A historic Grade II listed Leeds building – once described as ‘one of the most complete and highly finished set of rooms of its kind in the whole Kingdom’ – has been transformed into a new Buddhist meditation complex.

Once a popular city nightclub in more modern times, Kadampa Meditation Centre (KMC) Leeds now has a wholly different outlook and finally opens its doors to the public this week on Tuesday, May 3, after a long running two-year renovation project to restore the building to its former splendour.

Once called the Leeds Georgian Assembly Rooms and now known as Waterloo House, a team of Buddhist volunteers have teamed up with local Yorkshire contractors since 2020 to overhaul the structure.

It was once described as ‘one of the most complete and highly finished set of rooms of its kind in the whole Kingdom’ which had languished from ‘150 years of neglect.’

Buddhist leaders have worked with Leeds city council to ensure many original features of the buildings were maintained within the new development, with the original assembly hall turned into a large meditation room with a mezzanine floor, able to accommodate up to 250 people.

On the ground floor of the new refurbishment is a cafe selling vegetarian and vegan food, along with a shop selling approved books on Buddhist meditation and other gifts.

The centre is set to offer a variety of different meditation classes to the public, with quick drop-in sessions at lunchtime for workers and longer 75-minute classes in the evening.

Sessions will begin this week as activity at Waterloo House begins to pick up pace during the next two months ahead of a grand opening on July 9.

Then, Buddhist nun Gen La Dekyong will officially open Kadampa Meditation Centre (KMC) Leeds in July and host a public talk the following day called ‘How to Meditate for World Peace.’

Gen Kelsang Rabten, the centre’s resident teacher, said: “It’s fantastic that after so much hard work and two years of building and renovation work we have made Kadampa Meditation Centre (KMC) Leeds a reality.

“The building has so much history and we are proud to take up our new home here in such beautiful surroundings in a venue of such local, national and cultural importance.

“We hope the centre will become a permanent fixture in the lives of many people in Leeds and we look forward to establishing a place in this cherished community where we are excited about meeting and making many new friends.

“Meditation has so much to offer – from simple mindfulness techniques that alleviate stress and anxiety, to deeply effective methods of positive thinking that free ourselves from the self-critical thought patterns that hold so many of us back.

“Everyone is welcome regardless of whether they are Buddhist or not, and we look forward to bringing calm and happiness into the lives of many people throughout Leeds.”

Gen Rabten was ordained in 1994 and has studied under the guidance of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche for over 27 years.

He has taught in many centres around the world including Australia, New Zealand, and South-East Asia.

The Leeds Assembly Rooms were incorporated into the famous former Third White Cloth Hall a couple of years after the construction of the hall, which was built in 1775 due to the city’s prospering manufacturing merchant trade.

The rooms were the venue for many notable events and activities during its heyday including drills and inspections by the Leeds Volunteer Regiments during the French Revolution civil war and the location for a glittering ball for the King’s birthday parade in 1794. Years later, the first Working Men’s Institute was established here.

Unearthed historical documents say of the Leeds Assembly Rooms: “It is hoped that this distinguished building may soon recover from a century and a half of neglect and regain its original reputation as one of the most complete and highly finished set of rooms of its kind in the whole Kingdom, a fitting tribute to the wealth, elegance and culture of its builders, the merchants of Georgian Leeds.”

To find out more about sessions available Kadampa Meditation Centre (KMC) Leeds, which include classes about improving relationships and dealing with sadness, visit www.meditationinleeds.org/weekly-classes-meditations.