. Kerry said: ‘It was quite dark and dingy when we first saw it and people were in the offices doing their day jobs, so it was quite a leap of the imagination to see it as a space for contemporary art, but we just felt there was something there that we could work with.’

The legacy of the building, its records and archives, will be used by artists to create new works, and The Tetley also intends to reach out to the community, hosting school and community groups, and running workshops.

Pippa said: ‘One of the reasons we set up PSL in the first place was that we were frustrated about the lack of exhibition opportunities for artists in the city, so we want to support those artists and we also want everybody to be interested and excited and enthused by contemporary art as well. Whilst we support artists to be as cutting edge and innovative as possible, we think it’s our job to translate that to the broadest possible audience.’

It’s a new lease of life for a Yorkshire landmark. And both past and future occupants of its oak-panelled rooms would raise a glass to its renaissance.

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