Pavilion Research Trip – Sunny Bank Mills

East Leeds Project Team visit to Sunny Bank Mills on Saturday 8th February 2020
Joanna Jowett

The Sunny Bank Mills Estate is owned by the Gaunt family, who have been converting the old cloth mill buildings into workplace units suitable for a range of businesses, from offices to artist studios, maker spaces, a play gym and an acting school, since the mill ceased creating cloth in 2008. There is a busy onsite café, Art Gallery and shop and creative enterprises such as SCRAP, a Centre for Creative Reuse, that we visited on the East Leeds project team research trip on 8th February. 

The repurposing of old mill buildings and within them creating spaces for creative businesses and artists, is something seen across our region and the visit reminded many of us of the vast Salts Mill in Saltaire, but on a smaller scale. The buildings themselves are full of wonderful historic features, worn down stone steps and old Yorkshire stone. The Art Gallery had beautiful daylight streaming in through huge windows, creating a very different ambience to most white walled galleries. The gallery shop stocks a range of work from local designer makes and has a small tearoom serving hot drinks and cake. On site there are a small number of artist’s studios and a project space with textile printing available to hire for a half or full day. The mill also hosts small performances and concerts and can be hired as an event space.

Sunny Bank Mills sits at the very heart of Farsley. Founded in 1829 by a group of local weavers, the Mills developed into one of the world’s most important fine worsted mills. As it has always been such a central and iconic site for local people, it was wonderful to hear that some of the employees from when it was an operating mill are still employed there today. The mill felt incredibly grounded in its sense of place as part of a village community. The site is open and welcoming and the mix of different buildings, businesses and the position of the site, results in it simply feeling like part of the town itself and easy to dip in and out of. Having said that, making such historic buildings fully accessible is undoubtedly no small task. Modern toilet facilities and lifts have been installed but creating full access to all will be certainly an area with lots of challenges for the management. There does seem to be a real and genuine commitment to make sure these buildings will continue to be occupied and an important asset to Farsley for years to come by the Gaunt family.

There is also an onsite Archive, which houses an historic collection of mill items, including textiles and weaving looms. Open for the public to visit and to be used for research, the archive really acknowledges and celebrates the mills history and its legacy.    

On our way to visit SCRAP, I noticed School of Sew, who offer tailored sewing lessons and courses. Seeing a space dedicated to one craft was brilliant and the possibility of having multiple studios and dedicated spaces for a range of creative practices seemed very natural and at home in the mill buildings. They are really making the most of the opportunity that such a large estate offers, with a range different buildings and sizes of space to play with and configure.  

SCRAP itself is full of possibility for any creative, continuously stocked with discarded materials originally destined for landfill, sold on at very low prices. This a wonderful resource for individual artists as well as community groups, schools and students. ​As well as the ScrapStore SCRAP also has an eco-friendly refill station and hosts a community craft café. They create ScrapSheds for schools and educational settings and also run creative workshops and training. It is a brilliant example of a social enterprise that really engages with the local community in several ways. 

Some proposed further research for the Project Team would be to speak to some of the studio holders to find out more about the creative community that exists around the site and if any activity or collaboration takes place that is artist lead or managed in any ongoing way by the estate. There is clearly huge potential for collaboration across art forms and to grow the creative output and engagement of the mills, but as a private business this might not be something considered or prioritised by the management. It would also be useful to get a sense as to how tied into the wider creative community across Leeds the mill is and what, if any conversations are happening with other creative organisations in the area. With local businesses, including HR, engineering and digital marketing companies all within the same complex, there is something quite refreshing and exciting about just how easily these different industries occupy the same space and how embedded the arts are throughout these buildings, providing an asset and helping to make Sunny Bank Mills in to a real destination, rather than simply a place of work, or office block, but part of the community and somewhere people want to be, live and work. 

Matt Green appointed as lead artist for the East Leeds Pavilion research and development

The East Leeds Project and Bauman Lyons Architects advance their ambition to co-create the East Leeds Pavilion, the first ever Maker Space in east Leeds, with the help of artist Matt Green, local residents and makers, and funding from Arts Council England.

Visual arts organisation the East Leeds Project [ELP] is delighted to announce that Leeds-based Matt Green, who was selected from a national open submission, has been appointed as Lead Artist on the next phase of the East Leeds Pavilion project. The project seeks to realise the first dedicated Maker Space in East Leeds, partially closing a gap in provision left by the near total absence of creative workspaces across inner and outer east Leeds, which has a population of over 180,000.

The Maker Space will be co-created and co-owned by, with and for people in east Leeds, providing access to space, equipment and knowledge for experienced Makers and beginners alike. The project will make use of MassBespoke, an innovative and sustainable digital system for modular construction devised by Leeds-based architectural practice Bauman Lyons. MassBespoke aims to democratise the design and build process for self-builders and communities. Local authority-owned land at Fearnville Fields in Gipton has been identified as the preferred site for the Pavilion.

