City Buzz: New indie hub brings life to neglected corner of Leeds city centre

James Abbott-Donnelly and Laura Wellington at the new Duke Studios site on Sheaf Street. Pic: Tony Johnson.
James Abbott-Donnelly and Laura Wellington at the new Duke Studios site on Sheaf Street. Pic: Tony Johnson.
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A CORNER of Leeds city centre is quietly undergoing somewhat of a transformation.

You may not have noticed just yet, but Duke Studios is slowly carving out its own independent hub in a disused piece of Leeds’ industrial past.

Designer Laura Wellington and her photographer partner James Abbott-Donnelly have moved their Duke Studios business to a former mill on Sheaf Street – just behind The Tetley.

Having previously been housed at Munro House near the bus station, the couple leapt at the opportunity to regenerate one of Leeds’ historic buildings.

“We instantly fell in love with it,” Laura explains.

“And to have such a lovely Victorian building to ourselves is incredible.”

Their vision will see the former John H. King’s site transformed into a creative work space, bar, café, event space, workshop, photo studio and garden, with a built-in barbecue and plug sockets so you can even work outside.

“Duke Studios is all about providing an affordable space for creative businesses,” she adds.

“We want to provide studio space that’s fun and experimental because people in the creative sector tend to work long hours and will get bored of white walls.

“Our ethos is: People first, business second.”

That ethos has won Duke Studios plenty of fans since launching in 2011, and 45 business residents moved with them from Munto House to the new Sheaf Street site this week.

But there’s still room for 15 new companies, Laura says.

“There is an application process and we don’t just want 50 graphic designers. We want companies that will be able to work together.

“We also want to ensure they are doing the best work out there. That way we can recommend them for jobs and we can work together to ensure everyone’s business grows.

“It’s a very carefully created community.”

Coffee experts Layne’s Espresso, who have proved a hit with their shop near Leeds train station, are also on board for the Sheaf Street Cafeteria.

“We want it to be a community asset as well, so people can pop in for a nice coffee or hire the space.”

The couple is hoping to start a wave of independent investment in a side of the city that has been a little neglected.

But with a massive question mark hanging over the future of the nearby Tetley site, which recently went up for sale, there are some concerns.

Big names like Ikea and Town Centre Securities are rumoured to vying for a piece of the pie, so there are sure to be big plans in store.

The area is also a stone’s throw from one of the biggest regeneration projects in Europe – the £80m South Bank scheme – which will include residential units, offices, retail, restaurant and bar spaces.

But Laura is still keen for independent businesses to help retain some of the city’s history.

“I’m really interested in how the buildings round here can be re-used. They are ready and prime for re-development.

“We could create our own South Bank suburb.”

Whatever happens, it’s sure to have a massive impact on Leeds’ urban landscape for years to come.

* The Sheaf Street venue’s launch party on August 7 is almost sold out. For details, follow @SheafCafeteria on Twitter.