How The Climbing Lab is helping people with mental health issues reach new heights

climbing lab Kirkstall Road

The Climbing Lab, off Kirkstall Road, are now part of a scheme which provides vouchers to the cost of a climbing taster session at a number of supporting walls across the UK and allowing those struggling with mental health to try climbing*.

JIM CORAH spoke to co-owner Hannah Mason about the Climbing Lab joining the c/a/s/m scheme, scaling heights, and the 2020 Olympics. There’s also lots of kids activities on during the holidays.

climbing lab Kirkstall Road 2

Adult Intro sessions and Kids Tasters are a fantastic way to try out activities like bouldering at the Climbing Lab, where staff demonstrate basic techniques and skills. The cost includes shoe hire and chalk.

Moving into units on the Kirkstall Industrial Estate next to Cardigan Fields in late 2015, the Climbing Lab offers a large open plan centre with overhanging, slab and vertical walls for bouldering. There is a busy social calendar for members with Leeds Girls Can sessions on Mondays, a coach-supported social on Tuesday, student Wednesday, and free pizza on Fridays.

Unfortunately shortly after finding their “dream location” it was flooded in the Boxing Day floods of 2015. Following the fantastic response of volunteers who helped clean up their place and the many businesses like them flooded with debris, their “aim is to create a sense of belonging for all who walk through our doors and to help people feel inspired and supported to grow in our centre.”

Jim Corah – When you last met with WLD you mentioned you were expanding the size of your centre, how has it gone?

Hannah Mason – Our expansion has meant that we have doubled the climbing wall area, with innovative angles and challenges including a huge cave and a brand new training area specifically for increasing stamina and strength. The larger space also means we can have better events; we have already had a Red Bull screening of The Dawn Wall film and a club style climbing party with live DJs.

JC – How did you get into bouldering, and how did this develop into running the Climbing Lab?

HM – I started climbing when I was 8 years old with my big brother and his friends, I loved the physical and mental challenge of working out moves on the wall whilst preserving enough energy to get to the top and not be beaten. As a teenager I stepped away from climbing but returned to it as an adult and discovered my love of bouldering. Indoor bouldering feels like a playground for adults, with the low walls and safety matting everywhere it means you can climb freely and follow the coloured holds to complete interesting routes or ‘problems’.

We opened The Climbing Lab as we believe bouldering is a sport for the many people who want to get fit whilst enjoying themselves, making social connections, challenging themselves and engaging their problem solving skills too.

Climbing has developed massively since I began bouldering in 2007 and is being brought into the mainstream by Oscar-winning movies and the inclusion of it as an Olympic sport in Japan 2020.

It is appealing as you set your own goals and when you visit you feel you’re always accomplishing something new. Many people consider The Climbing Lab the fun alternative to the gym where you can get fit in an enjoyable, sociable way. Our climbers and staff create a welcoming vibe where boulderers like to help each other complete their problems together.

We have weekly socials, regular events and are taking part in C/A/S/M an initiative to encourage people with mental health issues to try climbing for free, as well as participating in LGBT Leeds Sports Festival events too. We want everyone to try bouldering as it is fun, it is a great community to be a part of and it makes you feel good.

JC – During my own introduction session at the Climbing Lab you introduced a number of techniques for bouldering, the foot swap being my favourite. What are your favourites in terms of techniques and locations?

HM – As climbers develop they will find they use a number of different techniques during any one climb they attempt so it is hard to choose a favourite as there are so many fundamentals!

Overall I would say my favourite technique is Smearing. This is for occasions when you’re climbing up the wall and don’t have a foothold in a helpful position to use. Smearing is where you put your foot flat against the wall and use it to push you in a direction or balance you whilst you reach for your next hand hold. Because climbing shoes are made of grippy rubber and our walls are textured your foot magically sticks to the wall via the power of friction. I like it because it helps you to get out of awkward feeling positions on the wall.

JC – How would you persuade someone to take up bouldering at the Climbing Lab?

HM – I think most people can enjoy some aspect of bouldering whether it is to build confidence in themselves, to gain strength and feel body positive, to increase mental wellbeing, to challenge themselves or to meet other people. They can do it all through bouldering. If you are curious to see what it’s about you can attend an hour long Adult Intro which will introduce you to basic climbing technique and safety so you can experience for yourself why everybody is trying it.


Climbing Walls, in support of Climb Alongside suicide and Mental Health, are providing vouchers covering the cost of a climbing taster session for up to 2 Adults* (No previous climbing experience necessary!) .

* To be made eligible for the climbing voucher offer, YOU MUST: Be referred by: A qualified therapist, counsellor or GP.


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