Havana a good time at Qubana! Sampling the Cuban delights of Wakefield’s newest restaurant

I’m going to begin this review, if you’ll indulge me, with a short history lesson.

The banking firm of Leatham, Tew and Co was originally established in Doncaster and Pontefract in 1801. In 1809, the bank acquired premises in Wakefield when it took over the failing Wakefield firm of Ingram, Kennett and Ingram and opened a branch on the corner of Wood Street and Silver Street.

In 1880, the bank commissioned the building of imposing new premises, designed for them by Leeds architects J Neill and Son. This new building, still on the Wood Street site, opened to customers in 1881. It’s actually two buildings: look at the Wood Street elevation and you’ll notice the main banking hall to the left and then a smaller, ‘mini-me’ version to the right. This smaller building was designed as residential accommodation for the bank manager! (You’ll also notice the dates 1809 and 1881 inscribed above the windows.)

Leatham, Tew and Co continued in existence as an independent bank until their merger with Barclays Bank in 1906. The premises on the corner of Wood Street remained in use as a bank until Barclays moved to Trinity Walk in 2011, ending a banking tradition on the site that had endured for over two centuries.

When one of the city’s grand old buildings falls empty, one can only wonder what fate will befall it. When a business as important as a major bank moves out, there is inevitably a knock-on impact for neighbouring properties, and I suspect that many businesses in and around the Wood Street area noticed the drop in footfall when Barclays moved away. So it was with some considerable relief that we saw plans being submitted last year to bring this landmark building back into use as a restaurant (with flats above) and to help breathe new life into the street.

Those of you who dine out in Wakefield may already be familiar with Qubana, a restaurant that has traded with considerable success from its Northgate premises for several years now. The re-location to Wood Street has enabled owner Matthew Burton and his partner Jenny Thompson to develop their ideas to create a smart and very stylish bar and restaurant that is sure to be a major draw for anyone looking for a lively and glamorous evening out in the city.

As the photographs show, having bought the building, the new owners have gone to considerable lengths and not inconsiderable expense (around £1M) to renovate the interior of the former banking hall. High ceilings and a mix of new and retained plasterwork, exposed brickwork, chandeliers, comfortable seating, some of it in high-backed booths, and lots and lots of pictures add touches of elegance while a spacious bar area and open kitchen give the place a vibrant atmosphere. There’s also a new rear entrance onto George and Crown Yard and an open air roof-top terrace on the first floor, La Terraza, with its own bar.

The food is a mix of Cuban/South American and European tapas – the Qubana website says they take ‘the sensual Latin flair of Cuba and combine it with the hearty, honest flavours of Spain to create dishes that perfectly fuse these two cultures’. It also says that all their ingredients are sourced as locally as possible before being treated ‘with all the know-how of a Catalonian’!

I can certainly vouch for the quality of the food. When we visited the restaurant in March 2017, my two dining companions and I enjoyed a mix of tapas and main course dishes – I’m told that the chicken Jambalaya with King Prawns was especially good. As regular readers would expect, I sampled a selection of the vegetarian tapas and found that four or five dishes between two of us was more than adequate, allowing plenty of room for dessert (and just as well I did – the Turron Cheesecake I ordered was light but very filling!). Tapas dishes start at just £3.50 while main course dishes range from £12 to £17 – a little more if you want one of the grilled steaks. I was the designated driver for the evening so contented myself with a soft drink but large glasses of white and rosé wine were consumed by my fellow diners. Maybe next time I’ll get to try something more exotic from the extensive drinks menu which includes draught and bottled beers, wines, cocktails, gins, rums and, of course, Daiquiris and Mojitos.

Presentation and service could not be faulted. Although we were there on a Tuesday evening, perhaps one of the quieter nights in Wakefield, the restaurant was busy with a steady stream of customers and the staff were kept fully occupied. (I’m told that there are some 40 staff currently employed by the restaurant under the overall managership of Gareth Quinn and more are being recruited. I didn’t get to meet Gareth but assistant managers Craig Cizic and Faye Capitano made sure that my party and I were looked after.)

