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Wasted Space: The Dark Arches

· Joseph Sheerin · Discussion

Dark Arches at night

Repurposing railway arches is nothing new – you can head to any major metropolis and see them filled with all kinds of businesses. But are we making the most of it in Leeds?

Although Leeds’ railway arches are home to some incredible businesses, the majority of them are either out of use or worse, misused. You only have to look at the car park arches on Dark Neville Street and the empty Cockpit venue to see what we mean. And it’s a crying shame, because these unique architectural spaces could hold a host of unique enterprises.

What’s the Precedent?

Bilbao, Leeds

Leeds is blessed with some quality tenants in the railway arches that are already in use. The prime example is over at Granary Wharf, where these businesses create a social hub, helping to make the riverside location a destination in itself.

The Hop and Livin’Italy have been joined by Bilbao Bar in the past twelve months. All have merged a successful business concept with intriguing design work to fill a unique architectural space, making the most of features that are a little out of the ordinary.

Further along the railway line that cuts through Leeds city centre, Mission have been at the forefront of the North’s house music scene for years, making use of no less than six arches.

Latitude have become one of the city’s leading independents on The Calls out of their own sub-railway dwelling. All of these have become renowned and respected businesses in their own right.

Put to Better Use

Holbeck Underground Ballroom, Leeds

But it’s one of the more innovative establishments that really proves the versatility of these arched spaces. The Hub opened up at the end of 2012, taking over five arches in Holbeck. Home of Slung Low, a Leeds based theatre company, with rehearsal and performance spaces that attract national touring productions, it’s gained a reputation for cutting edge theatre.

The HUB’s success is difficult to replicate, and we wouldn’t expect all of Leeds’ archways could go down a similar path, but it’s certainly a source of inspiration. By tying together historical spaces with a unique proposition and real independent spirit, there’s a pathway to follow.

What Can Be Done?

Dark Arches, Leeds

The fact that those old arches on Dark Neville Street by Granary Wharf are still being used as a car park after all this time proves that they’re not being made the most of. Over a decade ago, the area was one of the most unique and creative retail spaces in the city, with a weekly market taking place.

Across the city, these arches are being left completely empty, bar for their considerable potential which remains stagnant. Even the former Cockpit venue lies empty, with no set plans for its future.

The owner of these arches is Network Rail and it feels like there’s an amazing opportunity about to present itself to them. The completion of the southern entrance to Leeds Train Station  is nearing, and with it will come an increase in footfall to the area. Perhaps the opportunity to capitalise on that will be the push they need to let the Dark Arches fulfill their potential.

Dark Arches, Leeds

These one-off spaces are full of character – something many businesses would chop their arm off for – and with the recent growth of Leeds city centre, such units would surely be welcomed with open arms.

Or what if the Dark Arches returned to their previous purpose, as a home to market traders and street food vendors. The success of Belgrave Feast, Brandon Street Night Market and Leeds Dock Market prove it’s a popular concept, while the recent penchant to use the cells beneath the Town Hall as a venue shows that the Dark Arches have real potential as an unforgettable event space.

Either way, it’s time the Dark Arches returned to the light, becoming an integral part of the city’s social landscape once more.

Bilbao photo courtesy of Ollievision