Cool runnings with parkrun Leeds

Running clubs can be intimidating places, full of people with no body fat engaged in a superfitness contest. But Ian Rosser tells goodforleeds about a volunteer-led event which genuinely welcomes and encourages all comers.

It’s Christmas Day. The clock strikes 9am as snow drifts gently to the ground.

Most residents of Leeds are either still snuggled up in bed or unwrapping the presents that Santa left.

So why am I standing, freezing cold in shorts and a t-shirt, with 55 others in Hyde Park? It’s simple: I have the parkrun bug, and so do they.

Every Saturday morning (barring injuries or family commitments) I line up with hundreds of runners, joggers and walkers in Woodhouse Moor, just behind the University of Leeds, to take part in the 5km event.

We are counted down from three – and another parkrun is underway. The really fast lads and lasses bomb along the downhill path at the start, followed by those not quite so fast.

Nationally, there are dozens and dozens of parkruns. There are four in Leeds alone: Woodhouse Moor, Roundhay, Beeston and Temple Newsam.

Founded in London nine years ago, parkrun has since spread around the globe, linking Leeds up with countries including Denmark, Australia, Poland, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA.

On one Saturday in November, more than 50,000 runners completed a parkrun, overseen by a combined 3,675 volunteers.

finishIn my six years of doing parkruns, I have watched in awe as Olympic and World Championship athletes Alistair Brownlee and Susan Partridge raced away from the field. I have seen top club runners going “eyeballs out” to set a new personal best. I have also seen mums and dads push those three-wheeled prams around the undulating course. One chap always finished quickly having juggled all the way around.

My highest admiration, though, have been for those who spend the longest time getting around. They aren’t elite athletes, but they are the gutsiest people on the course.

I I first did parkrun in 2008, although the Woodhouse event started a year earlier.  There were 80 of us, and the vast majority were already signed up with running clubs.

Today, about 400 runners take part. The majority are not with clubs. I assume they take part for the same reasons I do – it’s fine to run on your own, but it’s great to run with other people, whatever their age or ability.

There’s a genuine sense of camaraderie amongst those present: applause for juniors doing their 10th run; recognition for adults on their 50th, 100thor even 250th run; the loudest applause for those about to attempt their first-ever parkrun.

Another big pulling point about the event is that it’s free. Staffed entirely by volunteers, parkruns rely solely on the goodwill of kind-hearted souls in yellow reflective jackets to set up the start and finish, marshall the course and time the results. It’s as well-run as any of the dozens of paid-for races that I have taken part in over the years.

Being part of parkrun means you are part of a far-reaching community. So when you gather behind the start line, waiting for the countdown, you know you have 50,000 kindred spirits across the globe willing you on.

Ian Rosser

parkrun Leeds is every Saturday morning at 9am. It is free to enter but you must register in advance at http://www.parkrun.org.uk/leeds/

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Cakes, coffee and confidence at the Courtyard Cafe

It is very rare to be able to say that a café is run as much for its employees as for its customers (and not mean customers are treated as an intrusion!), but the Courtyard Café is such a place.

Its sharp looks (a range of modern furniture, contemporary colour scheme)  and clientele (groups of young parents with prams and people like me reading a paper) would be at home on the high street of any affluent suburb. Which is just as well, as it sits at the top of Horsforth town street, which offers a few food and drink options to residents of what one of my friends who was brought up there insists is ‘England’s largest village’.*

The menu isn’t full of surprises or particularly extensive, but the food is plentiful, tasty and offers good value for a decent lunch or a quick coffee and cake. But while the customer experience is central to the Courtyard Café’s business model, it’s the experience gained by its staff that sets it apart from the competition.

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Courtyard Café was set up as a social enterprise just over 12 months ago to offer support and care for people with learning disabilities after Leeds City Council – which part-funds the café through a grant – closed local day care centres.

The Courtyard’s manager, Jenna Peel, explained the model. They currently have 28 volunteers with learning disabilities, typically working 1 or 2 days a week fulfilling all the roles front of house and cooking roles in a café.

There is no specific length of volunteering placement, but the goal is to build the confidence and competence to ultimately find paid work, something which Jenna believes will happen very soon.

 “We’ve just celebrated our first anniversary and many of the café’s employees are ready; there are some really competent and employable people. And it is more than just café or food prep work work; they are really confident and customer-focused.

“You can definitely see a change in people. We have a few people who were quite scared to start with. Within the first few weeks confidence builds, and their personality starts to come out. All the volunteers enjoy coming. They take responsibility to come here themselves and enjoy it.”

