ONE OF Britain’s most successful Irish centres has survived where others failed because they ‘move with the times’ according to its committee members.
As the Leeds Irish Centre prepares to mark its 44th anniversary with a celebratory weekend, its members are proud to have bucked the ‘downward trend’ facing many other Irish organisations, they told The Irish Post.
“This is a big milestone for us,” said committee member Eddie Lavelle, who has been involved with the centre since it was founded on June 8, 1970.
“It’s marvellous that in bad times, when so many Irish clubs are closing and all you hear of is a downward trend, we are doing better than most at fighting the battles,” the Sligo-native added.
With an annual turnover of £1.7m, a committee of eight volunteers and a membership boasting more than 1500 names, the Leeds Irish Centre is widely held as one of the most successful in the country.
Indeed it markets itself as the ‘premier’ Irish centre in Britain and boasts a number of successful associations with other organisations in the city – working with local GAA teams and the Leeds Comhaltas branch and hosting various Irish cultural classes within its vast York Road site.
When it comes to welfare services, the centre’s Tuesday Club for over 55s, boasts more than 200 members and has been oversubscribed for many years.
Today scores of Irish pensioners in Leeds still wait patiently on a list, knowing their only chance of gaining a place at the weekly social will be if someone passes away or is no longer able to make the trip to the centre.
From a commercial perspective the business arm of the Leeds Irish Centre is a well-oiled machine, currently doing a roaring trade in social events and functions - with a highly-acclaimed kitchen and three reception areas, holding from 120-800 people, up for hire.
But it is the ongoing investment in the centre and the support of its staff that keeps it consistently successful, according to Mr Lavelle.
“I think the reason we stay successful is firstly because we have a great team of people at the centre,” he said.
“It’s run like a family more or less, so everyone pulls their weight and we get great support,” he explained.
“But also, although we have an aging generation, we know things do change, so we keep the place in a very good condition and spend a lot of money doing it. We move with the times because if you don’t then you are lost and you can’t recover.”
The father-of-six, who lives just outside the city in Morley, believes a lack of such attention to change may have been among the factors that saw other Irish centres close over recent years.
“Clubs and centres which are neglected and not kept up to date will struggle as the younger generation expects more when they go to a place,” he says.
“The older generation, no disrespect to them, never really mind about things like that, so we try to offer something for both generations and that has proven successful.”
He added: “I just hope we can carry on doing that.”
The Leeds Irish Centre will celebrate its 44th anniversary on Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8.
The 300 tickets available for the Saturday event, a dinner dance featuring music by The Davitts show band, have already sold out. But all are welcome to join the centre’s Sunday celebrations, where The Davitts band will play for a second time. Tickets cost £5 in advance or £10 on the door.
To book or for further information visit www.theleedsirishcentre.co.uk or call 01132480887.