New plans are afoot to turn Leeds’ greatest industrial monument, Temple Mill, into a major arts and cultural venue.
Finished in 1840, the Grade 1 Egyptian-style flax mill has suffered such serial neglect from its owners that it’s long been in the national top ten of Victorian buildings at risk.
Enter local developers Citu. They’ve struck a “conditional agreement” with the building’s current owners to buy it from them, and are now looking for the support of Leeds City council as they rush to meet a 30th November deadline to bid for cash from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
So council bosses are being asked at a meeting next week (Wednesday 19th November) to agree in principle to work with Citu to get the building restored.
That means not just backing a funding bid, but agreeing to Citu “acquiring” and developing council-owned property/land in the area for housing, leisure and public space, with a view to channeling the proceeds towards the redevelopment costs.
According to a report written for the meeting, we’re talking “an eight figure sum” to secure the building and fit it out for use.
What kind of venue have they got in mind?
Details are pretty sketchy, but the report says that Citu’s plan is to create a “mixed use, cultural and learning venue”. There’s talk of attracting international touring modern art exhibitions; of showcasing and promoting the Mill’s heritage and using the building as a “major learning centre for heritage”.
“The vision also includes proposals for a public artwork commissioned from an artist of global standing,” the report says.
But, I hear you art and culture lovers ask, won’t this be in direct competition to other arts/heritage/culture venues in the city, including one nearby?
The report speaks of a refurbed Temple Mill attracting “events that current facilities do not attract”. And it says that as the plans get refined over the coming months, the council will be to looking to see “how the proposals best complement existing facilities in the city”.
Between now and next April (when council bosses will get to look at more detailed recommendations) there’s going to be “dialogue with existing cultural organisations and partners from across the city to ensure that views of a broad range of stakeholders are considered as proposals (for a) venue in this location evolve in greater detail”.
Citu’s plan is to set up a charitable trust that would own and run the building once it’s been refurbed. It would be the Trust that would put the bid in to the HLF. Given that the deadline for the bid is 30th November, that’s got me confused.
They’re going to set up the Trust and get whoever ends up on its board to write/agree a first stage bid to the HLF, all in under two weeks? Seriously?
Broader strategic outcomes
Ahead of any final commitment in April, the council wants to see more detail of the plans, it wants to be confident that the project can operate and survive without any public subsidy, and – presumably as a quid pro quo for its support – it wants to look at …
“… how a venue at Temple Mill might best fit into the city’s long term vision for cultural and learning facilities, and how it achieves broader strategic outcomes and objectives for the city.”
For “city” read “council”.
Which leaves one big question.
What is to become of us? And them?
Many/most of us love the Mill not just because it’s an important and beautiful building (it is), but because we’ve been invited in to enjoy/use its shabby grandeur by the inspired crew who have been running it as a venue-cum-film location since 2009.
We’ve been there to see properly independent exhibitions and films (that you probably wouldn’t see anywhere else in Leeds), we’ve danced all night to African, Death Metal and Jungle beats, we’ve donned fetish gear, we’ve eaten street food, we’ve done the ramshackle tour, we’ve learnt stuff, had fun, and frozen with a fag in the courtyard.
What is to become of us, the punters of the not ordinary? And what’s to become of them who have organised the not ordinary for us? And what’s to become of the not ordinary in Leeds?
Will there be room for such popular carrying-on after land deals are done, beans are counted, and the Mill moves into the warm embrace of “the city’s long-term vision for cultural and learning facilities”?
The report is circumspect:
It speaks of the need for “clarity on the potential role of the existing organisations who have a licence to operate the building”.
And it says that “dialogue would be required to better understand the views of existing organisations and communities who operate cultural activities from the building at present and how they could be involved in the proposals and maintain a presence in the city”.
Maintain a presence “in the city”.
It was fun while it lasted.