Leeds Communities: Sweet Home Armley

Photos: @onlyopticempire & Mike Medlock (@vibrant_leeds)

I’ve lived in Armley for 11 years. It is my home. It is a mixed and diverse place which has lots of great projects, enterprises and people wanting to create a community. It also has a reputation for antisocial behaviour and is one of the poorest areas in the city. Armley Town Street has seen a decline in local and independent shops and a rise in Booze Bins and Bookies. There are visible problems associated with drugs and alcohol. These issues can’t be ignored, but Armley should not be defined by them.

There is a lot of good stuff happening; thankfully Armley is not short of proactive, community minded people, starting with our very own Lady Majoress; Emma Bearman. Self-appointed in 2005, Emma was and still is a driving force in community life in Armley. Emma’s enterprise Playful Leeds has its roots firmly here, with the first PlayBox being developed on Charlie Cake Park.

Emma started the Armley Good Stuff Facebook page as a platform for people to share positive things about the area, and a glance at that confirms there is so much going on to get involved in: Armley Walkies, Friends of Armley and Gotts Park Group, Armley Common Rights Trust, Singing Group, The Real Junk Food Project, All Together Armley, Armley Mills and a WI Group forming; the encouraging list goes on.

Armley is lucky to have an abundance of green and public spaces, which is something its people care about preserving; Armley Moor, Armley Park, Gott’s Park, Charlie Cake Park, Moor Top… Armley Common Rights Trust is a well established group in this field, and last year I was part of setting up The Friends of group for Armley and Gott’s Park. We want to make the parks more welcoming and community minded, with safe and fun places to play, establishing community gardening and volunteering projects to bring people together and feel invested within their community.

Food and drink are an important part of community life, and Armley has rarely boasted enough quality cafes, pubs and restaurants. We don’t have any chain coffee shops or cool independents. But the situation is slowly changing with The Crypt café, Love and Light Tearoom and Lainey’s Teashop at Gotts Mansion. Still we need more.

When the Co-op closed its doors last year, it brought about an awareness of the need to shop locally and support independent stores. Skelton’s Butchers has been trading on Town Street for over 30 years and we have a new addition of a Kurdish supermarket that has a great selection fresh fruit and veg, baklava, jars and halal. But many would rather travel into Town or nearby Kirkstall for a drink or meal, when there is the opportunity to create a hub to remain here.

Through working locally within the Third Sector, I understand the importance of cohesion and public pride within a community. I think one of the most successful ways of doing this is through creativity and art. I very much enjoy walking past Modes of Expressions mural on the chip shop at the top of Armley Moor, which always brightens my day. Apparently 1 in every 20 adults is a creative Arts type person; this is a massive asset in all communities, and one which needs nurturing.

Positive change comes about through people taking action and ensuring as much social inclusion as possible. Thankfully in Armley there is a desire to do this; people are thinking outside of the box and I am hopeful for positive change. However almost all of the groups mentioned are volunteer run and the speed of change has been slow. Communities need people who are prepared to invest some time in their local area. As members of the public we get out what we put in. Invest some time in your local area.