'God has surprising things for Holbeck' - Yorkshire filmmaker Brett Chapman documents the transformation of a proud Leeds working men's club

Footage from The Holbeck. Credit: Brett Chapman.
Footage from The Holbeck. Credit: Brett Chapman.

It is believed to be the oldest working men's club in the country, but when Yorkshire filmmaker Brett Chapman set out to document a bold campaign to transform The Holbeck in Leeds, few would have called it the busiest.

Mr Chapman, 31, has released Standing in the Rain, which charts Leeds-based theatre group Slung Low's journey from novice bar managers to fully-fledged organisers at the club, which takes its name from the neighbourhood it serves in the south of the city.

Sheffield-based filmmaker Brett Chapman.

Sheffield-based filmmaker Brett Chapman.

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Amid fading fortunes - the club opened in 1877 and once had a membership of thousands - the small troupe joined forces with locals, spending months getting to grips with how to run the place.

As well as manage the bar, Slung Low has built an open development space for artists and a place where other companies can present their work to audiences on a 'pay-as-you-feel' basis.

Mr Chapman followed their progress, and the documentary concludes with a successful cabaret night - which features RuPaul's Drag Race UK star Divina De Campo, who is from Brighouse - in March last year.

The Holbeck. Credit: Brett Chapman.

The Holbeck. Credit: Brett Chapman.

The filmmaker was invited to shoot a promotional clip for Slung Low after working with the group on Flood, an immersive play performed on water during Hull's reign as UK City of Culture in 2017, but he instead suggested a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the move (which can be viewed here).

Mr Chapman, who lives in Crookes in Sheffield, said he told the company: "I will make an honest piece of work about what the process is but need you to agree that I will have editorial control of it.

"Amazingly, they agreed to it.

"There were some moments in it they maybe feel like they don't come out in the best [way].

Slung Low artistic director Alan Lane. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Slung Low artistic director Alan Lane. Picture: Simon Hulme.

"What I hope it shows is they have done this incredible, positive thing."

Slung Low's artistic director Alan Lane said: "I think probably the best documentary-makers - and I think he's one of the most exciting this county has at the minute - is that they're sensitive.

"A real skill is they sort of sidle in and you don't really notice them."

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Divina De Campo at The Holbeck. Credit: Brett Chapman.

Divina De Campo at The Holbeck. Credit: Brett Chapman.

He added: "It's a sign of his craft and skill that, not only did we not mind, but we were overjoyed with the story that he's told.

"Nobody's interested in watching marketing and I don't think anybody could accuse this of being marketing. We look exhausted and we couldn't pull a pint, either."

Members tell Mr Chapman in talking head interviews how some felt hesitant to let new people in, and shows Slung Low moving from its space down the road to the Jenkinson Lawn club.

From November 2018, they had to learn how to pull pints, have uncomfortable conversations with members during committee meetings and, ultimately, win over the locals.

In the film, member Eve Tidswell says: "We've been praying for six years for something like this to happen. We didn't know what it would be. We would never, ever have guessed that this would be the answer - but God has surprising things for Holbeck."

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The documentary's name is taken from a quote in the 19-minute film, when Mr Lane addresses the concerns of members.

He says: "There is a bit of: 'Hang on, why are you doing this? Who are you and what are you going to do to our thing?'

"But that's always been the way. With everything we do, we get that.

"'Why are you here? We don't normally have people like you here'. And the only way you ever win the argument is by standing in the rain and you just keep standing, and you make your promises, and then you live up to them and at some point they stop hating you."

As club member Margaret Nutter tells viewers: "It's like you've got a baby and you've nurtured it for so long and then you're hanging it over - but you're handing it over for the best reasons."

Slung Low has four core organisers and now a team of bar staff, too.

Mr Lane stresses that the company is supported by The Holbeck's 12 committee members, who kept the club going for years before the new management.

"Those guys are heroes," he said.

Mr Chapman has been a full-time freelance filmmaker since 2016 after graduating in 2009 from the University of Sheffield, where he trained in journalism.

But he was born in Barnsley, and said he has his own "incredible, fond memories" of growing up in working men's clubs, hanging about in snooker rooms, noticing how "everyone knew each other".

He said: "They were incredibly important and useful places in that context. If the context has changed then we need to find new ways to utilise and maintain those spaces in the best way we can."