‘Ask not what your City can do for you – ask what you can do for your City.’

Look For Leeds Hidden Gems
Image Credit - Jay Cover

If Culture Vulture was a late night radio chat show I would definitely open with ‘Hi, long time listener first time caller!’ For it has been the case that I have followed Culture Vulture for a good while now and often discussed posts ‘off air’ as it were. I chat with Emma and I come so close to commenting but I have as yet to post a comment. But I’ve been given an opportunity to voice my opinions and put my two penn’orth out there.

So in my first ever blog I’d like to paraphrase JFK in his inaugural address; ‘Ask not what your City can do for you – ask what you can do for your City.’

I feel that some recent discussions have become too much like party political broadcasts, people seem to be pointing out what the opposition are or aren’t doing rather than focusing on what they are going to do to help the matter.

It’s deflating to read these things and it seems we have a culture of beating ourselves up, constantly comparing and saying we’re not as good. We look to Liverpool, Manchester London etc. and say why Leeds isn’t doing this or that. Surely it is as much the responsibility of the people of Leeds as it is the Council and the other leadership bodies to make sure we’re doing the best that we can. For me, being positive about Leeds is the best way forward. Let’s not get hung up on our failings, let’s get stuck in and start winning, as Charlie Sheen might say.

On a day to day basis I come across a lot of amazing people doing the most fantastic things in Leeds. They seem to find it hard to make their voices clear through the drudgery of negative comment. I am in the process of starting a creative space in the city called Duke Studios and this has meant I have recently been able to expand my circle of amazing influences and talented acquaintances. It’s got me thinking, who and what else is out there that I don’t already know about?

Discussing this with a creative collective I have had the pleasure of working closely with lately, they said they felt there was currently a “Leeds Renaissance” happening or maybe a “creative re-birth” in the city which is quite a dramatic statement. They have plans to use their own talents in film making and design to create a visual led platform on which some of the great things to come out of Leeds can be show. Leeds Made is what they are calling it and I was delighted to be asked to get involved.

We started scribbling names down of people and organisations that we knew of in the city that we considered to be doing amazing work. I very quickly had a long list that I couldn’t stop adding to. I’ve published this list below. It’s just my personal list of people that I know, have worked with, or admire, I don’t attain to be some sort of creative Oracle and this is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s just a starter for ten, a call to action; I want to know who’s on your list?

Who do you want to rave about? If you had a megaphone with access to the world whos name would you shout……Designers, Artists, Independent Retailers, Cafes, Musicians, Chefs (is there a Leeds type Heston doing marvellous things?) Techie’s, Writers,  Photographers, Fashion Designers, Thespians, Thinkers, Events or Venues? I believe the list is endless…..

I’d love people to comment and let me and the rest of the Culture Vulture readers know about their hidden gems. Let’s be positive and let’s see what we DO have to offer!

Jam Jar Collective – Technology players
Thunkd – Mischievous Tech Company
Studio Zeus– Fresh new Graphic Design Creative start up
Boxhead – Definitly outside of the box thinkers
Greenbean Cars – Innovative and new Eco taxis
Lord Whitney – Art Directors and 3D illustrators extraordinaire
Kitchen Sink – Top quality crafting
Drew Millward – Pencil Magician
Bettakultcha – Powerpoint on Acid
JAD Photography – The photographer who won’t be pigeonholed
High Above the Streets –New concept shopping
Birds Yard – For all you independent shopping – a treasure trove of delights
Culture Vulture – The Mothership Itself
Testspace – Platform/event space for creatives
Creative Arthur – Multi tasking, hard grafting agency
Mr Yen – Perfectly precise paper products
Jay Cover –Imaginative playful Illustrator and Curator
Hebe Media – International brand ambassadors
Dan Lancaster – Grapic designer with a passion for print
Park Designed – Visual masterminds
Rabbit Hole – Branding and Comms Studio with attention to detail and creative flair
Matthew Hogdson – Master of poetry and pencil
Lee Goater – The A-Z of  Design, art direction and branding
ELSIE – The cities forward thinkers
Giles Smith– Photographer – Works Hard, Is Nice, Thinks
Leeds Gallery – Brand new independent Commercial Gallery
Stuart Childs – Electronic wizz kid
Sorted Media– Amazing all encompassing  marketing service
Rabbit portal – Magical and mystical illustrator/animator
Chris Goodwin – Graphic Designer – Perfect purveyor of pattern and print
Tommy Davidson– Illustrating Drumming genius
Eleanor Snare – Wonderful words with a passion for the city
Plus Minus Design– Concept, Product and Eco Design
Jen Holmes –Cool, Clear, Concise Communication
Dots – Super Amazing Screenprint Studio
Reetsweet – Bringing craft to the masses
Helen Robinson Marketer & copywriter- Lover of all things creative and cultural
Catalogue – Fresh, new, independent design Studio with so many talents
Brown Bread Films – Creative film company that make the most high quality short films
Witshop – Functional, Fun and Perfectly Packaged Products
Wall Art Rockers – Contemporary, graphic and modern typographic large format acrylic wall art


