How to help save Aire Street Workshops – petitions, small businesses and the story so far

Aire Street Workshops has been supporting small businesses since the 80s.

It became publicly known earlier this week that Leeds City Council has decided to sell Aire Street Workshops as part of its 2030 carbon neutrality initiative.

At present, 30-34 Aire Street is home to 37 different small businesses and has had a history of supporting SMEs in their early stages, with a particular focus on young business owners (60% of those running businesses from Aire Street Workshops are under 25).

Some of the city’s favourite indies, including photo development company Take It Easy lab, local artist Zacrosso and illustrator and mural painter Ekaterina Sheath.

There’s been lots of information buzzing around social media over the last few days, so we’ve popped everything we know so far about Aire Street Workshops and will continue to update this article as more information is unveiled about the sale.

The history of Aire Street Workshops

The building started life as Poole’s, a surgical boot manufacturing company before being left derelict in the 70s, prior to the takeover from Leeds City Council in 1980.

Coverting into a multi-purpose space was funded by Department for the Environment Urban Development Programme and Leeds City Council and eventually opened in 1981 by the Lord Mayor of Leeds as a space for small and medium businesses to thrive, and this has had a particular focus on nurturing younger business owners over the years.

30-34 Aire Street is now home to 26 units, housing 37 small businesses across four floors. Each unit is around 400-500 sq ft, and house unique start up businesses.

The venture itself was the very first scheme if its kind in Leeds and owners LCVS, an independent, not-for-profit company, report that ” It has been a phenomenal success story that serves to offer opportunities to a diverse array of companies. A melting pot where people work together to generate growth in an ambitious city.”

Why is Aire Street Workshops being sold?

According to Take It Easy, one of the businesses inside the workshops, “Leeds City Council claim the reasoning for the sale of the building is to meet their ‘Carbon Neutral 2030’ objective. Illogically, selling a building which is over 150 years old, a hub for creative industry in Leeds, is more carbon neutral than simply updating the historically significant structure which already exists.”

“Their decision has been taken without any public consultation on the matter and in spite of a previous failed decision finding “The value of the small businesses that operate from the premises” and “The lack of affordable alternative workspace in the city”.

The BBC have since quoted Leeds City Council saying that whilst “it”values” the businesses, the “delivery of savings” was a key focus” and that the firm managing the lettings have known about the plans since 2023.

However, Aire Street Workshops have made the following public statement addressing this:

What can I do to help save Aire Street Workshops and support the small businesses inside?

These are ways that have been listed by businesses so far to help spread word for their campaign to save Aire Street Workshops

Sign the petition

Rose Dufton, one of the business owners inside Aire Street Workshops has set up a petition on here to halt the sale of the building.

She states: “Aire Street Workshops is more than just a building; it’s an incubator for creativity and entrepreneurship in Leeds. The proposed sale with no viable alternatives will lead to job losses as well as seriously damaging the city’s vibrant creative sector.”

At the time of writing, the petition is just shy of 3,500 of the 5,000 signatures needed.

Get in touch with the council

A number of business owners are suggesting ways to get in touch with local MPs or figures within the local council.

These include, but are not limited to: CEO of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan; Councillor for Kippax and Methley ward and Leader Leeds City Council, James Lewis and Deputy Leader of Council and Executive Member for Economy, Culture and Education, Johnathon Pryor.

Aire Street Workshops has designed a template email to send to MPs here.

You can find more information on how to get in touch with Leeds City Council regarding the sale of Aire Street Workshops here.

Support the small businesses inside

This one’s just our suggestion.

There’s lots of talented creatives inside Aire Street Workshops, and keeping business flowing as good as usual is something that we’re always told makes a difference to those in the middle of any transition period.

What do Leeds City Council have to say about Aire Street Workshops?

When speaking to residents at Aire Street Workshops, we were told that they were having trouble speaking to anyone from the council.

The following statement was released in full to the press on Friday 25 April 2024:

“The council recognises that the proposed sale of Aire Street Workshops is a subject of significant concern for businesses based there.

“Given their concerns and the wider level of public interest in the building’s future, we feel it is important to set out the full facts regarding this matter.

“Above all, we are determined to support the site’s tenants and help as many of them as possible find new premises within Leeds.

“They and their predecessors have made Aire Street Workshops a hub for cultural and creative activity. However, it is also an ageing building that needs major repairs and improvements.

“We estimate that, for its present use to continue, the building would require a seven-figure investment to ensure it meets regulatory and energy performance standards.

“The unprecedented budget pressures facing the council mean we are unfortunately not able to fund that level of investment.

“Furthermore, even if the necessary funds were to be found and the work carried out, we anticipate that the improvements to the building would have to be reflected by rent rises that would place an unfair burden on the current tenants.

“A meeting was therefore held between the council and the building’s leaseholder, LCVS Enterprises, in September last year.

