aql keeps Salem’s history alive

Visitors to aql’s base of operations, Salem Church on Hunslet Road in Leeds, are often struck by the contrast between the historic 18th century building and the state of the art telecoms and data storage equipment housed within it.

One recent group of visitors was particularly impressed by the building’s transformation, as aql welcomed four members of the former church’s congregation: Maureen Burnell, Diane Thomas, Mike Dalby and Keith Barber.

The visitors reminisced on the Salem of yesteryear, remembering the billiard room, now aql’s tech office; the former common room, which is now home to aql’s account managers; and of course the church hall itself, which is now DC3: aql’s largest datacentre, above which a 360-seat conference venue is being built.

I was christened in Salem’s church hall in 1944 and my wife, Margaret, was christened there in 1942” said Keith Barber. “ We were married at Salem in 1963… It (coming back to the church) was so emotional and brought back so many happy memories.

Just standing in the former church’s main hall I am sure we could almost hear the tram cars rattling past along Hunslet Lane as they used to do when we were in church and Sunday school

The former members of the congregation were shown around the church by aql Operations Director, Melissa Hendry, who filled the visitors in on Salem’s present while they shed light on its past.

It was an honour for us to welcome these visitors to aql and show them how we’re renovating the church” said Melissa. “It was fascinating to hear them talk about the place, and humbling for me to think that we are based in a building that has played such a huge role in the lives of these people and the history of Leeds.

Established in 1791 as a Dissenting chapel in opposition to the Church of England, Salem Church has a rich history that is interwoven with that of the city of Leeds. The church is revered by many as the place in which Leeds United Football Club was founded in 1919, and was a vital part of the city’s community for more than three centuries before it closed as a church in 2001.

Maureen Burnell, one of the visitors on the day, said:
Salem and the community had a big influence on my life. It was nice to see that the building is now being looked after and has not been altered a great deal… I must admit to shedding a few tears when I went into the church and remembered all the past times.

Salem’s current incarnation as aql’s headquarters and datacentre complex is but one of many roles the building has fulfilled over the past 300 years. In November 2011 a blue plaque awarded by Leeds Civic Trust was unveiled to signify the cultural importance of the building. Kevin Grady, Director of Leeds Civic Trust, said: “Salem Chapel is the oldest surviving nonconformist chapel in Leeds city centre. Leeds Civic Trust is very pleased that aql takes a real pride in having it as their headquarter and celebrate the heritage of the building in the way they are modifying it. Sensitively adapting historic buildings for present-day needs is the best way to ensure they have a bright future.

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