Leeds suburb's 'forgotten spaces' transformed during lockdown

Residents of a Leeds suburb have been transforming its ‘forgotten spaces’ over lockdown - and are now attracting national interest for their work. Chris Burn reports.

One of the newly-painted roadside boxes.

People living in the sought-after suburb of Chapel Allerton in Leeds had already been busy brightening up their area for the past three years but things have moved into a new gear over the past few months as lockdown left people with more time on their hands.

Now the work of those involved in non-profit community group CA Spaces to plant more trees and introduce street art is garnering interest from similar residents’ organisations around Leeds and across the UK.

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CA Spaces co-founder and committee member Angie Talbot says: “We started out in 2017 just looking to add a bit more love to forgotten little corners of Chapel Allerton.

A mud kitchen has been created on previously unused land in Chapel Allerton.

“We planted two trees which were donated and had such a great response from the community we started to do more and more.

“During the pandemic some people have had more time on their hands and we’re been able to do lots more planting and more street art.”

The organisation has a small committee and is run entirely by volunteers in Chapel Allerton, which in 2018 was named by The Sunday Times in its annual Best Places to Live guide.

Funding for the CA Spaces projects has come from a crowd-funder, local businesses and small grants.

Hundreds of trees were donated by Leeds City Council and Leeds Community Orchard and were planted in the local park and on pieces of waste land by volunteers.

Talbot says: “We were delighted when the council donated so many trees but daunted at the task of getting them all planted. We were amazed, relieved and grateful that so many volunteers came forward to help with the planting. It will be great to see them grow over the years.”

After the huge response to a small street mural, a range of artists from some of the most experienced street artists in the UK to newly graduated art students were commissioned to paint colourful designs on media boxes, the large metal roadside boxes which store broadband wire connections.

So far more than 30 boxes have been painted in a variety of designs with some paid for by crowd-funding and some by donations from local businesses and residents.

Sarah Priestley, chair and co-founder of CA Spaces, explains: “Some of the media boxes in the area had been sprayed with graffiti and were really quite unsightly. Following suggestions from the community we commissioned a range of artists to paint their designs on some of them.

“It’s impossible to please all the people, all the time as they say, but we hope the different designs appeals to different section of our community. It’s great to now see individual streets clubbing together for media boxes in their street to be painted. They certainly brighten up the area, particularly on dull rainy days.”

CA Spaces volunteers have also built a children’s mud kitchen on a small piece of waste land which includes a number of features to support wildlife in the area such as a hedgehog home.

A Living Food Bank has been developed in the park and residents are invited to help themselves to the vegetables which have been grown.

They’ve also held a Seedling Exchange Day where gardeners were able to swap seedlings.

Priestley says it is wonderful to see how things have progressed in the area in a relatively short space of time.

“So much has been achieved in the last year, particularly during lockdown,” she says. “We’re amazed at how many enquiries we’ve had from other parts of the Leeds and the UK asking us how we’ve done it. We’re delighted the idea is spreading.”

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