“At the meeting, LCVS were made aware that the site had been identified as a likely asset for sale and that a commercial property firm had been engaged to prepare a valuation report.

“For clarity, it was our expectation that LCVS, as leaseholder, would pass this news on to their individual tenants as soon as possible.

“The council is the site’s freehold owner and it has no formal relationship with the tenants of LCVS. As such, it is LCVS’s responsibility to liaise with them on matters such as a potential sale of the building.

“At September’s meeting, we also agreed to a request from LCVS for their current lease to be extended through to January 2025 so that their tenants had more time to find alternative accommodation prior to any sale.

“However, it appears that the tenants were not informed of the plans for the site until last week.

“This is clearly regrettable but we would once again stress that LCVS have known about our likely intentions since September.

“Indeed, it is hard to reconcile any suggestion of LCVS being unaware of the council’s intentions with their request for a lease extension that they linked to the need for tenants to find new premises.

“The council began discussions with LCVS as long ago as 2016 regarding the poor condition of the building and how it could impact its future operation.

“A letter was also sent to LCVS on February 19 this year confirming that the property was now scheduled for disposal during the 2024/25 financial year. This letter further confirmed that vacant possession would be required when the extended lease came to an end.

“At no point in the last seven months have LCVS given us any indication that tenants were not being kept fully informed of developments.

“As a council, we have been clear that, in light of our financial challenges, difficult decisions are having to be made across many service areas.

“As part of our efforts to deliver savings, the council continuously assesses all aspects of the portfolio of properties it owns or manages in communities throughout the city.

“The old Crossgates Library, former council offices in Rothwell and Thwaite Watermill at Stourton are just three of the various sites to be impacted to differing degrees by this process.

“Equally, we are keenly aware of the contribution made to life in Leeds by small businesses of the kind found in Aire Street Workshops.

“Our business support team will develop a targeted package of support for affected tenants over the coming weeks which, it is hoped, will help that contribution to continue and grow.

“The council can also confirm that, as part of the sale and bidder selection process, it will be willing to receive a range of offers, including ones that could allow the building to operate as a form of managed workspace.

“This approach reflects our wider ongoing commitment to culture and creativity in Leeds at a time when the council – like many other businesses and organisations across the city – is dealing with an extremely serious budget position.”

What businesses have been hosted by Aire Street Workshops over the years?

More businesses than we can Google have come and gone over the last 30 years, but as the debate over the building sale continues to gain traction, more and more information is coming out about the history of businesses inside Aire Street Workshops.

Lion Studios

One of the most interesting former businesses is Lion Studios, an independent eight-track recording studio, set up by Len Liggins and Tony Bonner.

It’s been quoted as a 00s blog post as ” a small but happening /drop-in place near the city’s railway station, and one that soon had the talents of Leeds knocking on its door.”

Leeds Music Scene historical archive reports that the studio welcomed sessions from over two hundred bands and artists in the first eighteen months of opening, including New Model Armyl The Mekons; The Three Johns and Chumbawamba.

Take It Easy

Taking its home in Leeds in 2020 just before the pandemic, Take It Easy is one of Leeds’ most exciting indie film labs.

Founded by one of the city’s most recognisable faces and over 15 years of industry experience, these guys aren’t just developing film, they’re capturing everyday life, the spilt coffee, the customers in cosy corners of the bookshop, the footy team playing in the rain – and all whilst showing support for the local independents around Leeds and beyond.

From humble beginnings in the late 00s, founder Liam was working at Snappy Snaps on The Headrow and found Nick Baines (aka Peanuts from the Kaiser Chiefs) as a regular customers.

Once Snappy Snaps closed, Nick and Liam together bought some of the old developing equipment and sought to start a business along with Liam’s cousin Joe. Despite having the passion for developing film, the plans were short lived and the film developer was put into storage – until 2020.

The film lab has been very vocal about the impact that the closure of the building will have on their business and have said: “It is our belief that the sale is an attack on the existence of small business within Leeds – a city which purports to be the ‘City of Culture’, the council have chosen to evict 50+ small independent businesses; businesses who help shape the culture of Leeds in 2024.”


Zacrosso is a Leeds-based colour blind artist whose work will have been seen by that anyone living, working or shopping in Leeds.

His beautiful work shows off Leeds is true technicolour, with popular prints of landmarks like Leeds Corn Exchange, Bakery 164 and The Calls stocked in bars and markets citywide.

Zacrosso says: “I have spent the last 3 years highlighting and promoting what a beautiful city Leeds is to live and work through illustrations. I’ve worked on locale prints that have been bought for display by Leeds councillors, MPs and Tracy Brabin.

“For the same people who enjoy these works of art and promote Leeds as City of Culture to turf out over 50+ creative businesses would be gutting and shameful. I sincerely hope someone has the courage to change the LCC decision on Aire Street Workshops.”

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Feature Image – Aire Street Workshops via Instagram

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