How The Holbeck helped the local community during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Club Insure team enjoyed visiting the team at The Holbeck (formerly Holbeck Working Men’s Club) to find out how they’ve been supporting the community through lockdown.

Based in Leeds, The Holbeck is pretty close to our HQ in Yeadon. So we couldn’t miss the opportunity to pay the team a visit. 

About the UK’s oldest surviving Working Men’s Club

The Holbeck was founded in 1871 and is still going strong today! The club’s membership base was dwindling around ten years ago thanks to a number of factors including the rise of city centre bars, home drinking trends and the smoking ban. Local volunteers turned this around by encouraging the community to use the space for socialising, meetings and other events. 

Slung Low theatre company moves its operations to The Holbeck in 2018. This cleared the club’s debts and secured its future. 

So why did Slung Low make the move? Its previous home under the arches of a railway viaduct was rising in price, and the space was less accessible for audience members. Having a permanent home within a community like Holbeck gave the company a wonderful opportunity to reach new people and engage with local audiences. 

Visiting The Holbeck

It’s clear from the moment we walk in that the club is well-loved. Staff and volunteers have smiles on their faces and laughter echoes through the corridors. 

The bar within the club is managed as a traditional members’ bar, with the rest of the building used as an artistic space for creatives to develop and present their work. The layout of the building is ideal for this purpose. The bar is characterful, very traditional in style yet well-maintained and inviting. Upstairs, the large function room space is ideal for hosting performances and other events. Its stage and lighting/sound equipment offers a professional yet homely environment for performers, artists and the local community. 

The team at The Holbeck tell us all about their regularly. The community view The Holbeck as a second home. A huge variety of people are members at The Holbeck, from older members who’ve been visiting the club for years through to younger people and their families. 

Many bigger venues in Leeds city centre simply don’t provide entertainment and community activities that are accessible to people in communities such as Beeston or Holbeck. Communities value and appreciate arts and creativity in addition to ‘traditional’ Working Men’s Club activities like bingo and weekend music performances.

We also hear Scandinavians are fans of The Holbeck! Due to regular football games at Elland Road, Scandinavian Leeds United fans are often out visiting the local area and love a drink at The Holbeck. 

Becoming a member 

The Holbeck is still owned by its members and, despite being managed by Slung Low, still offers a range of voluntary opportunities. 

Membership costs just £6 per year for new members, £5 for renewals. Members are entitled to 40p off a pint, and have a major say in the way the club is run. 

Members clearly care a lot about the club. Many people attend The Holbeck’s events. Due to the club’s accessible, approachable outlook, anyone can come along and enjoy a drink and pay as you decide entertainment at The Holbeck, though. 

Business as usual

Of course, things are far from usual at the moment. But under normal circumstances The Holbeck is home to a wide variety of activities. This includes classic Working Men’s Club activities such as bingo and live entertainment. However, thanks to Slung Low, the club is also home to a wide range of other activities. This includes live theatre, new writing performances and of course the company’s Cultural Community College. This gives people the opportunity to enjoy a range of courses including cooking, learning sign language, crafts, choirs and much more – all run on a pay as you decide basis so it’s accessible and affordable for all. 

Diversifying the club’s offering to provide additional community activities has no doubt contributed to its success. People in the immediate area love the club, but it also attracts audiences from elsewhere in the region thanks to its unique events. 

Surviving the COVID-19 pandemic

During our visit we had a sneak peek at Slung Low’s foodbank. Ruth Saxon is the company’s Community Producer, normally busy producing theatre and entertainment to engage local people. Recently she’s been helping to coordinate the foodbank and organising volunteers to help the community. The food parcels Ruth was creating when the Club Insure team visited were exceptional. Each was neatly packed, crammed with key food staples and lovingly put together. It’s clear the whole team and their volunteers truly care about helping the people of Holbeck and Beeston. 

The foodbank will continue throughout 2020. The team will then get back to planning an exciting range of community classes and live entertainment in 2021. 

Slung Low has also arranged a community art exhibition on lampposts around the local area. This gives people the opportunity to enjoy art even as galleries, theatres and museums have been closed. 

The Holbeck plans to host a series of outdoor events. People will emerge from the pandemic and be able to re-engage with live entertainment. 

We’re including The Holbeck in our Yorkshire Portraits photography series. Would you like to be involved? Submit your photography here

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Sophie Joelle

Sophie Joelle