The restaurant opens at 10.00 am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when a ‘brunch’ menu of light snacks is available until 12 noon when the lunchtime menu (served from 12 until 5) takes over, offering a mix of sandwiches, wraps and tapas dishes. On other days, Monday to Thursday, the restaurant opens at noon. It stays open until 10 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays when it is open until 11 pm.

You can see the full menus on the website. Watch out for special live music nights and, if you are a party of up to 10 looking for something special, ask about the The Vault, a private dining room which, as its name suggests, is inside the former bank’s vault.

Whatever time you visit, if my evening there is anything to go by, you’ll be sure to be Havana good time at Qubana!

Qubana, 1-3 Wood Street, Wakefield, WF1 2EL

Website: www.qubana.co.uk

Joining the dots: how civic societies can raise their game by thinking about the bigger picture

Looking at a planning application for a major new development without regard to its impact on infrastructure is a bit like planning a big dinner party and thinking about the food but not the context: as well as the logistics of food purchase, preparation and presentation, you have to think about the guest list, the seating plan, the ‘mise-en-scène’ and even the ‘choreography’. If you want to delight your guests and have them judge the evening to have been a success, you have to get the details right.

In a similar way, we should look at new development proposals in terms of whether they will delight the people who will live or work there, the people who will make use of its facilities or even just pass by on a daily basis. What will be needed, not just in design terms, but in terms of the associated infrastructure to make the project viable and sustainable? Thinking about the pipes and cables needed to convey water, power and, these days, data. What will be the likely impact on transport networks? Do local roads and rail networks have the capacity to cope with new development? Are there going to be enough car parking spaces (and now, electrical charging points)? Will there be a need for new shops and community facilities such as schools, doctors, hospitals and so on? And as our towns and cities grow, the greater will be the expectations of local residents, businesses and visitors: are there enough restaurants, theatres, cinemas, hotels, conference centres, green spaces, community centres, and so on, to support the needs and demands of people living and working there? It all takes some planning and thinking through and this is where having a clear vision of what the future will bring should certainly help! Sometimes, it’s a question of scale: a few hundred new houses on the outskirts of a large town or city is one thing – but just a few dozen houses in the centre of a village something else again. They will, however, all have an impact on infrastructure – and that’s an infrastructure that will usually be shared with existing residents and businesses.

Now, all the above is important and I’m sure we are already conversant with the arguments and have a good knowledge and understanding of what is happening, or being planned, in our own areas. Sometimes, though, we have to look over the border to see how developments in neighbouring towns and cities might affect what is happening in our own patch. We need to take the ‘helicopter view’ to work out how the dots should be joined up. With the creation of combined authorities, local councils are working together not only to share services but also to plan infrastructure – the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is, for example “Developing an integrated transport network to support people, business, economy and growth” and this work will provide “a twenty year vision for developing a modern, high class, integrated transport system that supports the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership’s Strategic Economic Plan for sustained and healthy economic growth – especially for jobs and housing”. We are likely to see more of this sub-regional and regional planning in coming years – the proposals for a Yorkshire Mayor rumble on but could well lead to Yorkshire-wide planning decisions being made in the future (anyone remember Yorkshire Forward?). Civic societies will have to be alert to these arrangements because decisions made by such regional and sub-regional bodies will impact on us all at local level and it will likely be more important than ever for civic societies to work together in the future.

Now, one way of achieving this closer working and to build alliances on points of common interest is, of course, through attending our YHACS meetings where you can speak to representatives of other societies face to face and hear news from across the region. While we work hard to find interesting speakers to help stimulate your thinking, it is often that the most animated part of our meetings is when people are networking with each other over coffee. Whether you come to our meetings or not, there is, additionally, our newsletter, full of news and views and which we know our members much appreciate.

One final word on infrastructure: with so much going on around us politically, societally and technologically, it would be easy to forget that civic societies have infrastructure needs of their own. Modern communication tools, effective committee and sub-committee structures, risk management procedures, data protection protocols, programme and event management – the list goes on. How much time you need to devote to the infrastructure requirements of your society will depend to some extent on how big and how active your society is, but we all need to give these matters the thought and attention they deserve.

