A unique art hostel which will help boost local tourism and create new jobs has opened its doors in Leeds following a six-figure funding package from Unity Trust Bank.
East Street Arts, a contemporary arts charity which has supported hundreds of artists and creative projects for 29 years, has transformed a building next to its HQ in New York Road Mabgate into affordable accommodation for backpackers and tourists.
The vibrant 12-room, 60-bed project has been designed by 20 artists from as far afield as Brazil and Australia and was funded by an £800,000 loan from Unity with additional support from Arts@Leeds and the Arts Council.
Rhian Aitkin, East Street Art’s hospitality lead, said: “We opened a temporary pilot hostel between 2016 and 2018, hosting more than 10,000 guests from 115 countries.
“We showed we had a successful business model and there was a market for this. Thanks to a mortgage from Unity we’ve been able to get a permanent home for the hostel and create five new jobs, including two from the Government’s Kick-Start programme.
“Having the support of Unity has been phenomenal and enabled us to realise our dream.
“We’ve banked with Unity for many years and our relationship manager Michael Wicks has a great understanding of what we do and how unorthodox it is. He really took an interest in this project and is very supportive.
“Unity’s ethos of wanting to do good in society really resonates with us because this is one of most deprived areas in the UK, where 75 languages are spoken. We have a diverse community which we work closely with.”
The Art Hostel is the brainchild of East Street Arts founders and creative directors Karen Watson and Jon Wakeman, who stay in grassroots hostels when they travel abroad to get an authentic feel for a city and its people.
Each space in the hostel has a creative theme, such as a focus on protest culture in the 1980s, a room inspired by local East African communities and a sensory-safe room for people with disabilities.
There is also an emphasis on the circular economy with one artist transforming concrete outdoor space into an eco-garden complete with wormery compost beds to another gathering discarded clothing left in the street to create a room emblematic of the wool and textile heritage of Yorkshire.
Rhian added: “This is a very individual way of hosting, sharing our vibes and ethos in an artistic way while explaining the history of Leeds.”
Michael Wicks, relationship manager at Unity Trust Bank, said: “This is the first social enterprise hostel in the country and we are really proud to support it.
“As well as boosting the local economy through tourism and job creation, profits generated from the hostel will go back into supporting the charity’s valuable work.”