  1. Laura

    Kind of you to mention Elsie in your list of ‘amazing works’ in the city, although I am not sure that we would easily accept the mantle of ‘The Cities Forward Thinkers’. We are just a bunch of folk from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds who meet once a month to offer advice, support, guidance, and ideas to interesting people and projects in the city.

    And what a great list of interesting stuff. I suspect this just scratches the surface and gives a hint of some of the exciting work in progress in the city.

    I was also struck by your headline about asking ‘what we can do for our city’. I see a great city being a by-product of great people exploring and expressing their potential, so our focus is not so much on the notion of ‘the city’ but on the people and projects that choose to work with us. Because if Leeds becomes a city full of bold, innovative and progressive people and projects feeling supported by the community that they are a part of then we will indeed have a city worth living in.

    Who would I add to your list? Well I love what Emily Farncombe is doing over at http://www.emilyfarncombe.co.uk/ making upholstery interesting!

    I would also add Rob Greenland from Social Business Brokers http://www.thesocialbusiness.co.uk/ – doing some great work to encourage social innovation in the city especially around the environment and health.

    And then there is so much happening on the music scene in Leeds. It seems to me that something of a musical renaissance could be on the cards too.

    I am sure we could add many, many more interesting projects to your list….

    I love what you are doing with Duke St Studios in Munro House and would recommend that people call in to have a look at what is happening there next time they are in the market end of town.

  2. Interesting post Laura – and thanks for the endorsement too Mike!

    I do find Leeds an interesting place. I’m an incomer – although I’ve lived here longer now than I lived in my home city (Liverpool). My twitter profile says I’m “learning to love Leeds” – I came here nearly 20 years ago, wrote that two years ago, and I’m still learning!

    I do find it a hard place to love – and I couldn’t completely put my finger on why. But I think your final point is key Laura – focus on what we do have to offer – and what we have to offer into the future. I really believe we need to find better ways to make cities work – and one of the reasons I struggle to love Leeds is that, for me at least, it doesn’t give me as many benefits as I think there should be of living in a place where 700,000 (or whatever it is) people are co-existing in a relatively small space. It should be a better place to live than it is. But, as you suggest, it’s up to us to make it better – and I think the next ten years or whatever of austerity give us a great chance to work out what matters to us in a city, and make more of that stuff happen. And, as you suggest, loads of good stuff happens already, and I need to focus on that a bit more. That’s why, for me, the #hometourist stuff was so powerful.

    It’s also why a few of us are meeting this evening to talk about how we could make Leeds a more shareable city – all are welcome – whether you were born here, lived here 20 years, or just moved in yesterday!



  3. Great blog post Laura and I fully agree with you that Leeds has some great people doing fantastic things.

    Unfortunately there will always be people who like to talk & complain but don’t do anything about it, to these people could I quote another 20th Century great “a little less conversation a little more action please”!

  4. How do we move from a list of great projects to a self sustaining community of progressive practitioners, exchanging ideas, knowledge skills and resources in ways that allow us all to do more and collectively for us to be more than the sum of the parts?

  5. What a great and refreshing post Laura!

    We couldn’t agree more, lets focus on what we do have to offer and the exciting future that is ahead. We’ve meet so many great creative folk over the last few years with so much passion and drive. We think Leeds is a very exciting place to be and look forward to seeing what all these wonderful minds can achieve.

