Campaigners for a cherished Leeds mill building are calling on its new owners to reach out to the arts and heritage communities - and ‘help us tell and re-tell the Temple Works story’.
The fate of Temple Works, in Marshall Street, Holbeck, has been the topic of much discussion in recent months.
The building, 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.
But in a surprise move, 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.
The firm’s development director Jon Kenny told the YEP this week that 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 is a huge responsibility but something which we hope to be able to bring forward with an exciting future,” he said,
That exciting future is something many people who cherish the building are keen to have a say in.
Phil Kirby is the former co-director of Temple Works Leeds, a now defunct social enterprise which was set up to promote the building as an events space.
The group held scores of events over the years, and had a regular stream of national and international visitors before being evicted when Burberry’s interest started.
He said he and fellow heritage campaigners are still heavily invested in the building’s future, and are keen to work with CEG on drawing up both interim plans for the site and its longer term future.
He said it was important to “continue to tell the Temple Works story now they [CEG] are part of it”.
Mr Kirby said running more tours in the building would be a great start.
He conducted almost 600 tours over the years and still gets requests most weeks to show people around.
He is also still in contact with a lot of the people who were involved in the original project - artists, academics, events people and locals - who are still keen to be involved.
“There’s a fund of goodwill and passion that CEG could tap into,” he told the YEP.
“I’m most keen to keep telling the story of Temple Works.
“I first got involved as writer-in-residence. Obviously CEG are part of that story now and I’d like to continue documenting and commenting on the process.”
Phil and fellow campaigners are also putting together a photo book, published by a local enterprise, “to keep the idea in people’s heads that the place hasn’t been abandoned or empty for the previous few years”.
Other ideas being put forward include indie film nights.
“Everyone knows and accepts Temple Works won’t be the same but there’s also a huge wealth of knowledge, passion, insight and experience built up over the past decade that CEG would be daft to ignore,” he said.
“And there’s things we can do now.
“We should be taking people round, talking about it, enthusing people.”
Phil is also involved with a project called Thinking Through the City, showing films about important thinkers who made programmes about Leeds. One of the ideas is to recreate a famous scene with late poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, in his BBC film ‘A Poet Goes North’, which was filmed on the roof of Temple Works, He said a lot of the films are critical of developers and the impact they have had on the city, so “it would be good for CEG to start a dialogue too”.