The Lord Mayor of Leeds rolled out the red carpet to pay tribute to the work and achievements of the Hunslet Club, which has been helping young people to achieve their full potential for over 75 years.
Guests were welcomed with drinks and a buffet before being invited into the stunning banqueting hall at Leeds' Civic Hall, where the club's history, its successes and its aspirations for the future were celebrated.
The Lord Mayor, Councillor Graham Latty, hosted the event, which also paid tribute to some of the sporting successes from the club, including the unrivalled success of Hunslet Club Parkside completing the 2018 season as undefeated National Conference Premier Division Champions and 18-year-old featherweight boxer Hope Price who last year won a European Youth Gold Medal, World Youth Silver Medal and Olympic Gold Medal.
Hunslet Club has grown and from humble beginnings. In 1940 the club was set up by Dr John Wyllie, a local GP, who first opened the doors in 1940. During the war when fathers were in the army and mothers were out of work there was an increase in antisocial behaviour which was becoming a problem in South Leeds. He wanted to provide local boys with the chance to channel their energies into something positive, and with the support of the local community he formed the Hunslet Club.
The club is now a place to come for around 2,500 members. It is open seven days a week and welcomes over 250 young people through the doors every day. The club runs sports teams -rugby and football - and coaches a variety of sports including training boxers and dancers. There is a gym and keep fit classes and Hunslet Rogues who do acting and dance. But it's also a social place, somewhere for young people just to meet up. At the club's premises, on Hillidge Road, Leeds, there is a purpose-built social club which is a venue for family events including weddings and Christenings, there are 3G sorts pitches, a cafe and the club also teaches young people, not in mainstream education, skills like hair and beauty, mechanics, plumbing, decorating alongside maths and english.
Some of the Hunslet Rogues showed off their skills at the event with a performance of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
Jason Robinson OBE, who won 51 rugby union international caps for England and in rugby league won 12 caps for Great Britain and seven for England, is a former member and now patron of the club. He told the audience of members, parents and supporters: "For lots of young people who did not have much going on in their lives this was giving them something to do.
"It probably kept me, and lots like me, on the straight and narrow. The potential is phenomenal. This club has been a massive influence on my life and has been for many other kids.
Special praise was heaped on the Hunslet Club Parkside RL team, who are the best amateur side in the country, and when they finished as National Conference Premier Division Champions last year, they had gone unbeaten not only in all 24 games that season, but were unbeaten since October 2017 under captain Jamie Fields. But from the heavyweights to the lightweights the stage was shared with featherweight boxer Hope Price who whose successes were also marked on the night.. His brother Ellis Price was a bronze medalist at the European Youth contest and Abby Briggs won silver at the European Schools Championships.
But it's not just about the winning. The club's chief executive Dennis Robbins, who also attended the club as a kid, said: "You have got to provide space for young people at an affordable price." The club still only charges £1.50 subs. As an adult he volunteered at the club for 20 years, but it was struggling. Two decades ago membership was around 250-300 and now it's ten times that number and, having started several social enterprises, it is paying for itself.
The way the club is run is a model he has ambitions to replicate elsewhere in Leeds.
"It's our duty to start providing the income to put this model in three or four places in this city," he said.
It's an ambition shared by Council Leader Judith Blake who said the club "transformed lives". She said she was proud to take visitors to the city to the club to show what it was achieving and what was possible.
The club was presented with a golden owl by Coun Latty, who said: "I think a city with something like Hunslet Club in it should be a very proud city, if we can spread this across the city so much the better."