    “a little less conversation a little more action please”! Hear, hear!

  6. Call me Miss Fluffy Von Fluffball if you must but I do love a positive post about Leeds.

    And it’s sunny outside.


  7. A breath of fresh air! Of course it’s always nice to get some “props” on the interweb (thanks Laura! V flattered in our office right now!), but I love the general tone of Laura’s post. I’ve always felt that Leeds was a city with the potential to blow Liverpool/Manchester/other hip locales out of the water in terms of creativity and energy, it just needs that spark to set it all off. There are little pockets of brilliant stuff going on but they can be a bit hard to track down. We just need to get a bit organised and connected to really start the renaissance! Laura, lead the way…

    I’d also add CARA (www.lovechapelallerton.com) to Laura’s list – it’s not anything ‘creative’ in an artistic sense, but a really worthwhile non-profit group promoting a real sense of community in Chapel Allerton. A bit more of this wouldn’t go a miss in every neigbourhood!

  8. The difficulty with cultural types is that they are inherently incestuous.

    I lived with actors in Norwich in my early life and I read the same ethos through these pages.
    “My art form would be diminished if it were to become mass market”, “Not everyone can appreciate my meaning, it’s special”

    These perspectives are probably true, but a city’s culture shouldn’t model it’s self on Goth culture. It should allow it’s self you embrace popular culture. It should take the risk of oversellling it’s self once in a while.

    The cultural quarter open day a couple of weeks back was a great example. There are a lot of parents and individuals out there who are depressed that their only access to ‘high’ culture comes through a box in the corner if their room by the name of BBC Four.

    Reach out to these people, at first pass 90% might turn up their nose. But persist with a message of openness and people begin to feel welcomed.

    Don’t let the only audience for your events, art or retail be limited to other providers of the same.

    This is a big step, when I was so much younger than today we built a giant chess set and put it up in the middle of town. No busking licence, no fee, we just asked people to play and let them watch. The takeup was amazing. If you goal is to stand on stage or display your work, getting out on the street is a great place to start.

    1. +1 on the Cultural Quarter open days that happened at the start of the summer – that was a really good and helpful way of getting the message out about what else goes on on Quarry Hill. Increasing the frequency of these events would be useful; ignore visitor counts for the purposes of anything other than saying “we had x people in today”, and have regular open days where people can pop in, wander about, have a chat and a cuppa, maybe see something being rehearsed or demonstrated.

  9. Great post, Laura!

    There’s quite a few people beavering away at the moment doing great things in Leeds, with big plans for the next few years. It’s an exciting time and I for one am giddy with excitement about what’s ahead. The grafters who smile in the face of adversity will always win in the end.

    Well done to Emma for managing to tie down one of the busiest people I know to write a post! With the imminent launch of Duke Studios, which looks sure to become a real creative and business hub in the city, I can’t think of anyone better placed to write a regular ‘column’ (sorry Laura!!)

    I must pull you up on one inaccuracy though, especially after reading the other people in your list – I may have hidden it well, but I don’t actually do amazing stuff myself – I just tell everyone about all the amazing astudff that others are doing!

  10. Cheers for the shout out Laura 🙂

    To add some people from our ‘world’ in Leeds

    James Steward – Couture Fashion Designer making big waves
    Dom, Dick and Harry – Rock and Roll fashion label
    Nicolas Deakins – 20 years old and producing their best stuff still in Leeds
    Leeds Fashion Show – Giving a platform to emerging designers for 6 years now
    Left Eye Blind – Brilliant film making group based in Marshalls Mill
    ICS – Leeds Dub / Punk act
    Back to Basics – House legends still two steps further then any f****r
    2020 SoundSystem – Ralph Lawson is the man
    Sex Circus – Crazy ass monthly event
    Ryan James – Producer kicking ass & getting lots of Radio 1 love

    These are just a few of the people we work / party / hang with every week… all Leeds and all awesome!

