Open Source Arts: sustainability challenges, opportunities and hope

Posted Case study, News

Guest blog post by Sam Townson, Sustainability and Environment Intern at Open Source Arts

Based in a homely urban warehouse opposite ITV Studios on Kirkstall Road Open Source Arts (OSA) is working to empower creative, practical action towards healthier, more resilient citizens, neighbourhoods and sustainable futures. We are a resource centre open to everyone who wants to work together to strengthen themselves and their communities.

As an organisation, OSA sit in a unique position at the interface between culture, arts and environmental engagement bringing communities together to actively create better places, whilst showcasing creativity and environmental and social sustainability. OSA believe that by helping make communities better connected and more equitable, together we can give people more space to think about improving things for themselves, for others and for the environment – rather than simply thinking about their own survival.

Sam Townson, Economics and Geography student from the University of Leeds recently joined Open Source Arts as part of a six-month internship. Speaking to the Open Source Arts team, they said “Sam has been instrumental in implementing and expanding on much of our existing work. Having a team member focused on sustainability has been invaluable and really afforded us more capacity we needed to keep climate and sustainability at the forefront of our minds and be able consider the impact of all our actions as a team and organisation. It has also been great to see the team beginning to discuss sustainability and climate change more together as a result and have the opportunity to share their innovative and exciting ideas for the space – especially after our recent Carbon Literacy training delivered by SAIL”.

Hear from Open Source Arts below about the challenges, opportunities, and how they are finding hope in the face of the climate change emergency. 

At Open Source Arts, we recognise that we are in a climate and ecological crisis and that we are faced with a huge challenge globally as we must make fast changes to reduce our carbon emissions and impacts on the natural environment. This requires us all to make changes to our lives however great or small, and push for greater systems change from those in positions of power.

Open Source Arts aims to truly LEAD and Let Every Action Demonstrate our recognition that change towards a low carbon, sustainable world is not only necessary but possible, whilst also utilising our unique position to express the deep connections between environment, culture and arts, and demonstrate the interconnectedness of the climate emergency.

We work with communities to enable and empower people to get active and develop their ability to become guardians of the natural environment in the Kirkstall Valley and across West Yorkshire. We’ve worked in partnership with a number of environmental organisations and groups such as The Aire Rivers Trust and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to offer riverside and canal side cleanups with our project Kirkstall Riverbank Cleanup. This project and these important relationships originated from our efforts as a Volunteer Resource Centre during the response to the Boxing Day floods of 2015.

“We work with communities to enable and empower people to get active and develop their ability to become guardians of the natural environment”

Alongside this, Open Source Arts has also been delivering Kirkstall Valley Grants (KVG). KVG is a micro grants scheme focused on supporting projects in the Kirkstall Valley which improve the quality of life for people living in the valley, build community and benefit the local environment and climate. Kirkstall Valley Grants is currently working with a group of interns from across Leeds to develop the scheme and deliver the next round of grants. So, if you’ve got an idea for a sustainability, climate and community driven project then keep your eyes peeled – applications will be opening soon!

Moreover, we’ve been taking lots of actions at our resource centre. Firstly, we’ve been using green energy supplier Ecotricity for a while now as it allows us to use a more sustainable energy source and limit the amount of carbon we produce. We have recently also been working to improve our recycling system by moving to a more sustainable waste management contractor, introducing food waste disposal, organising a glass recycling system and becoming a Terracycle collection point to be used by both our team, our members, and the wider community!

Open Source Arts has been a meat-free venue for many years serving only vegetarian and vegan food at events, and asking our team and visitors to not bring meat onsite. Not only does this encourage a switch to plant-based foods to reduce environmental and ecological impacts, but it helps us create a more welcoming space to people from all religious and cultural backgrounds.

Encouraging active travel or the use of public transport when visiting us has long been a key message on our website and event marketing, and more recently we’ve also been experimenting with encouraging lift and car sharing by hosting our own journey connector or letting people know about Lift Share. With support from West Yorkshire Combined Authority we expanded our secure cycle storage provision, helping us to become a more bike friendly business encouraging active travel.

We’re also lucky enough to have a little outdoor space, our yarden, that we’re developing into a small oasis within the surrounding industrial landscape. There’s planters adorned with herbs, perennials and more, along with a growing green roof of wildflowers that will soon be blossoming! With the growth of the plants, we have seen an increase in wildlife visitors, with more birds, butterflies and bees. This yarden is now an invaluable source of food for these animals to thrive, helping them live and travel from green space to green space in an otherwise concrete city. Not only this, but we’ve connected everything into our irrigation system designed by our marvellous team to reduce water consumption by targeting each pot. A huge step forward on the old method of just getting the hose out!

We also use our Yarden to as an outdoor performance space, which was invaluable during COVID-19 restrictions to enable to continue supporting our community and local creatives.

Our most recent project ‘The Big Switch’ has involved switching our lighting systems to more cost effective, carbon saving, efficient LEDs. A move reducing our energy usage, costs and carbon equivalent emissions by 73%. Over the course of a year we’ve been able to prevent 5,586 kg CO2 e emissions; the equivalent of driving a small car 17,460 miles – that’s 3,132 miles further than driving from OSA, Leeds, to Ankara, Turley, and back three times. Whatsmore, it has allowed us to save the equivalent of buying 4,680 cans of Kirkstall Brewery’s Virtuous Session IPA – that’s over £4,700!

Yet, the challenges cannot be ignored. We are a small team with great ambitions and lots of different positive ongoing projects, leaving our resources often stretched. It can be hard to find the time to plan and implement changes to introduce more sustainable practices even when the passion and will is so clear. As a small organisation it is difficult to easily prioritise costly, large-scale infrastructural changes such as solar panels, heat pumps or insulation; yet we cannot ignore these as future solutions. Similarly, as much as we love our homely urban warehouse space, its open plan design, characterful exposed brick and thin warehouse style roof means that during the colder months lots of energy is needed to keep the space at a safe temperature for our team, performers and visitors.

During my time as the Sustainability and Environment Intern at Open Source Arts, I’ve been documenting some of our learnings on our blog. There you can read about our efforts to increase recycling and some of the issues we faced in terms of finding a contractor who could provide information going beyond surface claims of zero waste to landfill, and the energy, cost and carbon savings generated from OSA switching to LED lighting.

At Open Source Arts we are proud to be a member of the SAIL network and be part of the cultural and creative sectors’ response to the climate crisis. We are excited by the opportunities we have to share our experience, learn from others and establish best practices across the sector to reduce our carbon footprint as an org and as a city. We will continue to utilise our unique position at the interface between culture, arts and environmental and really LEAD our commitment to working with communities to take creative, practical action towards healthier, more resilient and sustainable futures. We believe there is hope that by building connected and resilient communities we can create the change that we really need to transition towards a zero carbon, sustainable future.


From hosting enlightening workshops to rehoming unused resources, from equipping individuals with Carbon Literacy Training to partnering with local organisations for greener events, SAIL is taking the lead in West Yorkshire’s creative and cultural scene. But we’re not doing it alone. Our strength lies in our community, in the passionate and dedicated individuals and organisations committed to fostering a more sustainable future.

We’ve made a significant impact, but there’s still much to be done. We need you to join us on this journey. As a member of SAIL, you’ll not only gain access to our network and resources, but you’ll also play a vital role in driving the sustainability movement in our local creative and cultural industries.