Bold new plans unveiled for south Leeds landmark

The iconic Temple Mill (also known as Temple Works) – in Holbeck Urban Village, on the southern edge of the city centre – is set for massive regeneration as an international events and arts venue.


The building was an acclaimed architecture gem of Victorian Leeds, a major local business employing thousands of local people – and famous as the mill where they kept sheep on the grassed roof! (An innovation to maintain humidity inside the mill.)

It is nowadays one of just four Grade 1 listed buildings in Leeds (not including churches) – but has in recent decades fallen into redundancy and decay. In autumn 2008 in particular, a large chunk of the roof and front facade collapsed.

However, a new locally-based charitable trust has in the past month bought the building from the reclusive Barclay brothers, and just this week announced their hugely ambitious plans for it: namely, over the coming five years, to transform the building into an events and arts venue of international stature. The trust are also negotiating with Leeds City Council to acquire land either side of the building – to then incorporate housing, retail, business and landscaping into the wider project.

The trust are just now preparing a major Heritage Lottery bid, are also talking with HM Treasury, and are looking to work with a wide range of local stakeholders – such as the proposed Holbeck Highline project, which runs immediately behind the development. Further plans are due to be published in the coming months, subject to the successful development of the scheme – these will of course be featured here on South Leeds Life.


9 Replies to “Bold new plans unveiled for south Leeds landmark”

  1. This sounds like excellent news. Would be great to see this iconic building being put to good use and given a long term future.
    Does anyone know which “locally-based charitable trust” has bought the site?

    1. Hi Rich. The ‘locally-based charitable trust’ is a newly-formed body, set up specifically to own and manage this project. I imagine it’s probably called summat like the Temple Mill Leeds Charitable Trust! But everything’s happening very fast with the project, so details are yet to be publicly announced. We’ll keep you updated as soon as more info is out. Cheers.

  2. Hi Ed,

    It certainly is great news that Temple Works is potentially getting the financial investment it deserves (though it’s a Heritage Lottery bid, nothing guaranteed as yet) and as someone who has helped run the cultural project in the building for the past six years I fully support the current plan. But there are couple of inaccuracies – and one glaring omission – in your piece that I think it’s worth pointing out.

    You say that “In autumn 2008 … a large chunk of the roof and front facade collapsed”, which isn’t quite right

    In December 2008 (winter, and a bitterly cold one I remember) one of the internal ties stabilising the roof snapped, causing a small piece of the external wall to fall into the street. Nothing “collapsed”. The hole in the wall and roof that you see now was caused by specialist masons (who worked on Westminster Abbey I believe) carefully taking down a part of the damaged section to allow an investigation into the internal workings of the building. Nobody actually knew the precise details of the internal structure as there aren’t any plans dating from the original construction.

    I’d be happy to take you into the Main Space where you can see the dismantled masonry laid out and carefully marked (I always tell people it’s like a big bit of Lego – but then I’m no structural engineer!)

    So the idea that there was some sort of catastrophic collapse is a bit of an urban myth. It’s a myth I’ve challenged on every tour of the building I’ve done over the past 6 years – and I’ve done well over 500 tours, and easily spoken to more than 10,000 people (I took 20 architecture students from London around only the other day!) so it is a myth that ought to have been dispelled by now.

    But I’m not the only person at Temple Works doing tours. And tours are the least of what we do. This is the glaring omission I mentioned.

    There is a large group of artists, makers, performers, inventors, writers, filmmakers, photographers and musicians who have been part of the ongoing cultural project for the past 6 years. Most weeks we have put on events, happenings, theatre, gigs, exhibitions etc. without any grants, funding, sponsorship or financial assistance from anyone. And we have been pretty successful! To date we have had over 90,000 public visitors (tricky at times as there’s only one public toilet in the whole building!) We are still here, and plan to continue being here and contribute to the next stage of the project.

    This is not an abandoned space, waiting for someone to bring it to life. It is a going concern – albeit on a spider web more than shoestring, owing to safe-space and infrastructural issues – which wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the love, commitment and sheer sweat of dozens of local people. And the planning from the start – in this case 2008, Planning Consent gained 2010 – had been for the big mixed use, culturally-led project. In the meantime we have carried out the Planning-approved project in all of the ancillary spaces, under extreme conditions. We have had arts, music and film festivals, internationally known artists like Jamie Reid for a month, television / film such a Channel 4’s “Utopia”, BBC’s “Frankenstein’s Wedding”, “DCI Banks”, Jessica Ennis on promotional shoots, “No Gloss Film”, “Temple Time” – even a couple of weddings, you name it.

    Plus … every day artists, performers, curators and makers come by to use the available spaces and make good stuff. We are working with the potential new owner Citu on the composition of the Trust which will protect three investments community, cultural, and financial. They have our full support.

    This is no empty site waiting in the dark for a political solution… it is a labour of huge love, and continues to be. To set the record straight on another issue: the current owners have done their best against massive odds structurally and in terms of huge delays on the parts of the authorities. They have been very generous and supportive in terms of our cultural occupation. We helped the current owners find what may be the next solution, which will involve Citu and others.

  3. “Dozens of local people”, Phil? Don’t be modest… More like hundreds –local, regional and national! That doesn’t even include the scores of interns over the years. It’s not just the 90,000 plus audiences – it’s also who makes and sustains the work, growing to a major international project in due course – as was always planned.

    Genuine communities of interest as well as communities already local to the area have been consulted since 2008 and continue to be enthusiastically involved in the Temple.Works.Leeds cultural project. One of these includes ex- Kay’s Catalogue employees, South Leeds’ biggest employer at the time of Kay’s closing at TW in late 2004. They are not only audiences, but also artists and volunteer stewards. We work closely also with the Hunslet and Holbeck Heritage Project made up of so many of your readers, Ed, at South Leeds Life – a great group, and one that has proved immensely supportive.

    Any Trust going forward will need to involve the groups already working for the last 7 years on this great project, who are also the ones who maintain the site and have pushed strongly to find a buyout and repair solution.

    Watch this space for a collaborative way forward, as we continue to operate the Temple.Works.Leeds cultural project under license during this transitional period.

  4. I’m from Yorkshire Susan. We don’t do boasting …

    You are right though, the place does attract great people and there’s a genuine, committed and passionate community that’s built up over the years who want to be involved and develop the project further. You can’t buy that sort of thing. And there aren’t many cultural venues with as much grass roots support.

    The trick is how to maintain and grow that as the project evolves and expands. We have to make sure that happens.

  5. Hi Phil, Susan. Many thanks for your comments, and especially good to hear that the much-talked-about ‘collapse’ wasn’t half as serious as people assume. Also, great to hear so much has been going on at the mill. I was one of those lucky enough to get a tour off you a few years back, but I have to admit I didn’t realise so much was still happening – my fault for not staying in touch! Here at South Leeds Life, we’re certainly keen to help spread the word about stuff that you’ve got going on: please feel free to write, advertise, whatever here online (on in the forthcoming print editions). All in all, you and many others have undoubtedly put strong foundations in place, to hopefully take the project forward into the next phase. I look forward to see what’s round the corner…

  6. Hi, to all contributing to the Temple saga. I’m an ex employee from Temple, and been on a couple of tours with Susan. I’m sad to see the bulk of the place looking dilapidated. I’m eager to see it renovated, but I admit that it was neglected in the time running up to us being made redundant. The art work that I’ve seen is interesting. Best wishes to all concerned with the work that is being done to get the place back into use.
    Martyn White

  7. Would be great if it was renovated.

    Too many of our old buildings are being demolished and replaced with monstrosities like Bridgewater Place, that have absolutely no character at all.

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