Celebrating 40 years of TCV at Hollybush Conservation Centre
TCV opened the West Yorkshire office at Hollybush in 1979.
Since then many volunteers, learners and staff have spent time at or working from the Centre. Many local school children and local people have attended events from pond dipping to the now popular night-time Halloween and Christmas events.
This website shares TCV Hollybush stories from the volunteers, staff and supporters who have been part of our journey - we would love to read yours!
Hollybush 1979-2019 An Illustrated Oral History
The book "Hollybush 1979-2019 An Illustrated Oral History" is now available - 126 A4 page, perfect bound or read it online.
Hollybush sits by an historic river crossing of the River Aire two miles upstream of Leeds City Centre. Just across the River are the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey. The Abbey was founded in 1152 as a daughter house of Fountains Abbey and it was dissolved in 1539. Much of the Abbey stone, good millstone grit quarried in nearby Bramley Falls was reused elsewhere, possibly even at Hollybush.
The River Bridge at Kirkstall was destroyed by Royalist troops in 1643, however we don’t yet know if the farm buildings were established at that point. From examining the buildings today, they have a long and complex history of alterations, but date from at least 1700. The barn was originally aisled with a thatched roof but was remodeled with higher walls and a new roof in the nineteenth century.
In 1777 the canal was open from Leeds to Gargrave, but would only be complete to Liverpool in 1816.
The Kirkstall Brewery whose big buildings dominate the local skyline opened in 1833 exporting Indian Pale Ale via the canal.
The railway opened in 1846, and Kirkstall station opened in 1860. The railway was widened to four tracks and the station rebuilt north of the Bridge c 1904. The station closed in 1965.
A trade directory of the 1870s lists Joseph Whitwell Gentleman Rhubarb farmer of Hollybush House. He is believed to have farmed the land either side of the railway up to Kirkstall Forge and land now the Broadleas estate.
The Whitwell Family were pioneers of using forcing sheds in what become the Rhubarb Triangle. The Rhubarb express ran from Kirkstall Goods yard to Covent Garden Market and in the 1950s lorries were loaded at Hollybush on a Friday for the trip to Versailles for Monday morning.
Kirkstall Bridge was rebuilt in 1912. Photographs on the Leodis website of the bridge construction show the Hollybush building much as it is today. At some stage prior to this the road in front of Hollybush was raised to go over the railway and we believe at this time the top floor was added to leave a street frontage of a two storey house. This may have contributed to the present structural issues we are working to resolve.
Hollybush House passed through several families and was used as a Methodist meeting room, a home for canal lock keepers and the barn as a car garage (hence the deep pit).
In the 1970s Leeds City Council purchased the site for a proposed roundabout, one of a long series of road schemes for the area that have never left a concept drawing. The Council also own the farmland, and this was leased to Bill Simpson, of Hollybush Farm Produce.
TCV in West Yorkshire pre-1970 (the Tong office)
The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers was established in 1970 to run the residential projects of the National Conservation Corps (founded in 1959 by the Council for Nature) and provide an umbrella for voluntary local groups. The early northern office was at Tong Hall, just a few miles from Hollybush.
Later in the 1970s the Yorkshire office moved to an old butcher’s shop opposite Doncaster’s market.
As the 1970s drew to a close, BTCV was expanding and it was decided to establish a West Yorkshire office. Various contacts led to the offer of a boarded and bricked up farmhouse in Kirkstall. In that cash strapped era the roundabout the Council had acquired it for, was not going to be built.
Restoration 1979-82 - the Pioneers
In March 1979 sledgehammers were used to gain entry and the restoration began. There was a big old caravan, chickens and two cats infamously named Shitz and Piddles. A huge amount of effort was expended by the long-term volunteers who lived in, and in 1981 the newly appointed Sir Derek Barber of Chair of the Countryside Commission declared the building open. The yards were spotless and tidier than they have ever been since.