The project already has support from Leeds2023, but the funding of £21,740 recently secured from Arts Council England creates capacity for a focused period of Research and Development from November 2019, including embedding a Lead Artist in the process. Matt Green will work with the Project Team, which comprises the East Leeds Project, local residents, Artists and Makers and Bauman Lyons staff over the next 10 months, creatively testing the technology, shaping the vision for the Pavilion, and ensuring that creative voices remain at the project’s heart.

Matt Green said, ‘I’m very happy to be working with the East Leeds Project on the research and development of the East Leeds Pavilion. Over the next ten months, through social and site-specific practice, I look forward to getting to know Gipton and east Leeds. My intention is to utilise my skills with digital technologies to provide engaging platforms for local people to share their knowledge and thoughts about the local area, and collaborate with the East Leeds Project team on designs for the area’s future. The outcomes of this activity will be brought together in an artwork that recounts the histories, perspectives and ideas shared, which I hope will enthuse a wider public, and through such, initiate further action to benefit Gipton and east Leeds’.

Kerry Harker and Claire Irving, Directors of the East Leeds Project, said, ‘We are all delighted to be working with Matt on the next phase of this ambitious but much-needed project to ensure that people in east Leeds have access to a dedicated space for Making, and where social and creative networks can be nurtured. The interview panel were immediately drawn to Matt’s enthusiasm for the project’s aims and excited by the potential for his practice as an artist working with sound and digital technologies to reveal and amplify as yet unanticipated aspects of the project and the MassBespoke system’.

Irena Bauman, Director of Bauman Lyons architects added, ‘we are looking forward to the creativity and the new ways of seeing that Matt will bring into the rich mix of local skills and cultural activism and the delivery of practical outcomes at the end of this exploration phase.

There will be opportunities for the wider public and partners to get involved across the 10 month R&D period, with more news on these events to be released in the New Year.

Matt Green

Matt is a producer of site-specific art: artwork that is conceived for a specific space, in response to a specific social and environmental context, and takes into account the cultural, historic and political significance of the hosting site. Each work is the outcome of an extensive programme of situated activity that includes audio-visual documentary; community collaboration; and onsite research, design and development.

As is expected of site-specific practice, the theme of each of Matt’s artworks is drawn from the conditions of the locations this work regards. However, a common theme has been the correspondence between, and often friction between, cities and nature. Furthermore, soundscapes, listening and place have tended to be a focus of Matt’s work, reflecting his education and experience as a musician and sound designer.

The form of Matt’s artwork varies but common to all forms is the application of digital technologies. Matt has produced soundscape compositions, multichannel sound installations, short films, video installations, interactive installations, mobile applications, VR experiences, live multimedia performances and workshop events. He has also shown work at various festivals and conferences throughout the UK and further afield including Dislocate (Tokyo, Japan), Medialab-Prado (Madrid, Spain) and FutureEverything (Manchester, UK).

www.mgreensound.com

News: MAP Community Day

ELP Director Kerry Harker speaks at the MAP Community Day, Leeds Corn Exchange

Kerry was a guest speaker, and the following text was the speech she gave in support of MAP’s attempts to fundraise to secure Hope House as their permanent venue.

Kerry addresses MAP-1

It’s hopefully a given that any large city like Leeds, with the cultural ambitions that we hold, needs major arts institutions and venues. And we have them – Opera North, Leeds Playhouse, Northern Ballet, the Grand Theatre and the Arena to name a few. Here we are today in the stunning setting of the Corn Exchange, itself a major feature of the cityscape over the years, and happily enjoying a contemporary renaissance as a venue for arts and creativity.

But alongside these landmarks, it’s absolutely critical for a thriving cultural ecology that we have a broad range of venues, large and small, established on varying business models, that support the broadest possible range of forms of creativity, and which engage and give a platform to different voices through the participants and audiences that they gather.

MAP publicity

I think what’s remarkable about the cultural offer of Leeds, as someone who’s been in the city for nearly 30 years, is that we have a particular strength and specialism in the creation of smaller-scale venues and organizations that we might think of as independent or alternative, and that have specifically been created by practitioners themselves. Artists and other creative people have given this city some real treasures – among them are Patrick Studios, Leeds Print Workshop on Vicar Lane, and the Art Hostel on Kirkgate, all created by East Street Arts. A couple of weeks ago they announced the news that they are soon to open a new and permanent Art Hostel within their developing artist-run citadel in Burmantofts, which is fantastic news. I’m sure we’re going to hear more about this from Nic in a minute. In the city centre we also have Belgrave Music Hall, Headrow House, the Brunswick, Serf and Wharf Chambers, and the brilliant Duke Studios on Sheaf Street, a nationally and internationally renowned pioneering co-working and events space. Alongside others beyond the city centre and some which have come and gone over the years, such as &Model and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, these independent spaces collectively represent an enviable cultural strength and USP for Leeds.

