Making a difference, the charity that is one of the best-kept secrets in Leeds

Middleton Park.
Middleton Park.

Its story dates back to 1530, when Henry VIII was still married to the first of his six wives and Leeds was home to just a few thousand people.

Wade’s Charity is the oldest charity in the city – but many of the people who benefit from its work have never heard of it.

Merrion Street Garden.

Merrion Street Garden.

Wade’s owns public parks, playing fields and woodland across Leeds as well as a number of open spaces and ‘quiet areas’ in the city centre.

Its mini-empire of more than 500 acres of land includes Middleton Park, Gotts Park in Armley, Rodley Sports Ground, Gledhow Valley Woods, Kirkstall’s Vesper Fields, Woodhouse Square and, in the heart of the city, Merrion Street Garden and Penny Pocket Park, which sits opposite Leeds Minster.

But, with most of the sites being let on long-term leases to Leeds City Council, the vast majority of people who use them to work, rest and play have no idea who they actually belong to.

And today Wade’s chairman Mark Pullan told of his pride at the achievements of a charity that has been described as one of Leeds’s best kept secrets.

Gledhow Valley Woods.

Gledhow Valley Woods.

He said: “It’s remarkable, really, that something which began hundreds of years ago is continuing to work for the benefit of the city.

“I think there will be very few people who know about Wade’s, despite our large landowning.

“All the trustees who give their time freely are proud of what has been achieved and continues to be achieved.”

Wade’s has its roots in the life and death of Thomas Wade, a 16th century landowner who left money in his will for the “mending, upholding and keeping” of the highways of Leeds.

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Other benefactors subsequently added to the charity’s resources and then, between 1893 and 1939, it acquired the bulk of the open space that it still holds today.

But its ownership of that land is far from its only contribution to city life – it also distributes at least £130,000 in grants to dozens of organisations each year, from youth groups and play schemes to theatre societies and sporting clubs.

Recent beneficiaries include Gipton Methodist Church, Leeds Mencap, Hyde Park Unity Day, Belle Isle Elderly Winter Aid, South Seacroft Friends & Neighbours, Leeds Tigers Basketball and Happy Days Children’s Charity.

Wade’s makes grants available to projects working with residents living within the pre-1974 boundaries of the City of Leeds, which roughly equate to the LS1 to LS17 postcode areas.

To qualify for support, applicants should operate on a charitable basis and offer recreational activities or have aims related to the use of public open space.

For more details on the grant application process, visit the www.wadescharity.org website.