How the Hunslet Club in Leeds has transformed the lives of local youngsters

Construction tutor Ian Helmshaw with student Mason Foster

Construction tutor Ian Helmshaw with student Mason Foster - Credit: Joan Russell

Teenagers are building careers with the help of a pioneering property project. Andrew Vine reports

Dennis Robbins, chief executive officer of Hunslet Club with Sue Draper, boys from the club and con

Dennis Robbins, chief executive officer of Hunslet Club with Sue Draper, boys from the club and construction tutors Ian Helmshaw,right and Andy Rogers,left outside the house that they rennovated in Leeds - Credit: Joan Russell

HOPE can be hard to find in Yorkshire’s poorest communities, but in an area of Leeds that has known more than its fair share of hard times, it burns bright. And that’s largely thanks to one of Britain’s biggest youth clubs, which is not only the beating heart of the community, but also leads the way training young people for rewarding careers by buying properties for them to work on.

The Hunslet Club in south Leeds has 76 years of history behind it, and an innovative approach to the future. Young people aged 14 to 16 – many of whom have struggled at school – come here to train for vocational qualifications, including car and motorcycle maintenance, hairdressing and beauty therapy.

But it is training for building trades including joinery, plastering and plumbing, that has led the club to buy properties to give the trainees vital hands-on experience that will hopefully lead on to apprenticeships.

The club has bought two houses and plans to buy three more for the young people to help renovate. By doing so, it is providing homes for disadvantaged people as well as bringing empty or derelict homes back into use.

Where it all began

Where it all began - Credit: Joan Russell

Club chief executive Dennis Robbins said: ‘The initial plan was for young people to go in and do a little bit of work, because they can do plumbing or plastering or joinery, but then contractors have to come in and make that property liveable.

‘What do you do then? Do you sell it on? We’ve got 2,000-plus members, many of them living in private rented accommodation, some paying extortionate rent for something that’s not very nice. So we thought we’d keep the properties and offer them to our membership.’

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They are now home to two single mothers paying low rents and receiving support from the club. Dennis added: ‘This is something that we’d like to scale up, because you’ve got young people getting experience, which goes into their portfolios so they can go to an employer at the end of it.

‘You’ve got an empty property that might have blighted a nice street being renovated, and you’re supporting a family into it. It’s a win, win, win.’

This valuable practical experience is part of the club’s mission to give everybody who comes through its doors the best chance of succeeding in life.

Dennis, who first came to the club as a boy in 1971, said: ‘They are struggling academically, and they come to us lacking confidence and it’s our job to give them some confidence back.

‘Just because you’re not academic and just because you might not have done so well, don’t write yourself off, because you’ve still got a chance, don’t give in and keep going. It’s trying to inspire people.’

Inspiring young people drives everyone involved with the club, including trustee Andrew Beadnall, one of Yorkshire’s leading estate agents, the founder of Beadnall Copley. His business is based in Yorkshire’s property ‘golden triangle’ of Harrogate, Wetherby and Ripon, but Hunslet is where he came from and he’s passionate about helping it.

Andrew said: ‘I have never come to somewhere that fills me with such passion and adrenaline as this club. I do have a chip on my shoulder about where I come from, and I’ve never forgotten my roots, because this is where everything I’ve got came from and I just want kids down here to have that.’

Hunslet has suffered over the years. It has pockets of deprivation, and its problems date back to the 1960s and 1970s when the heavy industries that had made it one of the north’s great workshops began to close.

At the same time, the powerful community spirit that had always characterised it was dealt a blow by the clearance of terraced streets to make way for high-rise flats. Yet that spirit lives on at the club. Once the training is over for the day, it becomes a vibrant centre for sport and recreation, with activities ranging from boxing to cheerleading, 96 of them every week.

That costs money, and even though the club self-finances by opening to the wider community for sport, evening classes and functions, it is constantly on the lookout for support.

Some of it comes from the Hunslet Trust, founded by Andrew’s late father to keep sport alive in the area, and now chaired by him. It is currently giving financial aid to a talented 10-year-old ballerina and a promising boxer.

But more is needed. Dennis said: ‘We still need the support of big businesses and individuals to keep this gem going and for us to be able to do more. We need to do more, but to do more, we need more support.’

And Hunslet needs the hope and help that the club brings. Andrew said: ‘This has recreated the sort of community I’ve known all my life and that’s one reason I’m so passionate about it. It takes me back in time.’ w

The Hunslet Club is at or on

0113 271 6489

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