A regeneration project to the south of Leeds city centre, Holbeck Urban Village targeted high-end creative and digital start-ups and new residents to luxury and quirky apartments in refurbished historical foundries and mills. The area was also on the border of Holbeck, a residential community experiencing high levels of deprivation and had previously been a no-man's land between the affluent city centre and communities in the south with large areas of derelict factories and mills.

In addition to the challenges of differing demographics, the area was also badly affected by the start of the recession with many sites that had once been scheduled for development and regeneration becoming closed off wastelands, adding to a feel of separation between the two areas. My brief was to find ways of bringing these two seemingly disparate audiences together and creating a new sense of community and common ground that could encourage the new and established communities to integrate.

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Wonderwood at Holbeck Urban Village


Working with local press agency Anita Morris Associates, I developed a campaign built around a weekend of gardening activities from greening your office space and creating office herb gardens, to planting borders and flower beds in the local community with Holbeck In Bloom, Beetle Drive tournaments and plant swaps along the river banks.

In order to ensure that the events would have a life beyond the weekend I worked with Leeds City Council’s team who were originally sceptical about restoring allotments in Holbeck which had previously been vandalised. They agreed to clear a small number of plots and as part of the weekend of activities we hosted a BBQ and open day for all local people from both Holbeck and Holbeck Urban Village to encourage take up of the allotments and therefore the start of a small community including both residential groups.

We also created a habitat design competition calling on architects to submit ideas for how the natural environment could be preserved and conserved during and after development. The competition had entries from India, London, San Francisco and Leeds as well as from architects and school groups allowing us to encourage people to take a closer look at the area and resulting in an exhibition of entries to encourage people to come together and discuss how they would like to see it develop.

Finally, in response to the stalled development we commissioned The Culture Company and Amenity Space architects to create a temporary park on a dormant site, thus creating the first ever meanwhile space in Leeds. With a tight budget of just 10,000 and a not altogether convinced developer we were able to negotiate a small area of land for a temporary three-month pocket park, which became known as Wonderwood, providing a place for the businesses and residents to dwell without having to buy anything and giving the community a focal point and a reason to leave their homes and socialise. The project garnered national recognition from CABE, BBC, and the Guardian prompting questions about the temporary use of empty sites and what city's could do to respond to vacant lots creating community despite the recession. The project was also nominated for a Leeds Architecture Award, rubbing shoulders with multi-million pound projects.

Throughout the weekend of activities we met with more than 1,000 people who came from both communities and who attended events in both Holbeck and Holbeck Urban Village meeting their neighbours and building new connections. Leeds’ first ever meanwhile space is still there more than seven years later and has paved the way for many more developers to consider not just meanwhile use of their plots but also the role of public spaces in their final developments incorporating more active uses, more dwell spaces and improvements to landscape design.


holbeck urban gardening weekend & Wonderwood meanwhile space commission
Main Image: A wild flower meadow planted on wasteland at Holbeck
Left image: Wonderwood detail, image courtesy of David Foster
Right image: Wonderwood, image courtesy of David Foster