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HomeNewsKirkstall Art Trail: Workhouse Stories proves an unexpected pleasure

Kirkstall Art Trail: Workhouse Stories proves an unexpected pleasure

by Noelle Williamson

A quick note on an unexpected pleasure on the Kirkstall Art Trail this weekend: Workhouse Stories by Belinda May. 

At Hollybush Conservation Centre, where you can duck out of the rain to find art and artists in the Barn, and a café offering what might be the most magnificent Victoria sponge you’ve ever set eyes on, there is also a covered space where seats have been set out for a puppet show. 

Belinda May – a university researcher and self-taught puppet maker – was just checking her modest set when we sat down with our tea, Victoria sponge and sour cream chocolate cake (both delicious by the way).

She told us about her involvement in a university research project into the lives of inmates of the Leeds Workhouse, which opened in the 1880s, and how she had got into puppetry so that she could share some of those stories. 

Hollybush is one of the Kirkstall Art Trail venues. Photo: Noelle Williamson

It sounded intriguing but also a bit grim… and when two children aged maybe six and eight sat in the front row, I wondered what they would make of it… but Belinda May knows how to tell a story.

Her puppets are individual and cleverly crafted: from the old lady who lived all her life in the Workhouse (now the Thackray Medical Museum), to the old fellow outrageously tricked into marriage, to the three-years-dead ghost and the tiny clerk at his tiny writing desk, they all came to life and told their tales in the space of half an hour; and we all listened, learned, and giggled.

And were all digging for change at the end – there’s no charge but a contribution would be appreciated.

If you can, get down to Hollybush today (Sunday) to meet talented crafters and skilled artists, enjoy mouthwatering baking, and maybe buy some veg grown at Hollybush, to plant out at home.

Belinda May will be telling her Workhouse Stories again today, Sunday July 16, at 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm at Hollybush Conservation Centre.  

More details about all the activities on Kirkstall Art Trail this weekend can be found here.

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