It’s a story worthy of a musical.
Picture the scene. A boy plays piano during rehearsals at his local theatre. His gaze falls on one of the dancers and, in his words, it’s love at first sight.
Last month, the boy, Jamie Hudson, now 33, married the girl, Catherine, 26, at the very theatre venue – Yeadon Town Hall – where they first met.
Originally built in the 1880s, Yeadon Town Hall was once the cultural centre piece of the town before it fell into disrepair.Proving what a little love can do, Jamie became the venue’s managing director in 2017, formed a Community Interest Company (CIC), and not only saved it, but restored it to its former glory, fit for his wedding.
“It’s special because it’s where we met, but it was also perfect because of the incredible refurbishment of the building,” Jamie said.
His marriage was also a celebration of two-years graft, resulting in three new clock faces, 64 window repairs, 23 repaired stain glass windows, extensive roof repairs, full re-decoration, the installation of a new bar, new box office and new sound and lighting system. The venue is now the third largest theatre space in Leeds.
When it comes to setting up a social enterprise, particularly one operating in the Arts – a sector hit hard by the pandemic – it takes a certain drive, and Jamie has it in spades.
Aged 13, he got his first job as an organist, earning £50 a month, at Poole Parish Church. He had taken up the instrument on a whim after his parents enrolled him into the choir at Leeds Christ Church, and he fancied having a go on it.
Brought up in Horsforth, he went to St Aidan’s in Harrogate, a school known for its focus on the arts, and was encouraged into music. Jamie became the youngest trustee of the Royal Hall restoration project in Harrogate when he was just 18. He went on to do a music degree at Sheffield University.
“I realised at university that I was actually more pulled towards entertainment and the event side of things.”
He joined forces with his dad to run a sound and lighting company for the entertainment industry, with big clients such as Opera North. Jamie’s entrepreneurial drive also saw him set up Moo Frozen Yoghurt with a friend. “It was just a fun thing,” he said. “Who doesn’t love frozen yoghurt?”
Then came a pub for two years.
“Our warehouse for the sound and lighting company was part of a fantastic U-shaped building in Otley, we were in the stables that ran at the side, and at the front was a pub. The lease came up, so we took it on.”
Then Jamie turned his attention to the Otley Civic Centre, as the council sought expressions of interest to turn it into a venue for community use. His proposal to turn it into a theatre fell through after the local MP at the time disagreed with the plans, and the building was sold to developers.
When the same scenario came up at Yeadon Town Hall, Jamie knew he had to act. “Again, the council said, ‘what’s the plan for this building?’” Jamie explained. “There was a public consultation, and 500 people turned up and all said, it had to be saved.”
“The community’s expertise was invaluable, and there was a fantastic chap called Gerald Long who was born and bred in Yeadon, who really helped with the initial plans,” Jamie said.
A day before the plans were accepted, tragedy struck.
“Gerald died on the A1 in a car crash. A relation of his, Graham Smith, who is now our chairman, stepped in and lent the town hall some money to get the project going.”
The social investor, Key Fund, also saw the potential. They granted a £100,000 loan in 2018 which kick-started the internal repairs. Leeds City Council gave a grant of £750,000 to repair the exterior of the building, including its roof and clocktower.
Jamie said the social impact is crucial. “As a social enterprise, we need to make money to be a sustainable viable business, but profit is more than just financial; the venue is invaluable to the community.”
During its rich history, the Town Hall has been used as a meeting room space, community cinema, school rooms, a library, archive, concert hall and theatre. One of the highlights of the restoration include removing its 1950s ceiling in the redesigned bar area to reveal its original double-height Victorian ceilings and stained-glass windows, hidden for half a century.
The importance of its standing in the community was felt during the pandemic, when the Town Hall hosted a food bank and became a Covid-testing venue.
Councillor Mary Harland, Executive Member for Communities at Leeds City Council, said of the project: “Yeadon Town Hall was the centre of the town for over 140 years, and there’s a renewed appetite for the venue. The virus has taught us how much we rely on our local communities. As a hub, it’s brought the community closer during COVID-19 with its successful community markets, café and pop-up bar. It’s a fantastic asset, and promises to be a vital contribution to the local economy.”
Community activities include social groups for the elderly, with bingo, quizzes, and refreshments. Over 500 people a week attend its regular activities.
“It’s about reducing loneliness and isolation,” Jamie said. “We have fewer community buildings than ever, yet we’re building more residential houses. In this Netflix-era, I think people need real-life experiences; to socialise, to see live concerts and be part of something.”
Jamie has programmed a wide variety of events until December featuring comedy, variety clubs, community markets, brass bands, speciality acts and concerts, Oktoberfest, and of course its annual Christmas panto, which his wife and sister used to perform in. Tickets are selling fast.
Not content with the many challenges the town hall throws, Jamie also runs Vivo Entertainment, which hosts major outdoor shows. He set up Vivo Entertainment in 2020, just as the pandemic hit live events.
During this interview, Jamie was overseeing the arrival of a stage in the middle of Harewood Estate, juggling Alfie Boe’s rider, Sir Willard White’s transportation from Paris, and the dining requirements of the cast of Queen Symphonic for a three-day Yorkshire Proms extravaganza.
His concerts are also providing an artistic and commercial platform for the revived Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, which Jamie co-founded with conductor Ben Crick, to help freelance musicians hit hard by the pandemic. Yeadon Town Hall will be the official home of the new orchestra, which aims to be the musical and cultural voice for the north of England.
At 33, it’s a remarkable track record.
Despite a pandemic, and the many financial and logistical challenges, the show goes on. As Fred Astaire sang, there may be trouble ahead. But while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance…
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