Leeds nostalgia: Owners’ club plan for listed buildings

First White Cloth Hall is one example of how new club could help revive old buildings.
First White Cloth Hall is one example of how new club could help revive old buildings.
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A listed buildings owners’ club is to be set up in Leeds.

The idea, which is backed by Leeds Civic Trust, would be modelled on existing classic car clubs and would aim to share good practice and generate a new wave of enthusiasm for the city’s old buildings, many of which are falling into disrepair.

News of the club comes as a group of around 50 volunteers near the end of a project to survey 500 of the city’s oldest buildings.

That work is being co-ordinated by Leeds Civic Trust, which was successful in applying for a grant from English Heritage - Leeds is one of a number of pilot projects throughout the country where old buildings are being surveyed.

Dr Kevin Grady, director of Leeds Civic Trust, told Times Past the original plan had been to survey 1,000 buildings.

“Our original aim was to complete a survey of around a thousand Grade I and Grade II* listed, which is about a third of the total in the city by this month but realistically we are going to be able to complete about half of that. Still, our plan is to submit our findings to Leeds City Council and English Heritage and then to continue with the work and survey the other 500 anyway.

“It’s a lot of work because we’re making a photographic record of each of the buildings we visit and writing a description of the condition. It will become a useful record which can then be referred to in future years and at least then we will be able to see whether a building has deteriorated considerably or not.

“For many buildings, it will be the first time we have properly looked at them, so this is an important step forward in terms of trying to ensure we have a record of these important historical buildings and knowing what we can do about making the most of them.

“Hopefully, in carrying out this survey, we will be finding out which buildings are in such a state that they need urgent attention.”

But perhaps the most exciting news is a move to create a listed buildings owners’ club specific to Leeds.

Dr Grady said: “It’s a bit like a veteran car owners club, the idea being that it will generate a new kind of enthusiasm for these buildings and enable those who own them to have more information about their rights and what they can do.

“There are buildings all over the city which have unusual features and which people are charmed and excited by and many of them are listed. These buildings are part of our history and they also enrich our lives.

“Some of them are well maintained and others are not so. Quite often, the premises are vacant. In my view, there’s nothing better than keeping in touch with people who own these kind of buildings and that is precisely what this new owners’ club will aim to do.”

Leeds Civic Trust have been campaigning for historic buildings in the city to be better maintained for years.

Indeed, the group even has a ‘watch list’ of properties in dire need of attention on its website.

In 1998, Leeds Civic Trust first published a report on historic buildings in the city centre which were at risk of deterioration through neglect, lack of use and lack of maintenance. Many of the buildings on that list have been restored but others still remain in a poor state.

The Heritage at Risk Group looks at both listed and unlisted buildings.

Perhaps one of their most recent and greatest successes is helping secure funding for one of the city’s oldest buildings, the 1711 First White Cloth Hall, Kirkgate, which is now part of a £2m regeneration project backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and known as the Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative, which aims to revive the area that is one of the oldest parts of the city.

Work on the scheme is expected to start in early 2014 and it is hoped the investment will help kickstart private companies to put more money into redeveloping the area.

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