Unity Works, Wakefield
What’s so special about this place?
Originally built in 1904 by the Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society, for decades Unity Hall was one of the main entertainment venues in the city. In the 1970s and 1980s the venue hosted everything from Northern Soul all-nighters to heavy metal gigs. The venue has contributed a small footnote to pop history. The Pretenders played their first ever gig there in 1978, supporting local band The Strangeways. Singer Chrissie Hynde wanted to know whose trousers were sprawled over the back of a chair. The Strangeways’ Ada Wilson replied, “I’ll have them if there’s any brass in the pockets”. Never having heard the expression before, this inspired Chrissie to write ‘Brass in Pocket’, the Pretenders’ one and only no. 1 hit. The Strangeways split up in 1979.
Why was the building under threat?
Although a nightclub operated in the basement, the main part of the building had been unused since the mid-1990s and its condition was slowly deteriorating. By 2011, though the premises were in a reasonable condition increasing levels of damp and water penetration – as well as pigeon occupation - meant that the building needed to find a viable economic use.
How was it saved?
The driving force behind the project was Chris Hill, a social entrepreneur who had previously led a project which transformed a disused Victorian school in Leeds into a vibrant office complex and conference centre. He saw the potential for bringing the building back into use as a national music, conferencing and events venue, and a creative space for the region’s entrepreneurs. The project was a joint venture between regeneration specialists SHINE and Unity House (Wakefield) Ltd., a newly-established Industrial & Provident Society for Community Benefit. With help from a Community Share issue launched in February 2012, the final income from which was £220,000 against a target of £200,000, the building opened to the public in September 2014. A further £28,000 was recently raised to equip a Café Bar and create a prep kitchen and disabled access, as the project expands the reach of its business into 2015.
Unity House, Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Unity House (Wakefield) Limited
£750,000 Working capital loan, 2012
Find out more at www.unityworks.co.uk
What is the building used for now?
Unity Hall now operates as Unity Works, a workspace that mixes business with music, theatre, exhibitions and meetings, comprising: a 650-seater venue, an 80-seater function room, 12,000 square feet of office space, 3,500 square feet of meeting space, a café and bar, an exhibition space and independent retail opportunities. It also offers a creative hub for entrepreneurs, with three quarters of this space currently let. The overall project cost was £4.4 million, with major donations from organisations such as Wakefield City Council, Growing Places (a Government initiative through Leeds City Region) and Social Investment Business and ERDF.
How did the AHF help?
A working capital loan of £750,000 over 5 years was drawn down in November 2013. Without this loan facility providing essential funding at an early stage in the project’s development, the delivery of Unity Works for the communities of Wakefield and surrounding areas simply could not have proceeded.