History is in the re-making for cherished Leeds heritage building Temple Works
When Jonathan Kenny was a child, his parents drove him around Leeds, showing him their favourite parts of their home city.
And he remembers, very vividly, his dad’s pride and love for Temple Works.
Decades later, that same boy is now the man spearheading the dramatic rescue and imminent rebirth of this iconic building.
Mr Kenny is development director of CEG, the company which - in a shock move - bought the Grade 1-listed former flax mill last month, a day before it was due to be auctioned with a reserve price of just £1.
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The building on Marshall Street in Holbeck, built in 1836, is much loved by heritage campaigners, and its unique Egyptian-inspired design and former status as ‘the biggest room in the world’ have become a part of the fabric of the wider Leeds story. But question marks have loomed over its fate in recent months, after fashion brand Burberry dropped its interest in the building in the wake of the Brexit referendum, with its option being allowed to lapse in July.
All that is history now, as CEG - the firm behind the successful Kirkstall Forge development and other projects in the South Bank regeneration area - has swooped in with a rescue plan, and taken on what it knows is a mammoth challenge. Experts have previously said that the cost of stabilising and refurbishing Temple Works could be more than £20m.
Mr Kenny won’t be drawn on the numbers - and is understandably coy about revealing the price the firm paid for the building - but admits it will be “an expensive project”.
But, on the day after the company completed its acquisition, he invited the YEP to accompany him on a walk around.
He said his team was still “getting to grips with this amazing heritage asset, this wonderful building, this pride of Leeds”, and is under no illusions about the sheer scale of the task ahead.
“It clearly is a daunting project, and a lot of work needs to be done,” he said. “It is a huge responsibility but something which we hope to be able to bring forward with an exciting future.”
Mr Kenny admits that were the building not protected, it would be a whole lot cheaper to just knock it down and build something else on the site.
Not that that is something remotely in his mind.
“We need to understand the building, and look carefully at how we can restore it, and at the same time, find a viable, sustainable economic future for it.
“None of that is going to be easy. But we have got to make this work.”
“It’s been neglected for decades,” he added. “And we need to find a proper cultural, interesting use and activity to occupy this space. And something which can pay its way,”
Asked to describe his vision for the building, he admits it’s a blank canvas at the moment.
And that means plenty of opportunity for locals to help shape the future with ideas and suggestions.
“Our vision is ‘look, it can’t carry on like this’,” says Mr Kenny.
“But we are nowhere in terms of pinning that to the floor. It’s going to take years.”
Despite the huge challenge ahead, the leap into the great unknown is “exciting”, says Mr Kenny.
“I grew up in this city, and, like a lot of people, I’ve seen this building decline. I’ve listened to my parents talking about it with passion.
“It’s something which it’s an honour and a privilege to be involved with but we have got to do the job right. We have got to take time understanding the issues and make sure that when we finish bringing it back to life, people enjoy that life for many, many years.”
COUNCIL IS COMMITTED TO COLLABORATION OVER ‘VITAL’ HERITAGE ASSET
Leeds City Council’s regeneration boss says the authority is “committed” to working with the new owners of Temple Works - and that the building will be a vital part of the wider South Bank plans.
Councillor Richard Lewis said the building was “an extremely significant part of the nation’s industrial history and heritage”, and “an important priority” in the future transformation of the South Bank. “We are committed to working collaboratively with CEG to explore the options to bring the Temple Works building back into sustainable use,” he said. Leeds Civic Society previously said the building could be the “centrepiece” of the South Bank”, and urged CEG to “to move quickly” on preparatory work to ensure that the restoration proper can begin.