Hyde Park Book Club Leeds: A civic-minded small business dedicated to the revival of Leeds culture

Leeds is lucky to be home to some of the most dedicated and diligent people who breathe air into the city like clockwork with their much-loved small and independent businesses.

Sunday, 2nd May 2021, 7:57 am
Hyde Park Book Club owner Jack Simpson has a renewed sense of what the venue means to Leeds (photo: Steve Riding)

And one of the city’s most instrumental is Hyde Park Book Club, which is best known for its music, comedy and other live events that come paired with drinks and eclectic meals.

After having initially accepted that his arts hub might never be the same again post-pandemic, owner Jack Simpson has spent his time over the past year navigating new norms while ensuring Hyde Park Book Club can stick to the cultural roots of the city.

Now, through community and outreach, Mr Simpson has a renewed sense of what Hyde Park Book Club means to Leeds

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Jack Simpson, Hyde Park Book Club (photo: Steve Riding)

He told the YEP: “Lots of people who run small businesses are very civic minded, and when I look at it, it’s not reiterated enough that people who run small businesses really are the people that are vested in the city.

“I look back at the past year and there are of course big businesses who have done their bit to help the city out, but a small business like Hyde Park Book Club is only based here - it’s where we live and we have a long term interest in how Leeds goes.

“The recovery of the city is a really exciting time and as we head into the future it’s increasingly important that our city is a place that everyone feels a part of and we make sure that it isn’t just a small amount of us that enjoy its culture.

“How we come out of this is so important for the kind of city we want to be going forward.”

Mr Simpson ran a number of schemes while his venue was closed, including a laptop donation project and taking books to those who need them across Leeds.

He said: “It’s things such as these that have allowed us to keep in touch with some sense of what Hyde Park Book Club actually is.

“I think that we have got in touch with what it is in ways that we probably weren’t even aware of before.

“The venue was stripped of its beers and events, and we were left in a situation of ‘what can we do?’

“It’s our little projects that have given us the life force and I really think it was the things that we did when we couldn’t be the venue we had previously been that have given us the energy to focus on community and people, and people doing expressive things.

“We don’t know what the other side of this looks like but what we do know is that we can get up every day and work with people’s culture because people will always want it and people will always create it here.”

Hyde Park Book Club opened its outdoor area on April 12 along with hundreds of other bars and venues across Leeds.

It took around 200 table bookings within the first two hours of opening - having never actually taken bookings for its tables before.

Mr Simpson told the YEP that since opening outdoors, the venue has had a number of academics and people working on their own creative projects there - and that that’s what it’s all about.

Mr Simpson said: “For me, it’s very much about people and conversations, so a good chunk of what we’re about is being satisfied with our outdoor area as long as people are coming and talking about their ideas.

“We thought it would just be on our opening day, because we knew that would be crazy, but it’s carried on.

“Lots of people in the industry have been talking about this summer being a huge summer for culture and partying in Leeds and I wasn’t sure at first but now it really feels like that will be the case.

“It’s been interesting to see how quickly people did move to technology but it’s clear that that feeling of being with people has been missed.

“While I’m really looking forward to having our events back, which are important, this situation has also proved that a good amount of what social spaces such as Hyde Park Book Club are about is humans getting together.

He added: “We’ve proved that the atmosphere and feel of culture is just like football - it's something that just doesn’t quite translate online.”