Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
The latest recipient of a Leeds Civic trust blue plaque is The Holbeck. Known by most people as the Holbeck Working Men’s Club, it is the oldest such club in the country.
It began life in 1871 as a community organisation with less than a hundred members. Into the 20th century, it grew and grew although it wasn’t until 1959 that “lady members” were admitted. It was a social centre where people gathered to talk, relax, quench their thirst, play sports and be entertained. One of its claims to fame is that an act turned up one day and did their stuff, but the committee was not impressed and decided not to book them again. Their names were Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise!
Then, unfortunately, began a slow decline, along with working men’s clubs up and down the country for a variety of social and other reasons. A few years ago, the club was at very serious risk of closing altogether, until the community stepped in. Thanks to the dedicated hard work of Dennis, Ian and a team of unpaid volunteers, the club stayed open. And earlier this year Slung Low – our local theatre company – agreed to move into the club and secure its financial future. It’s a partnership – thanks Alan – from which everyone will gain.
So, one Thursday evening recently, we gathered outside the club to witness the unveiling of the plaque, listen to songs from the Commoners Choir, hear a special commemorative poem written by Ian McMillan and toast an extraordinary story of living history.
Rising obesity among children is a national problem. Carried into adulthood, obesity can lead to a number of medical problems including diabetes. Leeds decided to do something about this by trying to work with reception-age children and their families, and the latest figures show that the city is having some success. The percentage of four and five-year-olds in Leeds who are obese has fallen from 9.4% to 8.8% while remaining unchanged in similar cities.
And how has this happened? By running a healthy families group programme focusing on diet, physical activity and setting goals. This includes one-to-one work, developing parent champions and using volunteers. The Public Health Team of the city council has now trained over 1,400 people to deliver these programmes. And because Leeds has kept all its 57 children centres open, staff are also promoting this initiative by working together with health visitors and the Leeds Community Healthcare trust.
The new concourse at Leeds station is really coming along. After months of unsightly scaffolding and disruption, the new translucent roof is a thing of beauty to behold. It floods the station with light and has given the whole place a much-needed lift. For the last three weeks, the front has been off the station while they construct the new entrance. The project will also see the ticket gates moved to improve passenger flow and reduce congestion during peak times. A big thank you to Network Rail, Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, but it’s only a start. Wait until HS2 arrives!
So here are three different stories about change for the better. It’s rather too easy to decry the state of things and suggest that no one in responsibility really cares. It’s just not true. In my job, every day, I meet people who care passionately about what they do and are determined to play their part in improving things for others. So, here’s a chance for all of us to say to all of those behind these three stories “Thank you and well done.”