I always find it interesting to see what happens when buildings that have previously been used for the production of something are changed following the demise of that industry. Will the change add to the public realm, provide something new that people want to visit or will it be completely demolished so there is nothing left of what had once stood there, or perhaps converted into cold offices or flats? Wherever you go around the country there are many examples both good and bad as our economic base has shifted over the last few decades. In Leeds, The Corn Exchange and the City Museum I like although the Corn Exchange has for me not found the right use for the splendour of it’s conversion while a trundle down the M1 takes you to one of my favourites in the region Magna. I felt privileged therefore to be invited by Culture Vultures to the first peep behind the scene of The Tetley to see what has happened since the controversial close down of the brewery.
It felt quite strange walking down past the Adelphi pub toward where the brewery stood not very long ago. Where there was once all the hallmarks and smells of the brewery with thousands of barrels stacked up outside now there is just a large car park, some newly created patch of green space and the main building that used to be the headquarters. Walking under the gorgeous wrought iron Joshua Tetley & Sons sign the entrance is the original beautiful wooden revolving door which gave a hint as to how the building has been converted.
The new Tetley is going to be serving up a very different brew when it opens it’s doors officially on 29 November when it will become a contemporary art exhibition and learning space and we had the architect and directors to show us around after a drink at the new bar of course. I’ll get my one disappointment out of the way at this point, the bar was serving Tetley beer which personally I found pretty insulting but the building is still tied to the Carlsberg conglomerate which dictates what can be sold but for me, shipping the production elsewhere and getting rid of the workers then selling the beer back in a bar in the place where they used to make it is not tasteful in more ways than one. Besides the beer the bar is pretty cool and links through to a new restaurant / canteen which will be serving food from a menu designed by Anthony Flynn (remember him folks).
The bar and eatery are one thing but it’s the conversion of the rest of the building and the art space that I was particularly interested in. It could have been gutted completely leaving nothing of the original feature but instead they have done what the architect described as a collage effect whereby new elements and remodelling work have been layered and integrated with the original features. The ground floor is a case in point, light modern bar area which you access via the old revolving doors and wood panelled reception area. There is a beautiful old lift and they have kept the war memorial to the workers from the Brewery who fought and died. Remodelling work has created a large open atrium space around the beautiful (in my eyes) art deco staircase which takes you up to the first floor art space. Here there is a real mix of spaces that, if cleverly curated, will be great to wander around. The large central space is thoroughly modern but ringing it are range of offices, again full of wood panelling some with brass name plates still on the door. Inside one of the rooms were the old wooden letters that had once stood proud above the brewery (see the E at the top of the post). The directors explained that they have discovered loads of artefacts from the brewery that they are going to catalogue and curate at some point in the future.
The first floor gallery will showcase new cutting edge contemporary art while the second floor is going to be a learning space where classes and family activities will take place. This will be interesting I think to see how children and families can be integrated into the activity of the gallery. The Hepworth in Wakefield has been brilliant at this since it opened and is somewhere I go regularly because it mixes interesting exhibitions with clever involved guides and activities that my children can enjoy. It has set a high bar in this regard and I’m excited to see if the Tetley can deliver on this aspect as in general, in Leeds in my opinion, the galleries are poor at this. The signs from the Tetley are positive though judging by the early programme of activities.
I left feeling uplifted and hoping that this new venue can become a thriving success on the Leeds scene. A new brew indeed and I’ll drink to that, cheers.