1982-89 Community Programme
The Hollybush Conservation Volunteers (Hollyvols) were launched in March 1982 and have run three days a week ever since. Local unemployed people were employed on a variety of government Job Creation Schemes. There were schools and youth projects and a tree nursery was set up further along the canal on a site known as Toad Hole.
The outbuildings were completely rebuilt, with the walls up to roof height before anyone though about Planning Permission. Community Programme allowed for a Farm Manager, some part time van mechanics, administrators and a tools officer. Details varied from year to year as managers tweaked things to meet the latest government rules. There were outposts in Wakefield and Calderdale, Hollybush was the regional office for Yorkshire and Humberside.
At the peak around 20 people were employed, it has taken 20 years to get back to that total. The Voluntary Projects Programme fully funded the Hollyvols and work was done for landowners free of charge. Early in 1988 the Tory Government announced the scheme would end and by March 1989 everyone had completed their time and left.
County Days 1990-2000
One County Manager, a tree nursery officer (to run a retail wildlife garden centre) and the Cookson Training Officer (1989 -91 an industrially funded post to train countryside workers) gradually grew to a team of 8 across West Yorkshire.
The Wakefield & Barnsley midweek group ran for a year with three Voluntary Officers and then regained a Project Officer. The Urban Programme funded a woodland based scheme in Huddersfield. National Power and the Countryside Commission asked BTCV to taken on the Skelton Grange Environment Project.
Youth work gave us a presence in Kirklees and Calderdale and priority funding gave a short-term presence in Dewsbury including planting 20,000 trees on “The Mountain” at Thornhill.
BTCV was reorganised with the Charity and Trading (TCV Enterprises) being managed jointly and Hollybush became part of a Yorkshire Region under a director from Enterprises.
Gradual expansion and sound finances were required. The County received funding from West Yorkshire Grants, and this required County Wide coverage, supporting local groups and running the Natural Pioneers Millennium Award scheme and then Peoples Places that supported community groups was important. The Wakefield and Skelton offices prospered and acquired their own managers. The other offices had closed by 2005.
The Friends of Hollybush was founded in late 2004 to enable volunteers to run small scale projects to complement (B)TCV’s work. In 2002 the Permaculture Association of Britain became a subtenant and now occupy the two big upstairs room.
The Wildlife Garden Centre was out competed by mainstream garden centres, supermarkets selling wildflowers and mail order specialist. Fortunately advise, design, supply and build of school grounds schemes took off eventually employing two full timers.
Not surprisingly links with Enterprises brought money for training and a string of schemes linked to FE colleges. There were short courses, NVQs and funding for adults with learning disability.
We had a Heritage Lottery funded training project in heritage skills and wildlife identification and ran a Healthy Walking project with money from Sport England and the NHS for about six years. Three short schemes for refugees and asylum seekers ran, one funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Modern 2011 - present
BTCV became The Conservation Volunteers in 2012.
A BTCV Mind UK partnership called Wellbeing Comes Naturally and V funding for young people saw volunteer numbers increase and fund an administrator post that became a volunteer coordinator. This led to the Volunteer Inclusion and Support Project funded by the Big Lottery 2011-15. This was a success and the additional volunteers recruited went on to fill the short course programme which saw a woodwork shop established and the first outposted Green Gym at Inkwell, Leeds Mind’s Creative Arts Centre (sadly the landlord removed the large garden from the lease on the old Shoulder of Mutton pub and built some flats instead to many people’s dismay). After a year of small funds, a similar scheme was run in partnership with Leeds Mind and Hyde Park Source: Outdoor Active and Well 2016-19
Outposted Green Gyms ran with Clinical Commissioning Group funding in 2016-7 and are currently running with NHS funding from I Better Cares Fund, through Leeds City Council Adult Social Care. We have an over 50s project as part of Leeds Older People’s Forum Time to Shine Programme. Our Community Café opened in 2013 as part of the Learning Disability Project.
Improvements to the building included a wood pellet fired boiler, three phase power, a massive bike shed, a bodgers’ hut and after 4 years of fundraising a new accessible meeting room our lovely Roundhouse. On a busy day there can be 50 -60 people on site.