Leonard’s approach to holiday making was influenced by contemporary social and political thought. He has been described as a Christian Socialist and disciple of Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin. He also gained inspiration from William Morris, Edward Carpenter, Henry D Thoreau and Charles Kingsley. The term ‘guest-house’ for the accommodation used by the CHA came from Morris’s News from Nowhere. Lecturers and guides at CHA centres included leading academics and distinguished professionals, such as Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who introduced the first parties to the Lake District to the poetry of Wordsworth and the teachings of Ruskin.
Leonard was an enthusiastic member of the fledgling Independent Labour Party (ILP) and knew many of its leading figures. He shared a platform with Keir Hardie at a meeting in Colne in 1894 and advertised holidays in Labour Prophet, founded by John Trevor, who joined one of the first NHRU groups to Barmouth in 1894. However, Leonard was by no means uncritical of the ILP. His main objective was always to further his ideas for the social improvement of working people, particularly young workers, and he distinguished the socialist cause from that of the labour movement, believing that socialism transcended class. He was outspoken on his opposition to betting and his belief in temperance. As a convinced pacifist, who actively supported efforts to maintain International harmony prior to the First World War, he sought to further his ideals through friendship with Ramsay MacDonald and other Labour Party figures.
Leaving Colne in December 1894, Leonard and his wife lived in Tottenham, London for a year and then took up residence at Abbey House, Whitby, the CHA’s first acquisition, in 1896. The CHA’s office and Leonard moved to Ardenconnel, Rhu on the Clyde in 1899 and then to Park Hall, Hayfield in Derbyshire in 1902. When the CHA established its first permanent office in Brunswick Street, Manchester in 1908, the Leonard’s took up residence firstly in Marple and then in Townscliffe Lane, Marple Bridge, near Stockport in 1910, in a house named ‘Walden’, possibly after Thoreau’s ‘House in the Woods’, and built in the Arts and Crafts style, reflecting Leonard’s philosophy.
Under Leonard’s management and guidance, the CHA expanded and by 1913 had thirteen British centres catering for over 13,000 guests. Although foreign travel was not one of its original objectives, once having experimented with a trip to St. Luc in the Valaisian Alps in 1902, the CHA extended its operations across the Channel, with centres in Switzerland, France, Germany, Norway and Denmark. Together with J B Paton’s son, John Lewis Paton, High Master of Manchester Grammar School, Leonard organised school exchanges between British and German schools, students and young workers in the years leading up to the First World War to encourage International friendship. German parties were accommodated at CHA centres, members acting as hosts.