  11. I loved this post Laura. And the responses.

    We’ve been trying hard over the last year to start a culture change at the Council whereby we enable creativity and culture to thrive, rather than act as a rigid, traditional patrician authority, telling people what to do. We’ve done our best in the face of an electric shock of £90m savings to protect our cultural budgets, which is not an easy task when libraries and care homes are closing. We’ve also tried to stay positive, with events like Party in the Park and Frankenstein’s Wedding, and, I believe, brilliance like Light Night. We’re revamping the way we try to support creativity completely with the new Leeds Inspired approach that is a huge opportunity for new ideas to be funded.

    Culture change takes time, and for every bit of brilliance from the Council you will probably experience something that reinforces an original stereotype. I said to the business community last week who also over-compare us with our friends across the Pennines, that we should accept for now that they are better than us at certain things, like football, attracting major events and big ticket Media City. But look at what’s happening now, rather than the last decade, and you’ll find we’re doing better in many areas: apprenticeships, new homes, and jobs to name but a few.

    You can judge your own scene much better than me, but what a list! Look at the assets we’ve got and let’s celebrate them. We know we don’t have enough creative spaces and places in the city, or at least a focus for them, but we’re working on that. You have huge advocates in the Council and you need to recognise that they are allies who are an important part of the solution.

    I’m certainly willing to do whatever I can to make sure that Laura’s list and those of others thrive and grow in Leeds.

    1. Not doubting the desire Tom, but would like more details on the conviction as culture barely gets a look in on the city priority plan – (http://www.leeds.gov.uk/files/Internet2007/2011/38/citypriorityplanintranet%20lraw.pdf)where the key reference to it is tucked away under ‘Best City for Business’. I can’t help but think that great advocates for culture might have succeeded in securing a slightly higher profile! The headline indicator – increasing the proportion of people consuming culture on a regular basis – will be achieved simply by opening the arena! Nothing in here to challenge or push the cultural agenda. Nothing about production – just consumption. Little here to inspire and encourage many of those that Laura has identified I suspect….

      For me culture is one of the key platforms in the city for people to explore and develop their potential, to find common cause and have their thinking challenged and transformed. It is a key developmental component of the city, every bit as important as education and skills in helping people find happiness, well-being, fulfillment and good work. Culture shapes character and forges community – and it can shape our character and our communities to be consumers or producers.

      The Leeds Inspired initiative sounds great – but from what I can find it is a short term project delivered by a part time project manager built around the cultural Olympiad in the run up to 2012 rather than a long term commitment to culture. But perhaps I am missing something. http://www.leeds.gov.uk/files/Internet2007/2011/39/job%20description%20project%20co-ordinator%20leeds%20inspired%20.pdf

      I am not convinced that we really see culture in a fundamental light and rather consider it to be the icing on the cake that attracts ‘the creative classes’ who are really only valued for their contribution to the economy rather than to other aspects of community life.

      We have some really good people working on developing culture and cultural partnerships in the city. I am not convinced that the city priority plan will gave them the strategic cover that they need to maintain the momentum. However I am convinced that the great talent and passion that Laura has helped to articulate will find their own ways to drive progress, either in Leeds or elsewhere. ‘Cultural Renaissance’ is rarely a state sponsored phenomena anyway….

      So how about we change the strategic planning process, and instead of developing a single unmissable headline indicator for culture to pop into the City Priority Plan we challenge the Leeds cultural community to develop their own agenda for how they can drive the cultural agenda in Leeds, linking them with investors and philanthropists and enabling them to really find synergies and opportunities to drive the city towards its ambitions to be the best? Engage them in a bottom up cultural ‘strategy’. Ask them to develop a cultural manifesto for Leeds perhaps….

      1. You’ve summed it up much better than I could have done Mike. The priority plans are important in setting out a framework for what the Leeds Initiative partners will seek to achieve, but it is but one part of the equation.

        If you consider another “cut” of the new arrangements in terms of the Partnership Boards, you’ll find culture prioritised in the top 9 words the city uses, in the Economy and Culture Board.

        If we’d tried to over-plan from the “top” I’m sure you’d have been the first to criticise that, Mike! I like the idea of a bottom up Cultural Manifesto, recognising that the Council must play its part but the lion’s share will come from individuals.

        And you’re wrong about Leeds Inspired – it completely changes the way we fund culture in the city and it is a long term approach.


