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East Street Arts

East Street Arts

Published: March 20, 2023

Region: Yorkshire and the Humber

Art hostel created thanks to funding package from Unity Trust Ban

A unique art hostel finally opened its doors in 2022 following the pandemic, creating new jobs and boosting local tourism.

East Street Arts, a contemporary arts charity which has supported creative projects for 30 years, transformed a derelict building thanks to funding from Unity, Arts@Leeds and the Arts Council.

The vibrant 60-bed hostel was designed by 20 artists and offers affordable accommodation for tourists.

Rhian Aitken is the Hospitality Lead at East Street Arts. Rhian said: “Having the support of Unity has been phenomenal and enabled us to realise our dream.

“We’ve banked with Unity for years and our relationship manager Michael Wicks has a great understanding of what we do and how unorthodox it is. He was very supportive.

“Unity’s ethos of wanting to do good in society really resonates with us. This is one of most deprived areas in the UK and we have a diverse community which we work closely with.”


The Art Hostel is the brainchild of founders Karen Watson and Jon Wakeman. They stay in grassroots hostels when they travel abroad to get an authentic feel for a city and its people.

Each space in the hostel has a creative theme including a sensory-safe room for people with disabilities.

There is an emphasis on the circular economy. One artist transformed concrete outdoor space into an ecogarden complete with wormery compost beds. Another gathers discarded clothing left in the street to create a room emblematic of the textile heritage of Yorkshire.

Rhian said: “This is a very individual way of hosting, sharing our vibes and ethos in an artistic way while explaining the history of Leeds.

“We’ve shown that this is a successful business model. Thanks to a mortgage from Unity we’ve been able to create five new jobs, including two from the Kickstart scheme.”