The enthusiasm, pride and involvement of the two volunteers today – Daniel and Catherine – certainly reinforces Jenna’s point.

And there is more than the Courtyard Café’s employment policy to recommend it as goodforleeds. The company is committed to ‘Honest Ethical Local’ principles. All the ingredients are locally and organically sourced, something which is easier to do with meat and bread than the fruit and veg. Remarkably, Jenna tells me,  England’s largest village doesn’t have its own independent grocers! Jenna says the ‘Local’ appreciation is reciprocated:

“We’ve had a really good reaction from people who come into the café. They seem really glad we are here.”

The menu has just changed to mark the café’s second year, but it all remains home-made – and regulars will be pleased to know that the range of quiches and cakes have survived the overhaul.

*My rudimentary research into this suggests that Horsforth is not alone in claiming this title!

The Courtyard Cafe
96 Town Street
Horsforth
Leeds
LS18 4AP

Phone: 07805 640 009
Blog: http://www.thecourtyardcafe.blogspot.co.uk
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Court_Yard_Cafe
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/horsforthcafe

Bramley Baths get active in the community

In our first guest blog, Ben Whittington tells us why his community-owned local swimming pool is good for Bramley.
I’ve been a resident of Bramley for nearly three years now. We moved to the area because of the good railway link to Leeds and also because we loved the house we went on to buy – an edwardian terrace house in need of a lot of work but, despite the abuse it had suffered over the years, still retained an underlying charm. Despite the brutal unsympathetic redevelopment that occurred in the 60s and 70s Bramley itself still retains a fair amount of buildings from this period, the most iconic of them being Bramley Baths.
Photo by Spherical Boy

Photo by Spherical Boy

The Baths has recently been saved from closure by a local community group (The Friends Of Bramley Baths) and not only have they managed to keep the pool open by taking over the running of it from the council they’re also passionate about what the Baths can offer the community, and this really shines through when visiting. The lobby has been redecorated and and now features a variety of photographs some of which were taken in the early nineteen hundreds and along with the staff who work there give the impression that ‘The Friends’ recognise how important the history of the pool is to the area and want to celebrate that too. The baths also seem much cleaner than they did when they were run by the council and the prices are cheaper than most places. As well as the swimming pool there is a Russian Steam room, a gym and a variety of fitness classes.SUBMERGED 99

Photo by Lizzie Coombes

I would encourage all residents of Bramley and even people further afield to give the Baths a try, it’s one of the last remaining Edwardian Bath Houses in the country and not only does it feature amazing vintage charm it’s now being run on a not-for-profit basis by people in the community for people in the community and I feel that that is something well worth supporting.
 Ben is a graphic designer who also blogs about beer. Follow him on twitter @ben_whittington .

Bramley Baths is on Broad Lane, Bramley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS13 3DF.

Tel: 0113 214 6000

Follow them on twitter @bramleybaths or find them on facebook.

Mint Cafe and North Lane – holding off a chain store massacre

When I spoke with a friend about this ‘goodforleeds’  blog concept a few weeks ago, she enthused about the ‘lovely independents that make life in Leeds richer just by existing’, and hoped it would cover these alongside the new(ish) breed of social enterprises.

And as a resident of Headingley, there was only one place to start. North Lane – which runs between Otley Road and the cricket ground – appears to be at the centre of an epic tussle for the soul of our high street.

Sandwiched between the chain supermarkets and convenience stores, the big bars and all the gaudy takeaways which feed those spilling out of them, you can find a host of very popular independent businesses.  These include the locally-cherished RK Harris grocers, the butcher next door, an artisan baker, a health food shop owned by scores of locals as a cooperative, and a range of independent coffee shops and eateries.

My friend’s favourite of these, Mint Café, has been serving a menu of largely Lebanese and Mediterranean food – and great coffee – at lunch and dinner for two years.  So I went to Mint to test some of the theories about what makes ‘indies’ good for Leeds.

Marcos Mint

The perception is that the one-offs offer a different or unique product, meaning all our high streets don’t look and feel exactly the same, and the owner/manager’s passion and presence gives a more personal and satisfying customer experience.

Mint’s owner, Marcos Dakka, certainly passes the customer service test; a warm welcome and as much chat as you want about the area and his menu before he is pulled away to clear a table, take an order, make a coffee or any of the other jobs that fall to the manager of small operations.

