Welcome From Yorkshire
Wandering through the centre of Leeds the other night I kept bumping into people in black t-shirts, standing in strategic places, smiling broadly. They all carried matching bags and bunches of leaflets. I assumed they were some variety of chugger. Naturally I made efforts to avoid any movement that could be taken as an invitation to engage in pleasantries.
After passing maybe a dozen of them it dawned on me I may have been wrong. Not one of them had tried to doorstep me with wide-open arms and a face-punchingly false jollity. And there was none of the ingratiating instant intimacy that characterizes that particular species of urban irritant. In fact they seemed content to leave me be, unleafleted.
Then I noticed they mostly weren’t of chugging age. Many of them were evidently the wrong side of thirty. Some may have been senior citizens. And their black t-shirts weren’t advertising Save the Rainforest/Rhino/Railway Museum – insert similar worthy cause … the message said Welcome To Leeds.
They actually looked like they meant it too.
Yes, I know what they were doing – making sure fans of a certain celebrity spectacle wearer (good grief, I just realised I haven’t listened to anything by My John since buh buh buh Benny and the Jets … does he still wear gargantuan gigs?) got ferried from the train station to the Arena without deviation, hesitation, or inebriation. I mean, it wouldn’t do for visitors to our lovely city to take a wrong turn and find themselves in The Angel or The General Eliot, or (please don’t even imagine the horror) The Duncan – I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone over from Manchester even. But still, even though it was a bit “corporate”, it was nicer and more authentic than any static signage could have been. Seemed to do the trick too.
Which got me thinking about the Tour De France – doesn’t everything these days? – and how we’ll welcome visitors to that.
My guess is that the Tour De France will be bigger than an Elton John gig. Bigger even than Bruce Springsteen. Even bigger than the Kaiser Chiefs – sorry chaps, but that’s what people who know about these things are telling me.
My other guess is we won’t know what’s hit us …
What impressions of Leeds and Yorkshire will visitors take home with them then?
I know we’ll have the Cultural Festival – and good luck to the four organisations that’ll be funded for the iconic televisual spectaculars, and the twenty smaller arts outfits that’ll get a bit of cash to do “community” events along the route – but it’s often the ordinary everyday things that reveal most about the spirit of a place. The less glamorous stuff that people remember.
Whenever I’ve taken visitors from abroad around Leeds they are generally positive – I am an enthusiastic advocate for the peculiar delights of my home city, it has to be said – but there are a few consistent niggles.
The most common complaint is about finding your way around. Which is why I really liked what the FD Arena and the Council were doing with the welcoming crowd the other day. They seemed like normal, genuine local people, being normally and genuinely welcoming to guests to their city. I know we can’t do that everyday, though I don’t see why the rest of us who live here shouldn’t be welcoming too … we don’t need a t-shirt and a stack of leaflets (and six quid an hour?) to be helpful, do we?
The second one is clutter and mess. In Leeds city centre you are never more than a dozen yards from a litter bin and council workers are frequently seen doing all they can to keep the streets clean and tidy. Unfortunately, the good citizens of Leeds seem all but incapable of using the one and their rubbish habits completely overwhelm the other. Walk down any of the side streets parallel to where the Grand Depart will push off from and you are ankle deep in fag butts. Wander through Briggate, along the Headrow, down King Edward Street and the pavements are spattered with blackened, hardened gobbets of chewing gum cemented to the floor – all our most beautiful streets violated and disgraced. Hardly welcoming. Personally I’d forego any amount of modern interpretive dance and immersive participatory performance if we could encourage some clever local designer to devise a way of stopping oiks sprogging their chuddy on the streets. (I’d prefer we spent the money on a litter enforcement version of Ed 209, but there’s probably some foolish bye-law preventing us vapourizing serial litterbugs. Bloody nanny state.) This single intervention I found on the bottom of Briggate obviously isn’t working.
And finally, public seating … Oh Leeds, why can’t we sort the seating out? We have a really beautiful city, but we make it really hard for most people to sit down and take it all in. Most of the seating in Leeds appears to have been designed by the people who brought you the Spanish Inquisition (not the comfy chair!) Except the seats you can’t use because they are behind barriers. Interestingly, the private seating in the city generally tends to be wooden, and comfortable, and well designed. If we want the city to be genuinely welcoming then we can’t have visitors remember us for hard, cold, unforgiving seating. Bums are important too. It might seem minor but a lot of visitors to the Tour will want to hang around and have a natter with their friends, and they can’t all afford the snazzy hotels and swanky bars. What about the people who have brought a packed lunch?
Obviously none of these ideas are “high-impact, memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences”, they are just about making the place a bit more welcoming. Visitors will remember getting a numb arse on Albion Street long after they’ve forgotten the aerialists outside the Town Hall.Tags: Cultural Festival, leeds, Tour de France