Morley Towns Fund: How the Leeds town is being transformed by a £24.3m investment

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Steeped in political history, brimming with independent traders and home to 35,000 people, Morley has always prided itself on its own unique heritage.

Dubbed England’s most patriotic town for its love of a good St George’s Day Parade, economic times here have been a little harder of late, as with many places of similar size. But could a £24.3m investment for the town help to revive its fortunes?

A series of projects, delivered with the help of cash from the government’s Towns Fund, will help breathe new life into Morley, it is hoped. Parks are being spruced up, as is the traditionally dark and dingy walking route to the train station, which will make it feel less isolated from the rest of the town.

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And earlier this month the return of Leeds City College to Morley was announced, eight years after it controversially shut its Joseph Priestley campus, on Peel Street in the town.

Morley is being transformed thanks to a £24.3m investment from the government’s Towns Fund (Photo by Simon Hulme/National World)Morley is being transformed thanks to a £24.3m investment from the government’s Towns Fund (Photo by Simon Hulme/National World)
Morley is being transformed thanks to a £24.3m investment from the government’s Towns Fund (Photo by Simon Hulme/National World)

The college will move into St Mary’s Church, with the help of cash from the Towns Fund, in either 2024 and 2025. Long-serving local councillor Robert Finnigan describes the move as a “a big positive” for further education and adult learning in Morley.

“At the moment if you’re academic in Morley, you’ve got three populous high schools and a sixth form college (to go to).

“Whereas if you are more vocational, then our capacity to be able to deliver training for those vocational jobs just doesn’t exist locally. So Leeds City College coming back is a very good news story.”

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An eye on developing the skills of Morley’s next generation is also coming through a talent initiative, which is being run by the Ahead Partnership.

The Growing Talent Morley initiative (Photo by The Ahead Partnership)The Growing Talent Morley initiative (Photo by The Ahead Partnership)
The Growing Talent Morley initiative (Photo by The Ahead Partnership)

The organisation, headquartered in Leeds city centre, helps prepare pupils for the world of work through organising workplace visits and talks from local employers. More than 4,000 local school pupils have benefited from the programme in its first year.

“The core focus of programme is to educate the young people of Morley about the range of roles and careers they could have there, but also further afield,” Megan Lipp, who is the head of development at The Ahead Partnership, says.

“Our objective is to make sure the young people are put in front of different role models and can identify with different people.

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“That might be someone who’s a managing director, or an apprentice. It might be someone who went to their school who talks like them. It’s a real range of businesses that are involved.”

£4m of the fund has been allocated to improving Morley Town Hall (Photo by Simon Hulme/National World)£4m of the fund has been allocated to improving Morley Town Hall (Photo by Simon Hulme/National World)
£4m of the fund has been allocated to improving Morley Town Hall (Photo by Simon Hulme/National World)

The Ahead Partnership has also used its links to local schools to help tell Morley’s young folk about the changes their town will soon be seeing.

They include a new walking and cycling route, which will connect Morley to the White Rose Shopping Centre and Capitol Business Park in Tingley.

It will be christened The Beryl Burton Greenway, after the Morley cycling legend who won a hatful of world track titles in the 1960s.

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A consultation over improvements to the Grade I-listed Morley Town Hall will also start in the new year. Plans are afoot to make the building a more attractive community and events space that can generate its own revenue in the future.

Morley councillor Robert Finnigan (Photo by the Local Democracy Reporting Service)Morley councillor Robert Finnigan (Photo by the Local Democracy Reporting Service)
Morley councillor Robert Finnigan (Photo by the Local Democracy Reporting Service)

Lovers of 80s pop will be interested to know T’Pau are playing at the venue this weekend, following an appearance from Toyah earlier this summer.

Improvements to the Town Hall’s lighting, stage and sound system, as well as plans to install a bar, are perhaps beginning to draw a higher calibre of pop act.

“We’re getting bigger stars playing in the Town Hall than we’ve done historically,” Coun Finnigan says.

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“We want to build on that. I think getting Toyah and T’Pau is a sign of where the building is headed and a sign of our ambition.”

Tension has emerged, however, over the size and nature of investment into the Grade I-listed building. Gerald Jennings, the chair of the Morley Town Deal Board, admitted last week that the £4m allocated to the revamp is “really not enough”.

“The initial research we had carried out indicated we needed over £10m to provide a Town Hall that will really sing and dance for Morley”, he told a meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive board.

Councillor Finnigan says it’s vital that the £4m is not swallowed up with running repairs and maintenance, which he says Leeds City Council should fund itself until the venue can sustain itself financially. Given the age of the building, there’s a long list of jobs to do.

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“This money is for enhancements and not repairs,” he says. “We don’t want Leeds City Council to use this as an excuse to undertake the work they should already have done.”

Leeds City Council’s Helen McGrath, who is overseeing the Town Deal work, insists the money “is not for any backlog maintenance or any long-standing maintenance issues”.

“It’s to improve what’s currently there,” she says.

Government timescales mean all of the £24.3m must be spent on Morley before March 2026 – a deadline Mr Jennings warned last week “is really not that far away”.

He admitted he’d have liked to have seen the Town Hall scheme in particular “reach the stage we’re at now earlier”.

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One thing all parties seem to agree on is that the pace of delivering the projects must speed up a bit. But at the same time, there’s excitement about the effect the cash could have on Morley.

“(It’s about making it) A better nicer place for everyone to live,” Ms McGrath says. More job opportunities – that’s something the DLUP (Department of Levelling Up) are keen for us to measure our success against.”

There’s been plenty of criticism of the government’s approach to so-called Levelling Up. But if the Towns Fund can deliver more jobs, nicer public spaces and perhaps more 80s pop legends for Morley, it might just about get a tick here.

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