Renaissance for landmark building

Murray Edwards outside Unity House
Murray Edwards outside Unity House

HISTORIC Unity House could be returned to the community as a cultural venue –more than a century after it was built for the people of the city.

Plans to transform part of the 50,000 sq ft listed building into a music venue, conference facility and retail space are being drawn up by a new community co-operative.

Members including community interest company Shine and Wakefield Theatre Royal are forming the Unity House Co-operative. The group plans to raise £150,000 from a public share issue and secure further bank finance for the project.

The co-operative is also bidding for £5,000 in cash in a competition by the Co-operative Bank. Supporters of the scheme are urged to cast votes online.

The redevelopment would echo the building’s early days, when it was opened in 1902 for the people of the city by Wakefield Wholesale Co-operative Society.

Murray Edwards, executive director of Wakefield Theatre Royal, said: “The building has been a bit of a disaster in recent years, but it is capable of being a cultural building.”

Chris Hill, director of Shine, said the cultural project would occupy the two upper floors of Unity House.

He said: “It is a three-way split. Events, music and dance, business or voluntary sector conferencing, and enterprise use. It would also include cheap space for start-up businesses.”

Unity House owners are also in talks with a pub chain which may take over another section of the building.