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July 29, 2021

Standing up for anyone who needs to sit down” – Bramley Shopping Centre

Earlier this summer, Bramley Shopping Centre changed hands. This was not major news to residents in the area. The new owners, LCP Group, had purchased a portfolio of shopping parades, and stated they were keen to make improvements to the centre. People in Bramley expected nothing controversial and hoped for good things.

Bramley Shopping Centre has for decades been at the centre of the area. It is in walking distance for many, and gives people access to a supermarket (Tesco, Bramley) along with pharmacies, opticians, charity shops, a post office and coffee shops. It is surrounded by housing, and by sheltered housing for local older people. It’s a place people go to, to bump into people they know, and meet people they don’t. Benches along the pedestrian walkway gave people somewhere to rest, to sit, to pass the time, to breastfeed, feed children, put down heavy bags, or just watch the world go by.

Then earlier this summer the new owners removed the benches, and overnight the centre changed from a communal, friendly space.

LCP Group said that the benches were an obstruction, but did not explain what the obstruction was. Bramley residents were bewildered by the decision. Local ward Councillors, community organisations and West Leeds MP Rachel Reeves contacted the owners asking for the seating to be restored. With no satisfactory solution in sight, residents started to take more direct action, initiating a friendly weekly sit-in at the centre to welcome and get to know the new owners’ representatives. More than 500 people joined a Facebook group over one weekend; 900 people have signed an online petition, and residents have written to LCP Group to make polite contact, and explain why these seats really make a difference to many people’s lives. The community knows that seating gives more people mobility, access, independence and inclusion, that seating helps make a place age-friendly.

As Bramley Elderly Action member Roger Penny said, “it seems to be commerce over common sense, and as my late wife put it, common sense is not that common.” Roger has been joining the weekly sit-ins (Saturdays 10-11am) and has contributed slogans to the emerging campaign to bring back the benches.

Interview with Roger Penny, Bramley resident and BEA member.
Video by Roland Cross.

We asked members of the recently formed Facebook group ‘A Place to Sit’, who are 60 years or over, to share their viewpoint. Here’s what they said about the issue:

Suze Margaret

“I’m 71, and in lockdown when rules eased off about meeting with others outside, the benches helped facilitate the meeting of friends there. In addition the bench at the Tesco taxi stop helped me rest after what was often a less than easy shopping experience adjusting to mask wearing with misted up specs! In recent times, since the removal of the benches, and while having temporarily to use a walking stick, the lack of public seating has made shopping a less than pleasant chore.”

Jill Sowden

“I’m 73 now and have arthritis. If I walk to Bramley Centre (about half a mile) I need somewhere to sit before I can walk back. I now have to go in my car which isn’t a problem. But walking to the Centre was good exercise. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same. Also if you meet someone you know it’s nice to sit and chat for a bit.”

Lynn Beaumont

“The removal of the benches has taken the soul out of the centre. I miss being able to sit and chat with whoever…there is always someone to talk to whilst out shopping! The centre is a lifeline for so many people and as we are trying to improve social isolation by encouraging interaction – this move by the owners is disgraceful. The removed benches were perfectly adequate.”

Heather Read (a volunteer at the Mind Charity Shop)

“I’m over 60 and THANKFULLY I don’t have any health issues. Seats in any public spaces are provided for the comfort & convenience of all. NO-ONE should feel the need to have to JUSTIFY the use of a seat to the people who provide them.”

Carol Carroll

“I saw an elderly gentleman sitting on the floor outside Poundland yesterday while his wife shopped. He really struggled to get up when she came back out. So sad, undignified and completely unnecessary. I just don’t know what these people are thinking. My elderly neighbour isn’t on social media, but she told me today that she always used to sort her shopping out on a bench to balance her bags before walking to the bus stop, and misses them for that reason as well as sitting and having a chat if she sees anyone she knows up there. She lives alone and it’s part of her social life.”

Shirley Short

“My husband is disabled and now sits in car in hot weather while I shop I have COPD and find it hard to breath so taking away the seating has made it difficult for me to rest between top/ bottom of shopping mall I will go elsewhere for my shopping now.”

Hazel Crabb

“I don’t tend to use the benches to sit on unless there’s someone I’m wanting to talk to, but I do use them to put my bags on for a few moments when they are heavy and I’ve really missed them this week as my back is playing me up.”

Janet Atack

“I have a couple of older neighbours who used to enjoy a daily trip to the centre, both to socialise and to buy things they were wanting. Since the removal of the seating neither have been able to get to their daily shop and I have been going to collect bits and bobs for them. They both commented that although they were saving money by not buying extras on their trips they did miss the chatting with the cashiers etc and the people sitting on benches.”

Residents say they are not giving up until the benches are put back. As Roger Penny puts it, they are “standing up for anyone who needs to sit down.”

If you’d like to support the campaign to restore the benches

Video by Roger Penny and Roland Cross.
Written by Fran Graham
A Place to Sit