Collectives, communities and clubs worth going out of your way for
As cities go, Leeds is a pretty friendly one. I call anyone who’s lived here more than a couple of months as my witness when I say that finding your place here is a fairly easy feat – especially if you know where to look.
While venturing into the heart of the city on a Saturday night might find you pressed against an impenetrable veneer of cheap drinks and mainstream party anthems, scratch just a little below the surface and you’ll find a warmer, more accepting underbelly.
Whatever your background, there’s a corner of Leeds waiting to welcome you with open arms.
We’ve lined up four of our favourites (plus one special guest) to help you find your people.
If there’s one place that embodies what this article is all about, it’s got to be Wharf Chambers. This place has been challenging norms and welcoming those who might not feel they fit them for almost a decade, and if you’re looking for a space that’s got your back no matter what, you might just have found it.
Wharf is a members’ club – a system that’s helped the venue build a community of like-minded people. There’s no exclusivity here though; membership is a pound and you can buy it whenever you like. Run by a solid set of values-based around safety, accessibility, respect and fun, Wharf provides an inclusive, affordable space for music, art, film, politics and discussion. It brings together communities from across Leeds, and it’s firmly committed to creating an environment where harmful or marginalising behaviour is never tolerated.
23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds, LS2 7EQ; Wednesday-Thursday 5pm-11pm Friday 5pm-1am, Saturday 3pm-3am
When artist-led venue Live Art Bistro closed its doors back in 2019, the collective cry for a replacement rang through the streets of Leeds too loudly for no one to take action. Thankfully, CLAY (Centre for Live Art Yorkshire) came to the rescue, establishing itself as the only venue in the UK dedicated to live art and interdisciplinary practice. This is a home for experimental arts – a place without boundaries that allows artists to be bold, take risks and give their work a platform.
As you can imagine, the pandemic has made life difficult for CLAY, but with a Cultural Recovery Grant and an unshakeable creative spirit, the venue has stayed open for studio holders and is transitioning back into live practice this summer.
Regent Street, LS2 7QA; Monday-Sunday 10am-5.30pm
Hyde Park Book Club
Nestled in the former site of Headingley’s most immersive fancy dress shop, Hyde Park Book Club is built on the ambition to give emerging creative performers a platform to showcase what they can do.
On that bold philosophy, this place has expanded organically to become a hub of independence and inclusivity. There’s yummy veggie and vegan food, great coffee and a big old craft beer selection.
This summer sees the return of gigs, DJ nights, film screens, open mics, comedy shows and panel discussions. You don’t have to book, but they recommend it during busy periods. Acceptance remains the name of the game with a chilled-out atmosphere during the day that can extend just as easily into evening liveliness as it can a passionate debate about the future of our city.
27-29 Headingley Lane, LS6 1BL; Monday-Saturday 10am-12am
Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre opened in 2011 in the former Headingley Primary School (coincidentally, located in the heart of Headingley). This place’s vision has always been about maintaining a positive, supportive environment where a wide range of people can meet up to work and play. However old or young, whatever’s happening in your life, HEART is where a lively events programme combines with a relaxed bar and kitchen to form a true community space.
Now back open – with some activities limited for obvious reasons – HEART will be hosting gigs, open mics, colouring nights, yoga classes and more in the coming months. And if you can spare a quid or two, why not donate to its Crowdfunder? It all goes towards making the changes needed to keep this vital community space open for those who need it.
Bennett Road, LS6 3HN; Monday - Saturday 9am-9pm
While not strictly speaking a space, no article about norm-challenging, all-welcoming places in Leeds would be complete without an honourable mention to Girl Gang, a community built to support women and people of all genders.
Girl Gang launched in Sheffield in 2015 and has since been active in Leeds, Manchester and London. Although not currently booking shows in Leeds, the collective remains vocal and supportive on social media, championing the voices of women and marginalised genders and counting down the days until it can put on the gigs, workshops, craft markets and immersive screenings it’s known for again.
"It's so important that people have a place where they feel accepted and safe – we try to create that environment at all of our events." Says Founder and Director, Kaz Scattergood.
Read next: Top things to do in Leeds in August 2021
Read again: 'Buzzing' but 'be kind': Northern music venues react to ‘Freedom Day’
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