Why this former Leeds petrol station becoming a hub for city culture

FUEL: A former petrol station is on the right road for changing communities.
FUEL: A former petrol station is on the right road for changing communities.
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It started its current guise as a cafe and bar but now the former petrol station in Leeds is becoming a hub for culture and communities.

Next month a jazz album, “To Be Here Now”, will be released in an attempt to document and celebrate some of the best jazz and improvised music currently being recorded and performed within the city.

It has been created by Jack Simpson, the owner of Hyde Park Book Club and saxophonist, Ben Powlin and aside from being a record it is a statement about cities, cultures and cultivating creativity among all groups.

The Hyde Park Book Club celebrates its third birthday in October and after opening as a cafe, bar, events space and casual fancy dress shop it has become more than just a business for Simpson who returned to his native Leeds from London because of it.

“I did not think I would move back from London. I thought this would be a sideline and wanted to do it because there was nowhere else like it.

“But Leeds people wanted to use it and I realised there was not enough for people.”

He noticed an under-privileged and harder to reach demographic using the space to try DJing, playing, singing or debating because they could use the event space without expectation, costs or stigma.

Teens have used the space to rap, one Chinese student set up an exhibition of plastic ears and political groups meet there.

He said: “There is something very libiterian about it, we are just like ‘let’s give it a go’. We are not the council, people can come and do what they want - elsewhere that can be difficult.”

In another venture Simpson, is working on a PHD where he looks at cities, people and creating a better environment for people and that is driving forward Hyde Park Book Club (actually so-called as it probably stocks as many books as Waterstones) in the future.

They are creating more space in the basement with a stage and sound system for music, theatre, spoken word performances and the like.

Outside, the petrol station forecourt is brightened up with flowers (which create a better perception of a place), tables and chairs.

He wants to bring together young, old, middle to working class, students and locals.

“The places that are opening are separating who can go, the greasy spoons have gone, what you end up with is big businesses and you lose the soul of the city.

“Leeds has got much better over 20 years but is becoming segregated. It is a great city for people that are already quite privileged.

“It is on the verge of something exciting and we need to make it possible for people to get involved. How does that 19-year-old who does not go to university and lives in Seacroft get involved?”

That platform is what led to the album as many of the bands who feature on To Be Here Now, have gigged, rehearsed and even started out at Hyde Park Book Club.

It was recorded across a few days, in late 2017 and early this year by Will Jackson of Soundworks at Simpson’s Eiger Studios and will be launched at an event at Hyde Park Book Club on Monday October 1.

He said: “Night after night, you can hear jazz played across the city, the dives, the cafes, the bars. But as yet, this has not been captured on record. Here we tried to do just a little of that. To preserve this moment.”