An arty temple – with a model railway

Great acoustics at Temple Works, though it's not necessarily all that safe!
Great acoustics at Temple Works, though it’s not necessarily all that safe!

There’s a vast temple in Leeds where art meets architecture, peeling paint provides an edgy backdrop for music videos, ghosts scare the zombies and the last tram from Headingley makes a never-ending journey on teeny tiny rails.

Temple Works is just that, it’s temple-like, imitating the ancient Egyptian style in a way only Victorians ever could, and it’s a works. It started life as a flax mill, spending some time as headquarters for a catalogue company, having a few years in the doldrums, when some bits fell off and is now housing art and artists, with a view to becoming a social enterprise and ooo I love it!

It’s a Grade One Listed Building, meaning it’s very important historically and architecturally and not to be converted into a retail park, car parts and repairs emporia, faffed with in any way or demolished. So that leaves anyone who wants to move in with a challenge, not least financially.

Since 2009, the two-acre site has been privately owned and run by a company of visionaries, enthusiasts and those prepared to clean the toilets, to establish it as a mixed mode cultural venue, which to you and me means it houses and produces art in many different forms with ambitions to make it bigger and better.

With that wonderful left-field thinking and spectacles tinted every hue of the rainbow, the ‘Templars’, as I’m sure they aren’t known, have built up a steady portfolio of events and exhibitions, film sets and zombie dens, so much so that they are self-financing, but only of they do all the minor DIY themselves and, I suspect, don’t pay themselves huge wages. There’s also a number of artists working from what were small offices and toilet blocks. Seriously! Personally as someone who knows the location of every toilet between here and Chamonix, having the option of conveniences in my own workshop would make me sign on the dotted line immediately.

Some of the arty folk are very arty indeed, some of it I liked, such as the stained glass work, screen printing and photography, others, well, let’s leave it at that…Though the artists themselves are the real treasures. One had undergone gruelling treatment for cancer and, now in remission, with the love and support of her partner, was taking time out to do the art she’s always wanted to do – and very good it was too.

Phil Kirby, one of the Templars and a leading figure on the local arts scene, editing the city’s most popular blog, Culture Vulture, is wonderfully honest about Temple Art.

“Some of it’s great, but some of it isn’t, we don’t pretend it is, but we encourage and learn – and try. That’s what makes Temple Works different and special,” he said on a guided tour I gatecrashed, wearing my Exposure Leeds hat.

So with all this out-there arty stuff going on, it was a surprise to walk into a room of whirring and clicking with a steady background thrum of tiny engines. The Leeds Model Railway Society moved into one of the large, well-lit spaces, out from under the feet of patient partners who are no doubt glad they can have their spare room/attic/lounge back. A crazy mix, but somehow it all fits together.

For me and my arty farty photography, I homed in on the huge cavernous main room where flax was spun and light beamed down through dozens of glass domes on the roof. Fantastic light, great acoustics and if they ever re-make Blake’s 7, a gritty British sci-fi, thumbing its nose at the sanitised Star Trek, it has to be one of the sets.

More photos on my Flickr stream.

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