Telling Stories – recording the shared and individual histories of Civic Societies

When we think about culture, we often think about the arts – music, literature, theatre and so on. But it can mean something much wider – from the way we do things to the set of values and beliefs we hold. As nations evolve, the things they do and the beliefs and values they hold change over time, providing the rich continuum that makes for the modern society we have today while also giving us a deep sense of history and tradition. Our heritage is a product, not just of the artefacts human civilisations have created over time, but also the social interactions and conventions as well as the principles and tenets that have guided them in their development and evolution.

Organisations also have their own cultures within this wider social context; this is revealed in their rules and working practices, what they stand for and the way their people interact both with each other and with their stakeholders. Organisational cultures also change over time – and sometimes more quickly than in society at large: a new leader or new management team can wield a new broom and make very sudden and, indeed, sweeping changes to the way an organisation behaves: whether these changes are always welcome is, of course, another matter.

Sometimes, both at national and organisational level, the pace of change can be forced by external factors – political pressure or a sudden downturn in finances, for example, might require an urgent response – but these responses need to take account of what has happened before; those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, etc., (although, conversely, there’s nothing more irritating in this respect than when someone says “We tried that once and it didn’t work”!)

So what does this have to do with civic societies? Well, our civic societies often play an important role in celebrating culture and heritage in the widest sense. Many civic societies organise commemorative plaque schemes or lead guided walks, while some will also produce leaflets and other publications about the buildings, people and events associated with the history of their local community. In doing so, civic societies are telling the stories that keep local memories alive. This sort of activity can also prove a useful membership recruitment tool for your civic society because, if well-managed and executed, these activities will capture the attention and interest of people outside your society’s immediate membership. It is an essential part of what we do and long may it continue.

However, we can be so busy recording the history of our places that we may overlook another part of our social history. By this, I am referring to the history of what our civic societies have done. Committee members come and go, so it is important to ensure that the story of our civic societies is written down somewhere. I know that some societies (my own included) have traditionally deposited their papers with their local archive service. Doing this should ensure your paper (and even digital) records survive – copies of meeting minutes and annual reports and so on. Yet that’s not quite the same as telling the story of what you have done over the years. For that story to emerge, you need people to add their personal memories – but what if there’s no one left in your society who can remember the early days? Many civic societies have been going for over 50 years now and it’s not always possible to find someone who can recall how things started back then. Hopefully, your written records will be available, even if on deposit with an archive service, but that does require someone to commit time and effort, to do some research, to dig around in the archives, and to produce the narrative.

A few years ago, I visited Lincoln Civic Trust and was presented with a booklet that told the Society’s history. It was entitled “Lincoln Civic Trust – The First 50 Years” which, if nothing else, showed a certain upbeat optimism for the next fifty years. More recently, Civic Voice published a short history of the civic movement, so there is certainly a precedent here.

Wakefield Civic Society celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014. I did think at the time that it would be a really good project to produce a history of the Society to coincide with that milestone anniversary but we were so busy organising events to celebrate the anniversary that the project never got off the ground. (There’s a lesson here, of course! Don’t plan to write the history in your anniversary year – write it beforehand and publish it in your anniversary year!) I still think, however, that such a written history is needed. I’ll try to explain why.

Civic societies are part of our social history yet they are often overlooked. Having been a committee member for over 25 years, I am aware that Wakefield looks rather different now from what it might have looked like had it not had a civic society. There are projects the Society got involved with that helped to shape the city and letters of objection written and campaigns mounted that prevented much-loved historic buildings from being demolished. But who else now remembers what the Society did and what we achieved? Some of us on the committee have been in post for longer than many of the council officials and councillors at Wakefield Council, so our collective memory goes back further than the ‘official body’. At the Society, at least some of us can remember why certain things were (and were not) done and the way they turned out and why. If nothing else, we deserve some credit for what we have achieved for Wakefield – but if we don’t tell our own story, who will? And when those of us who have been involved for a long time finally retire – who will remember what the Society did? I only know about the very earliest days of the Society myself because people who were involved in setting the Society up told me their memories or because I have read some of the earliest papers from the 1960s.

What if a civic society closes down – where is the history of the society recorded? Does closure mean that the memory of the society dies also?

Perhaps all civic societies need to make the time and effort to tell their stories, and to keep telling them, to ensure that history doesn’t forget them? If you’ve already produced a history of your society, I’d be very interested to hear from you.