Matthew Neville

Yorkshire poet to work with student accommodation specialist on “wonderful” Leeds scheme

As regeneration begins on a disused site in Whitelock Street, north of Leeds city centre, Alumno Groups, a purpose-built student accommodation specialist, is planning a wide-ranging programme of artists commissions for the development.

Alumno’s first arts projects are focussed on Yorkshire based poet Zaffar Kunial, who has been commissioned to write new works for the building. Born in Birmingham, Kunial lives in Shipley and is currently a Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow in Poetry at Leeds University.

Zaffar’s poems for the Whitelock Street project explore both the natural and the artistic history of the area.

The building atrium will include a large frieze based on an abstract painting by Terry Frost OBE and Zaffar is developing a poem inspired by the work of Frost, which will be cast into the brickwork at the building’s entrance.

The new building will also include specially designed external spaces, including a ‘rain garden’ overlooking the Sheepscar Beck, which runs to the rear of the site before disappearing under Leeds city centre. Zaffar will create a poem based on the idea and history of this ‘hidden river’, and the poem will be built into the retaining wall.

Alumno’s development in Leeds received Planning Permission in November 2021. It is working with architects Howarth Litchfield to bring the scheme to fruition which, once complete, will provide 411 beds with ground floor commercial and cultural uses including potential for convenience retail, food-beverage and artist’s studios.

Zaffar said: “It’s an honour to find poetic words to complement this exciting new building, relating both to the artwork of Terry Frost and to the geographical setting near Sheepscar Beck. Composing public-facing short poems that can be repeatedly read and also throw new light on the built environment around the words has been a wonderful challenge.”

Alumno has a track record of commissioning artists and poets to make site-specific commissions for their new buildings, working with curator Matthew Jarratt to develop their arts strategies and commissions.

Matthew added: “Alumno’s commitment to working with local artists and poets as part of their developments demonstrates their understanding that the arts are so important in creating interesting and atmospheric spaces.

“Working with poets such as Zaffar means that the new building in Leeds will be a creative space that references local history and culture.”

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