Judging by the twenty-plus very empty plates cleared off over Sunday lunchtime, the locals share my love for the menu which Marcos and his chef, who grew up together in the same Lebanese village, have developed. Meals like Shawarmas (marinated meat strips) and the cracking batata harra (potato slices, garlic, coriander, chilli & hummus) are authentic and different enough to stand out in Headingley’s packed market place.  A chef’s special plate containing both these (£9.99) filled two of us on a Sunday lunch.

I was a bit surprised that Marcos doesn’t feel threatened by the ever-growing competition out on North Lane.  He relies on a discerning and loyal customer base not to have their heads turned by the offer of a full pizza for £2.50. In fact, he can’t imagine leaving the place, even for cheaper rent in town.

 “Headingley is a great place to be, because the local people really value and support independents, so it’s better for us than moving to somewhere else even if it would mean much cheaper rent.”

Mint brings more than a fresh set of spicing to LS6; they host music and entertainment nights, the most recent of which gave customers the chance to see flamenco dancers at what must be very close quarters in such a small shop.

But quality, value, a unique experience and customer service are only half the story.

Money spent in independents stays closer to home than that spent in a chain. The owners will usually source from other local businesses (also reducing the environmental footprint), tend to live and therefore spend their profits in the same area, and can’t afford the sort of accountants who can effectively declare one small corner of your high street a tax haven. According to the New Economic Foundation, chains are also quicker to close stores in a recession.  So an independent presence means more variety, more resilience and more cash in communities.

Mint delivers on these criteria too. Marcos talked me through the products on the counter.  All his fruit, veg, eggs and many other ingredients are bought from other independent businesses on North Lane, the meat is from a Halal butcher down the road by the university, and his pastries are from Croissant D’or in Rawdon. Aside from packaged crisps and drinks, only the baklava has had a motorway journey, because there isn’t enough room in the kitchen to make their own.

As we get talking about what makes a business good for its community, Marcos walks me round the shop to show that Mint really values its connection to the local community. Local artists’ and enterprises’ work and products are on display and for sale. Marcos lives locally and shops in all the other local independents, whose staff and owners also all seem to eat in Mint, giving the impression that they are a bit like a supportive family.

As an aside there’s also a big commitment to re-use running from Mint’s retro shop right through to a counter made by a designer (unfortunately, not from Leeds) who specializes in creating heavy duty, recycled products.

The glorification of independent cafes over mass dining experiences will always lead to some charges of snobbery. But whenever I have been in a big bar or chain restaurant, I often find myself reading marketing literature which describes how their thousand franchises are all built on the values, passion for great product and customer service for which an original version was so celebrated.

They’ve rarely achieved the faintest echo of what they describe. So if we really want the kind of charming, personal experience, coupled with the great value food and drink they say the original offered, then surely we are far more likely to find it in independents and one-offs like Mint than we are in a chain in a retail park or shopping centre?

Gareth

Mint Café, 33 North Lane, Leeds LS6 3HW
Opens
Monday to Friday from 11am to 10pm
Saturday 10am – 7pm           Sunday 11am – pm
tel: 0113 226 48 43               email: mint-cafe@hotmail.com
Website:     http://mint-cafe.co.uk/
twitter       @mintcafeleeds or find them on facebook mint café Leeds

Help us get the business we deserve

In recession or recently post-recession Britain, the dynamic between public, private and voluntary sectors is changing, with all expected to work together to meet our biggest social challenges in a more ‘civic-minded’ partnership. Yet we’re never far away from stories of businesses and other organisations doing the exact opposite.

But when we’re bemoaning  the cloning or boarding up of our high streets, ‘McJobs’ replacing careers,  a lack of opportunities for young people or those on the margins of society, local suppliers being squeezed or undermined by cheaper imports,  we have to ask how our behaviour as consumers is contributing to the scenario.

At the risk of oversimplifying centuries of evolving economic theory, in a supply and demand economy it is we, the consumers, who are in control.  Businesses and service providers take a lead from us; if we care enough about something for it to affect our consumer patterns, then the markets will respond. Organics, recycled and Fairtrade goods were initially met with scepticism only for consumer behaviour to take them from the niche margins to the mainstream.

So goodforleeds’ mission is to join the many catalysts to this change in consumer behaviour. We want to find, celebrate and encourage others to value and use the businesses and organisations which give us a social benefit as well as financial profit, which bring prosperity to Leeds as well as themselves. We’ll start in the obvious places; the social enterprises which offer a great product or experience while trying to solve a social problem – from reducing crime and rebuilding lives to using local suppliers and paying a living wage. But we’re leaving the definition loose because we want to be surprised, challenged and to learn what ‘good for Leeds’ really means.

