Leeds’ south bank is on the brink of some exciting new changes but how big of an impact will they have?
A new school might not sound as interesting as a huge arena or a shiny shopping centre, but the newest one set to open in Leeds this September could be a game-changer.
The Ruth Gorse Academy, a brand new free school that’s been granted twenty three million pounds in funding by the Department for Education, is looking to improve education in the city as well as starting the ball rolling for much needed regeneration in the south of the city.
Featuring a mix of affordable family housing, plenty of green space, a raft of jobs (in its construction and afterwards), leisure and community facilities, the south of Leeds city centre is set to be transformed with the new free school at the heart of it all.
Why do we need a new school?
It’s pretty straightforward – Leeds now has around 300 schools yet Ofsted reports suggest that standards in some of them aren’t up to scratch. That, alongside increasing demand, with a shortage of places available despite there being an estimated eleven thousand spaces by 2015.
Ruth Gorse Academy is aiming to buck that trend, but there’s a wider plan at work, which the new free school will be at the heart of. The Gorse Academies Trust and Leeds Sustainable Development Group have worked together to make the new educational institution a reality. However it’s the work of the latter group, alongside key members of Leeds Civic Trust, that shows just why the Ruth Gorse Academy has the potential to be a massive step for Leeds.
Kevin Grady, Director of Leeds Civic Trust, told us that the need for a school in the area to serve Holbeck, Hunslet and Beeston from their permanent site on Hunslet Road in 2016 (it will have a temporary base at The Morley Academy from September 2014) is vital in transforming these parts of Leeds.
“A 1500 place secondary school absolutely in the heart in Leeds, the first new school in Leeds city centre for decades, is very transformational,” explains Grady. “We think the whole area from the river southwards to the M62 leaves a master plan for a vision of what it’s going to be like – it needs to be connected to the inner city areas.”
Is there a precedent?
Areas such as Holbeck, Beeston and Hunslet are in need of a financial and social boost – they were once the heart of Leeds’ industrial power, but now they’re now littered with reminders of history rather than signs of development.
The aim is to bring together these areas as part of the wider city centre to prompt Leeds’ continued desire to be the biggest of cities. And Leeds isn’t the only place looking to see free schools and academies opened in metropolitan areas in the hope it creates positive change.
The Central Nottingham Free School has been proposed for up to 400 primary school children, while the New Islington Free School, also a primary, in Ancoats (on the cusp of the city centre, much like the new Leeds school will be) is set to open in a bid to turn Manchester’s old industrial heartland into a place to bring up families while making the most of city centre life.
It’s not all rosy though – the Al-Medinah free school in Derby had its name dragged through the gutter as it struggled through Oftsed reports and has now been ordered to close its secondary facilities down. Can Leeds buck the trend and lead the way?
A grand vision
There’s a belief that settling down means getting out of the city. But this is an idea that Leeds Sustainable Development Group are aiming to crush as they seek to bring the best of both worlds to the redeveloped south bank.
The aim of the project that begins with the school is to get away from the thought that the money is only way to enjoy the bright lights of the city. It can show there is a way of living in, and having all the things a city centre offers on your doorstep while not sacrificing the essentials you need for family life.
“If you actually have this vision and master plan that goes right up to where people are, then they’re going to be very interested in what’s going to happen across the road – you involve people” Kevin Grady makes clear. “The moment you bring them together and you say the development is going to be going on near to where you are and that you’re going to be a part of it, that’s a very different perspective.”
It’s something vitally needed too. While the school opens up this September, its main campus will open in 2016, on the site of the former Yorkshire Chemicals plant, a stone’s throw away from The Tetley. Having a spade in the ground will show potential developers and investors that there is now a plan coming together that will see the areas of Holbeck, Hunslet and Beeston become a part of the wider city centre thinking.
And this is why the school is so vital to the south bank. It’s opening is a sign that the infrastructure is in place for people to get the most out of Leeds, while also living in a part of town that has a sense of community, and most importantly all the bare necessities needed.
What realistic impact will it have?
It’s safe to say that this is the kind of rounded focus and investment that the south bank has needed for decades. As Kevin Grady was keen to point out, gone are the days where a plan like this is half-fulfilled.
“We had this concept which focused on city centre south and the Leeds Sustainable Development Group in one sense would look at the whole city” he explains. “I said to David (Lumb, Coordinator of LSDG) that there’s this area here ripe for regeneration likely to get over run by miscellaneous building developments. When the boom comes back, it needs coherent planning.”
And it seems that’s exactly what it’s got. With the school being firmly a part of the area’s future, it will soon happen that plans are put in place for new areas of housing and the redevelopments of areas that have long since lost their purpose.
It’s been a long time coming, but it finally seems like a plan is coming together that is set to improve areas that are in dire need of it. At the heart of it all, is the Ruth Gorse Academy – if that proves a success then Leeds could well be on the way to proving itself as a forward-thinking city as well as gaining a south bank that flourishes once again.