Another one is The Tetley, a centre for contemporary art and learning that I co-founded with Pippa Hale in 2013. A few days ago The Tetley celebrated its fifth birthday. In five short years, it has become a major cultural venue for the city centre and the fast-developing South Bank. Alongside formal art exhibitions, the Tetley provides an important social space for meeting and conversation, eating and drinking, learning for everyone from toddlers through to students in Higher Education and adults, a wide range of private and corporate events and celebrations such as weddings, and art events including the annual international contemporary artists’ book fair. It’s making a major contribution to the new public realm that is set to develop around it over the coming years, and will one day (in line with our original vision) provide a landmark cultural anchor within a major city park. To date it has supported the work of over 550 artists, and welcomes over 125,000 visitors annually, now exceeding 600,000 visitors since 2013. It has nurtured the careers not just of artists, but also of curators, writers, technicians, administrators and managers, chefs, bar staff, receptionists, researchers, commercial businesses and many others who have gone on to work in the creative and commercial economies elsewhere.

Kerry addresses MAP-3

But when Pippa and I founded the artist-led initiative Project Space Leeds (which still runs The Tetley today), jointly with Diane Howse, in 2006, there’s no way we could have imagined then the potential that The Tetley would hold, the role it would come to play in the city, or the social, cultural, and economic value it would create. Or even that it would exist at all – we began by running a project space at Whitehall Waterfront for five years from 2007-12, a pilot phase for what came next. All we held as an organisation in the early days was potential – we invested in the creation of new work and largely supported young and emerging artists who were at an early stage in their careers. I’m grateful to the city and all those who supported us back then, enabling us to grow, stabilize, and ultimately make the move to the Tetley.

When I think about the current position for MAP, the opportunities and challenges facing it, it seems to me that there’s a lot of synergy with this journey. I’ve only been aware of MAP’s work for the last couple of years, but as I’ve got to know Tom and the team better, I’ve been incredibly impressed by the work that they do and everything they’ve achieved over the last 10 years, including the fact that to date they’ve done it all pretty much off their own backs, without significant public funding. For all that time, they’ve been working away a little under the radar of some of us inside Hope House, creating a unique environment through art and music for young people who have difficult accessing mainstream education as well as hosting other organizations who benefit from being part of a cultural hub that enables the collaboration and networking critical to developing creative enterprises.

MAP publicity-2

But MAP is now at a tipping point. Amid the immediate threat of losing their home due to the rapid commercial development of Mabgate, their response has been both bold and inspiring. Today is part of MAP’s fundraising drive to enable it to buy Hope House to not only secure its future on Mabgate forever, but to enable it to do more of the amazing work with young people that it already does, as well as adding apprenticeships and professional development to its offer. In the process it will become a more public-facing venue with a shop, café and expanded gallery and events spaces so that more of us can have access to its beautiful Grade-I listed building in the future. I don’t know about you, but I for one look forward to being able to visit Hope House post-renovation to enjoy an exhibition, screening or music performance, or to take part in a workshop, or just to have a coffee with a friend or a business meeting in an inspirational and historic setting.

MAP have a beautiful vision for the future of Hope House, but when we invest in self-organised activity, we don’t always know what the outcomes will be. Sometimes it’s about taking an informed punt on highly ambitious, passionate individuals and teams of people who have a vision and the proven drive to deliver. In an environment where creative subjects are under increasing pressure in the school curriculum, it’s essential that organizations like MAP continue to create opportunities for creative learning and expression. Creativity is essential to the future vitality of cities including this one, as it will be central to solving urgent global challenges. I hope I’ve argued compellingly here that alongside civic cultural flagships, we need smaller-scale venues that nurture participation in creative subjects. In fact, there is plenty of research today which argues that these smaller-scale venues, especially those which host creative workspaces of the type which MAP provides, and which grow up from the grass roots and are therefore genuinely embedded in the locales that they serve, may generate even more cultural value than their larger counterparts. They enable trial and error and artistic experimentation in a vital lower-stakes way; they have the capacity to invest in individuals over the longer term; and they provide facilities and interaction on a more human scale. They are small enough to care, but big enough to cope, offering spaces of togetherness that create a different but no less essential kind of sustenance in the city. Without these venues that nurture creativity in its earliest stages of expression, where will the artists, musicians and others come from to populate the programmes of our cultural flagships in the future?

Kerry addresses MAP-2

Leeds is setting its sights on a year of culture in 2023. We want to see MAP and Hope House going from strength to strength and playing a central role in the year’s activities. In order to achieve that ambition, it requires all of us to get behind MAP and support its campaign to purchase Hope House. In the early days of Project Space Leeds, we were grateful for the support of Leeds City Council and Arts Council England. But no less essential was the support of numerous individuals and businesses who gave their time, advocacy, expertise, services and support for free – and sometimes their money too. I urge everyone here to get behind this amazing organisation in any way that you can – together we can ensure that we have Hope for another 10 years into the future.

Kerry Harker

1st December 2018

Visit MAP’s website