Leeds is going through an unprecedented period of change. Neil Hudson looked at the unusual relationship which is growing between one of the city’s oldest buildings and one of its most modern.
You go to one to find your soul, the other to sell it – or so some might say.
But an unusual relationship is developing in part of Leeds between a church and a shopping centre.
You may think Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane looks somewhat out of place against the partially-built shopping complex which bares its name and yet moves are afoot to ensure the Grade I listed building is not going to be overshadowed by its larger and much younger cousin.
The building cuts an imposing figure against the cut glass of the centre which has been steadily growing behind it for the last year – it’s dark exterior due not to soot but to a form of lichen.
The church is to close for a six-week refurbishment which will hopefully enable it to take advantage of the new opportunities which are about to be presented to it come March, when the shopping centre opens.
John Dawson is director of arts at Trinity and the man charged with making sure the church does make the most of the new dawn which is about to break.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post, he gave us an overview of the plans.
“I agree it’s a funny relationship we will have with the shopping centre in that it’s almost like there is consumerism next to spiritualism but we are hoping that we can find a way of doing things which will benefit both.
“The plan is to create an arts venue inside the church and to have all kinds of exhibitions and art installations and other events going on to draw people in from the new shopping centre.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time and in the long term there is the possibility, through a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to do even more.
“In the short term, there will be an internal refurbishment which will essentially mean moving some furniture around to make the space more usable.
“We are keen to see more young people come into the church and there has been a real conscious effort to achieve that through the arts programme, which began in 2006.”
A former English and later computer technology teacher at David Young Academy, Seacroft, John has always had a passion for the arts.
“We want to support new talent and to give young people in particular a boost.
“At the moment, our main footfall is from people passing on Boar Lane but most of those pass by in a hurry. We plan to open up the western doors of the church and that will be open during the day with someone in there to invite people in to the many events we will be staging.”
If the short term plans prove a success, then the long term plans could prove even more so. There are plans, subject to the securing of a lottery fund grant, to turn the loft space in the church into a dining area and to overhaul the kitchens, providing a dining experience few other venues in the city will be able to match.
The church is also in talks with several other groups, including a pop-up restaurant company, Leeds Vocal Movement, an orchestra and cabaret group. On March 29, there will be an exhibition by photographic artist Barry Payling (running until April 19) and John says there will be a resident artist, actor, musician, photographer and sound engineer.
He said: “For example, our sound engineer is working on some Flamenco dancers in June and our actor is producing Three Sisters by Chekhov.”
Dr Kevin Grady, director of Leeds Civic Trust, said he saw the developments at Trinity as part of a wider season of renewal across the sweep of Boar Lane.
“Thinking about Boar Lane itself, there is obviously the shopping centre which is being built at the moment and which I think frames the church magnificently.
“My attitude to Boar Lane is that I think it should be narrowed.
“As a street it is one of the most historic in the city. It was originally the link road from the Manor of Leeds, which stood where the Scarbrough Taps is today to the ‘Borough of Leeds’ and in fact ‘Boar Lane’ is a bastardisation of ‘Borough’ and it dates back almost as far as the creation of Briggate in 1207.
“Trinity Church was built because Leeds Parish Church was overcrowded but because Boar Lane was one of the places the merchants of Leeds lived, it was a very exclusive church, it was a church for the rich.
“In the 17th and 18th centuries it was much narrower than it is today – probably only about 26ft wide, compared to 66ft today. Indeed, when Queen Victoria visited the city, the road would have been narrow. It was widened under John Barran in a way so that the city council could make money by compulsory purchasing property on the south side of the road, which they knew could be turned into hotels and sold for high profit and then would also yield high rates.
“Coming back to the question at hand, there has been a lot of effort recently to make this part of Boar Lane more attractive, including changes to many buildings, among them the old Square on the Lane building, which was looking shabby. All of this is good but I think for the lane to be even more successful, it will need to be narrowed by the widening of its pavements, to give the shops on the north side a better chance.
“Certainly, when Leeds Arena is built, one can imagine people arriving in the city and perhaps coming along Boar Lane in order to get where they are going. The plans for Holy Trinity are brilliant because it gives a historic building a viable economic future.
“It’s just yet another example of the ratcheting up of the quality of Leeds city centre.”