Headingley, not just home to Yorkshire cricket

Headingley is more than just the home of Geoffrey Boycott's hundredth 100. It's a Leeds village suburb with a mixed community, a very positive vibe and a get-up-and-go local development trust as Tony Greenway discovers. PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAM ATKINS

There are local communities up and down the UK which, over time, have had the hearts ripped out of them. Soulless new developments have crushed their spirits, the town boundaries have sprawled and services have frittered away. And for a while, Headingley - a green suburb two miles north of Leeds near the universities - looked like it might be heading in the same direction.

'There's been a huge increase in student numbers, many of whom want to live in Headingley,' says Lesley Jefferies, a member of Headingley Development Trust, a community organisation. 'As a consequence the local shops and services cater for young people - and there's been a drive against families. Now, of course that's not the students' fault. That's just the rampant nature of the market.'

Lesley is keen to point out that she and the rest of Headingley Development Trust - a body which aims to promote and develop a sustainable community in Headingley - are not anti-student. Indeed, Lesley is a lecturer at Huddersfield University (and a former Leeds lecturer) who has lived in the area for 28 years.

'One of the lovely things about Headingley,' she explains, 'is the mix of young people coming in who make it lively and pleasant, and the fixed, stable community. 'But the problems happened 10 or 15 years ago when the university started expanding rapidly and the landlords began buying up the terraced housing here. That pushed up prices - and we ended up with streets that had only one local family or one local elderly person living in them.'

Then, three years ago, Headingley Primary School announced it was closing. There just weren't enough local children to fill it. This shocked residents and small businesses who joined together to form the trust, which has been a remarkable success in a short period of time and now boasts more than 720 members.

'My kids went through that primary school,' says Lesley. 'It's an old Victorian building and it was such a happy place - the centre of our world.When we heard it was closing we thought: "This building could become another pub or be knocked down for flats. But that'll only happen over our dead bodies".'

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The trust came up with an idea to transform the empty school into Headingley's biggest-ever community project: Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre or HEART for short. This would include a business centre on the first floor, particularly targeted at graduates in the arts and media industry, which would aim to generate five to 10 new businesses a year. There would also be a designated performance, exhibition and meeting space on the ground floor. This doesn't, sadly, come cheap and investment is needed.

'We hope to raise a million pounds for the refurbishment to make it an iconic and beautiful building,' explains Lesley. 'It needs a lift, walls have to be moved and a reception area has to be created.' Disappointingly, �500,000 of government money from the Community Assets Fund has been denied to the trust, possibly because Headingley doesn't rank as a deprived area.Well, just look at it.

Clearly, there's not a lot of poverty here. So the trust hopes to fundraise �200,000 via the community and then raise the rest through borrowing, grants and other sources. The first project HDT was proud to have instigated (in September 2006) was the creation of a local deli market which takes places every second Saturday of the month.

'We thought it would be nice to have some decent food in Headingley again,' says Lesley. 'The market has been going for 18 months now and it's been a great success - stunning from the word go. Apart from the fact that it enhances Headingley, it's also a meeting point for the locals.' This was closely followed by a community takeover of the local wholefoods shop. 'The owners wanted to retire and offered us the chance to try and buy it,' says Lesley, 'which we couldn't do outright because we had no assets. But we raised over �100,000 last summer - and now the community owns the business. The appetite for good things to happen in Headingley is so strong, you only have to put an idea out there and people get really enthusiastic.'

A housing project is also planned, whereby the trust hopes to rent out affordable accommodation to families. So here's a tip from Lesley. Don't just drive down the main road in Headingley and think you've seen the place. You haven't. Headingley isn't just about cricket and rugby matches (although, of course, it is the home of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Leeds Rhinos) at Carnegie Stadium. No, the real heart of the place can be found in the side streets off the main artery; in the range of architecture; in the sizes and styles of houses and in that thriving community spirit.

'That's what's nice about Headingley,' says Lesley. 'You can walk all the way from town and up to the country. There's a glorious mixture of housing. It's very green. It's a leafy suburb - and all the better for it.'

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