    2. I think the private sector, i.e. the Culture Vulture’s of this world, are in a better place to organise and push forward Culture in Leeds, they are not subject to the politics, funding limits or red tape that may be found in other organisations.

      With regards to our Red Rose cousins, we shouldn’t worry about hanginging onto their coat tails. Yes they have Salford, but they lack the content (football can only interest people for so long). This is where Leeds (National Ballet, Opera North etc) has the advantage to fill in.
      Take the BBC and our very own Jenny Hill, she covers the North for BBC Breakfast with a strong emphasis on West Yorkshire.

  12. Really uplifting post and comments, and a great message from the council too! Love the idea that we are seeing a ‘“Leeds Renaissance” or “creative re-birth”. Certainly feels like exciting times in Leeds…

  13. Laura

    This is a fantastic post …. I think we should bring the small food producers in to this as well & Leeds has plenty; Luke Downing at Dough Bistro on Spen Lane, No Fishy Business, The Sunshine Bakery, The Source and Cornucopia combining many if them together to name but a few.

    We should also consider the great work of successful micro enterprise start ups who have based themselves in their community – people who believe that regeneration starts right in the heart of where they live and they believe they can help.

    And micro charities and social enterprises…… I can go on but one thing is for certain change will only be brought about by all these people working together & wanting to make a difference which many do and it is great; the forward thinkers in Elsie will certainly help join the groups together.

    As someone who comes in to Leeds & returns to her home town by the sea on a regular basis Leeds people are some of the most welcoming I know.

  14. Tom,

    I know we’re talking about the bigger picture here and the word on the street is that you’re genuine in wanting to be supportive to creativity.

    But here’s my experince of LCC with a simple thing like stocking How Leeds Changed The World at museums and galleries. I’ve had nothing but obstacles and had I not pursued it vigorously it wouldn’t have been stocked at all by LCC. After an initial reaction of ‘that’s extremely exciting’ it’s been an absolute nightmare and drain on time dealing with LCC.

    It took 6 moths for them to grudgingly get a small amount into stock, even though I had an email assurance that it would be no more than two weeks at the beginning of March.

    Rather than buying it direct from me they got their first batch from a distributor in Brighton (taking money out of Leeds) buying them outright whilst I was offering sale or return and paying £2 more per book than I was offering – at a loss for the people of Leeds.

    This taking one fifth of the discount I was offering from someone else was strange as their initial reticence was an insistence (for business reasons) that I gave them more discount. I wasn’t even allowed to explain that as a small publisher my margins are way smaller than the bigger publishers.

    Even though, from phoning the central museum to check, I knew it only came into stock in the summer, they insinuated it had been in stock for a while and simply wasn’t selling. This was strange as two days after being told this I went into the museum and in those two days it sold twice the amount that it had apparently sold over this previous extended period.

    Even now, it sells around 20 a month at the independent Harewood House and yet I’m struggling to get it stocked in the similar council run Templenewsam House, (or Armley Mills, Thwaite Mills, Art Gallery etc).

    I’ve had nothing but problems with Leeds City Council and it turned into an unpleasant battle of attrition. Other than Alison Lowe, LCC have been in no way supportive or even sensible from a business point of view for the people of Leeds.

    As the book is basically an informative but fun advert for Leeds I’d imagined that I’d have a good working relationship with LCC but instead find myself in a situation where a small book/sweet shop in Otley has sold twice as many as LCC with all it’s perfect outlets – excluding the train station visitor centre who’ve been brilliant.

    You’d imagine that, as there was absolutely no risk to LCC (as any not sold could be returned to me), stocking and getting behind the book would have been a no-brainer but all I’ve experienced has been extreme resistance.

    Sorry if I’ve hi-jacked the thread but this was my experience of Leeds City Council ‘supporting creativity’, although, as I said earlier I have no doubt you personally are genuine.

    1. Mick

      I can only say sorry if this is how you’ve experienced the Council. I’ll look into it, but I guess people will be concerned about showing favouritism to certain books rather than others and concerned about where to draw the line.

      I think your book is brilliant btw and use it in my speeches from time to time.