We need your help, which you can give to us in one of three ways:

Recommend a business or service which is ‘goodforleeds’. If you don’t have the time to contribute, tell us about the enterprises, businesses or services we should be taking a closer look at.

Contribute We need a stable of contributors spread across the city who can use a new business or service every month or two, but we are more than happy to get one-offs, especially if they’re in areas of the city or types of product we’re yet to feature.

You’ll need to do a little more than report the consumer experience; we need to know about the quality, accessibility and value for money of the product, but we also need to find out a bit more about what makes the organisation special. Don’t be put off if you’ve never blogged, reported or interviewed anyone before; we have and we’re able to help.

Comment Join the conversation. Tell is if you think we’re right or wrong; if we’re brilliant or barking up the wrong tree; or whether we’re closing your eyelids rather than opening your mind.

Get in touch through email good4leeds@gmail.com , twitter @good4leeds or simply give us a quick post telling us why you love the business or service in the good for Leeds directory and map.

The magical world of waste

Since 2006, SCRAP has been turning anything and everything that businesses throw away into play and art resources.

This means that their first floor warehouse off Kirkstall Road plays host to what must be a unique collection of textiles, buttons,  lenses, test tubes, balls, stencils and many oddities whose origin is at first more difficult to discern; the inside of sticky tapes, springs from inside mattresses, plumbing parts, moulds of torsos and limbs,  and the pattern templates from inside looms. More than 50 local businesses as diverse as Agfa, Harvey Nichols, Lush, Farnells and Farmfoods are all on board and letting SCRAP work magic with their waste.

I was trying to combine this research trip with a bit of gift shopping for three under 5s in the family. But there was something holding me back, and it wasn’t long before I worked out what it was. Faced with the buckets, stands and piles of materials covering every imaginable texture, shape and colour, I kept looking for the one thing I was never going to find – instructions.

After I had asked her one too many times ‘So what should you do with these?’, SCRAP’s Bea told me:

“We want to offer something different to the things parents might buy in a hobby or craft shop, which give a kit and a set of instructions on how to make something. This is just too prescriptive for kids. “

Instead, SCRAP’s staff will try to suggest uses – half make something, or tie a couple of things together but rarely offer a finished article (barring the odd giant giraffe’s head which once held pride of place at a carnival).  Basically, they’ll help the child’s imagination but won’t replace it or limit it with their own ideas.

Mike Wragg, senior lecturer in playwork at Leeds Metropolitan University, came along to explain it all to me:

“It’s like the cardboard box syndrome, when parents are surprised that the child finds more entertainment in packaging than the expensive gift. But if you give kids a load of materials and bits and pieces with no instructions, and then make it clear that they can do what they like with it, you can just sit back and watch as all sorts of magic happens. “

Watching the kids in there told the story. They were all discovering something new, showing their friends and siblings the strange textures, shapes and surprises they were finding in every new tub or pigeon-hole.

It’s not just the kids that are winning. So far this creative use of waste for education, play and arts has three full-time employees and has made sure our landfill tips are 89 tonnes lighter. And demand is growing at such a rate that SCRAP’s biggest challenge is to find premises big enough to contain its potential.

The demand isn’t coming from worthy people looking to buy an ethical alternative to a mainstream product; SCRAP’s 1500-plus members know they’re buying a genuinely creative, different, evolving product at a fraction of the price of a resource specially designed and manufactured for the same purpose (we got enough ribbons, buttons, feathers and all sorts to fill three large boxes for under £20).

So shopping with SCRAP is saving cash for a customer base which is hardly flush in these austere times – schools, child-minders, mental health support workers, students, artists, and families across the city. If SCRAP’s work helps its customers think differently about re-using their own waste, then it could also save the city a fortune in the annually rising landfill tax on waste which we throw in our black bins.

New premises will help to store and sell on more waste from more businesses, and will help SCRAP expand the elements of the business which show great potential. More workshops for community groups, schools, individuals and those working with people who’d benefit from a creative approach to play, like those suffering from dementia. Schools will be able to rent SCRAPsheds, shipping containers full of resources, and take SCRAP packs which are suited to a particular activity or aligned to the curriculum.

SCRAP was perhaps an obvious place to start this blog; with every facet of the business designed to have a positive impact, from the sourcing of its material to the applications of its product. This is exactly the sort of business I think is ‘good for leeds’, but I know you’ll have your own ideas of what that means and I want to explore them on this blog. So pake a look at the first post telling you what goodforleeds is all about, and please get involved.

To find out more about SCRAP go to http://www.scrapstuff.co.uk/  follow them on twitter: @scrapleeds or find them on facebook: scrap creative reuse arts project