Community turns former store into music venue and business centre

14-01-21-Unity-Hall-Restoration-81-e1392811288863-600x365This year, Wakefield’s annual Long Division music festival will be different. It will take place in September instead of June, postponed so that Unity Hall, a community building currently under refurbishment, can be at the centre of proceedings.

Community benefit society Unity House Wakefield Ltd is bringing an ornate former co-operative back to its former glory. The £4.4m scheme, which is expected to create up to 300 jobs, will create a 600-seat main hall, an 80-seat minor hall, meeting rooms and conference facilities, a café, a gallery and 10,000 square feet of workspace for new and established businesses.

Unity Hall has a proud history. Built in the 1860s as home to the Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society, it was extended in 1909 and became a centre for culture and education.

It was reincarnated as a rock venue in the early 1980s, hosting acts including Eurythmics, Iron Maiden and The Specials. But the Grade II-listed building has been empty for the past 25 years.

Unity House, established in 2011 with support form the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, took over the 40,000-square-foot building last October after signing a 999-year lease.

Finance has come from Wakefield Council, Leeds City Region, Key Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the Community Assets and Services Fund, plus more than 200 shareholders.

Last summer, a second share issue raised over £50,000. The Co-operative Community Shares Fund bought nearly a quarter of these shares, and additional loan finance came from the Co-operative Loan Fund.

Work has already begun, but to complete the refurbishment, Unity House needs a further £100,000 to buy sound and lighting equipment ready for a grand opening this autumn – and, of course, Long Division.

Shareholders will be paid 4% interest when the hall opens, which the co-op aims to increase to 6% after three years. The minimum investment is £200.

• Visit www.unityworks.co.uk or call 07968 968862 for more investment information or to buy shares.

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