  15. I have lived in numerous towns and cities, including London, in four different countries, and late last year I chose to move to Leeds. I’ve heard people moaning about the city since, but I cannot understand why. There is so much going on here that my diary is bulging with tickets and flyers. The diversity of what is on offer is also surprising, and when you attend one event, people make the effort to direct you towards others (very unusual in my experience). The city centre is small enough to get around easily and no event I have yet attended has been overpriced (many have been free). Laura has listed a number of people/organizations I had not heard of (thank you, Laura), so obviously I have much yet to discover. I suggest that people stop comparing themselves to other cities – a pointless and unproductive pastime – and simply embrace the very fabulous Leeds in which they live!

  16. great post but what about Fabrication, they really do need mentioning as they set up a multi use creative space 3 years ago, in the city centre, before anyone else was doing it, and also run the Leeds Fashion and Craft Network, helping to support those who run micro businesses, with business advice and collaboration. I’ve used their space for a few years now for various classes and have always found them fantastic to work with and very inspirational in their vision. http://www.fabric-ation.co.uk/ Their classes are affordable and a welcome to people looking to expand their creative juices!

    Also a small mention to Leeds Burlesque http://www.leedsburlesque.co.uk as we’ve set up Leeds first burlesque classes and have worked alongside some of Leeds biggest movers and shakers to create (in)famous cabaret events across Leeds.

  17. I’d like to add Burley’s Peepal Tree Press reckoned to be the UK’s leading publishers of Caribbean, Black British and South Asian fiction, poetry and academic books.


    Cloth Cat Studios which provides:
    a) FREE/low cost music courses and other music-based training for local people.
    b) facilities to promote people who want to be involved in music, particularly those on low incomes.


    Leeds Young Authors – ‘grassroots youth poetry & positive social dialogue coming straight outta Chapeltown, Leeds, UK.’


    Kay Mellor’s Rollem Productions.


  18. Can you add yourself or is that too self congratulatory?



    Leeds originating hip-hop magazine/journal/coffee table ornament covering art and design, music and fashion. Sold everywhere from Jumbo Records to individual customers in Japan. Also exists in the digital format.

    Run by two blokes from Leeds and one in the Big Smoke.

    V.useful list this, already spent 10 mins on the catalogue site – lovely stuff

  19. Hi Laura,

    Don’t forget the fantastic Arts Market on Albion Place on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month!

  20. Laura, great article!

    Thanks for the Leeds ~ Made and Box-head* mention!

    We’ve had a great response so far from potential Leeds ~ Made subjects. The plan is to alternate between ‘new’and ‘established’ so look out for the next film that will be all about Hyde Park Picture House.

  21. Laura, this is a great post, and a great discussion. There’s so much going on in Leeds now and it’s time we move on from old habits of selling ourselves short.

    I’ve just set up leedsarts.info, a list of online information sources for what’s going in Leeds.

    It’s not complete – everyone is welcome to submit anything they want to.

    And Mike, I think the bottom up cultural manifesto is a great idea, anyone else up for it?

  22. excellent post, i have to agree with you its not just upto the council to improve their towns, the responsability should also fall on the residents. i run a lancaster web design company and work with and support the local ymca to try and give back to the community.

  23. Great piece.

    Have you heard of Hidden Bradford (https://twitter.com/hiddenbradford / http://www.hiddenbradford.com ) who are doing just this? Of course there are a few Leeds-based feeds / sites doing the same.

    It’s important for people to criticise and push their politicians, but also to sell their cities and work for them, too.

    Finally, spare a thought for us in Bradford. You mention Leeds comparing itself to cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, etc – Bradford is less the bridesmaid of Yorkshire and more the ugly sister. But we’ve got personality and for those willing to dig a little a deeper, you’ll find it’s what’s #hiddenBD on the inside that counts.

  24. Yes it’s good to see some positivity for a change, I can only speak for Bettakultcha with regards to any dealings with the council but I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised as to how cooperative they were. The fact that Tom even agreed to appear at the event makes me believe that there is a genuine opportunity to create worthwhile collaborations with the council.

    The trick of course, is to think differently and to work around the limitations of resources. It’s not just about the money available, the council has contacts, venues and equipment which can all be put to good use if a strong case is presented. This is why I firmly believe that collaboration beats competition when it comes to culture and I urge everyone to create a vision of what could be possible if we all worked together.

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