Cultural Report on Leeds: C minus, could do better…discuss


We got embroiled in a twitter conversation recently when we said that Manchester had more delightful stuff happening! (or maybe their marketing/narrative is more cohesive) Neil Owen of Test Space Leeds has experience of Leeds, Manchester and London, here are his views on the matter:

I grew up in Leeds, over the past ten years I’ve lived and worked in Leeds, Glasgow and Manchester.  I have a passion and love for Glasgow and Manchester, large industrial cities with an  independent spirit, an arrogance and confidence about what they do; a combination of politics, heritage, art, design, football and music at their centre. Leeds, though, has always frustrated and disappointed me, it should be on a par with these cities but it simply isn’t. Leeds has the potential to be a great city, it’s hard edged, creative, diverse, with a fantastic heritage. But this potential has been the case for the last twenty years, so what’s stopping it?

Koffe Pot
Koffe Pot

A city should be defined by what it creates; a combination of music, art, architecture, design, writing, businesses, food and retail. Leeds has elements of all these, genuinely talented people creating, making and doing great work but so little of  it is actually seen or impacts on the city as a whole. The work is out there but you have to really look to find it. Peter Saville said this  when he was appointed Manchester Creative Director “Manchester has no longer got to compete with Liverpool and Sheffield, it has got to compete with Bilbao, Barcelona, Lille and San Diego.” I believe that this is the kind of ambition, confidence and arrogance Leeds needs to find in order to succeed as a city, it’s not about copying other cities it’s about having confidence and pride in what you create on your own terms.

Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow School of Art

A successful city needs to retain its creative talent. Leeds is a city with a College of Music, one of the last independent Art Colleges in the UK, schools of graphic, fine and contemporary art at the Leeds Metropolitan University,  a Film School and Innovation North all these have students and graduates creating fantastic work. Yet so little of the talent here is retained. Compare what happens in Leeds to the Glasgow School of Art  that is at the heart of the city, a small but significant number of art and design students stay. Spaces such as the CCA and Tramway have built up around the artists who studied at the Art School. It’s not easy but the graduates who stay over time have genuinely added to the identity of the city.

This leads on to another problem, the centre of the Leeds doesn’t have the combination of established, experimental and mid-level opportunities or spaces to showcase, sell or network that Manchester or Glasgow has.  In Manchester a simple list might include the Cornerhouse, CUBE, Nexus, NOISElab, the Northern Quarter. Festivals such as Eurocultured, FutureEverything or the Cutting Room. In Glasgow a similar list might include the 13th Note, the CCA, Nice and Sleazys, the Glasgow School of Art, the Tramway, the Arches, the Barrowlands and the Glasgow Film Theatre. Leeds has a handful of established large venues but lacks smaller, genuinely interesting and alternative spaces, though this is changing with venues such as MAPP, Enjoy and the Temple Works.

As a city Leeds far too often follows what others have done, (waterfront developments, stadiums and super-trams), lacking confidence in itself and missing the point of what made something unique in the first place. Leeds could be truly forward thinking about how it wants to define itself. Schemes such as Art in Unusual Spaces are a starting point but there’s an opportunity to do something genuinely radical and different in Leeds.

A city which prides itself on being the retail capital of the north should be looking to use the current economic situation as a catalyst to reinvent the high street, this doesn’t mean more shops, cafes and bars.  It means looking seriously at how independent creative talent can be retained, showcased and promoted in Leeds. It means artists acknowledging that retail and commercial opportunities are a good thing.  It requires grassroots networking and collaboration between local architects, designers, artists and businesses.  It means retaining and incorporating spaces such as Leeds Market or the Corn Exchange, but really looking at the significance and history of these spaces, how they are used, why they are important, not pushing up rents and gutting them. It requires working with new developments, such as Trinity or the Eastgate redevelopment and encouraging investment in the city.

As someone who grew up in Leeds I want it to succeed. I genuinely believe Leeds could be a great city on a par with Glasgow or Manchester but it will require a change in attitude and outlook for it to be truly successful. It’s a massive challenge but an exciting one; I just hope in ten years time Leeds isn’t still refitting the Schofield Centre/ Headrow Centre/ The Core or flattened Leeds Market to make way for a John Lewis.

Neil Owen runs Test Space with Steve Hawkins

What do you think? We would love to hear your views! (PS we are searching for a couple of hyperlinks to Mapp and Enjoy)


  1. It’s a cliche, but you’ve nailed the point. I agree 100%…Leeds needs to compete with Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield – but even those cities are a thousand times more interesting than Leeds is right now. What’s missing? For a start, forget about the shopping malls, build a new art gallery for Leeds on a par with The Tate. Convert Majestyk into an arthouse cinema, create a vision for the city that embraces art and culture.

    Leeds has the creative talent, it just lacks the confidence to retain it I think.

    1. Who was it who knocked back the red brick man and do they still have a position within the “senate” of this city?

      I really would like to know,maybe its time to do a bit of ferreting out the grey men?

      Like I have said previously and many people may have the same view we are having decision made for “us” that are too short sighted.

      I agree with the idea of a “spike”.Even the “david” was stoned whilst being dragged through the streets…

      Lets grow some balls do it now and hope the next generation thank us for it…

  2. Good post Neil. I think you’re right about there being enough individual talent around (though we too often let it seep away down South as soon as college is over and done with)so that can’t be the problem. What Leeds lacks is any sense of who we are or what we’re about, there’s no sense of story about the place, at least nothing convincing. Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle; we all are familiar with the stories and myths about those places . . . but I’m not really sure what to say about Leeds. I went to a meeting about the Leeds Regional Forum a while ago and there was a lot of talk about successful cities having a spike, something they were great at and famous for . . . there was a lot of floundering about tying to find Leeds’ spike. What the heck are we good at, besides shopping and bopping? Nobody there seemed to know. And everyone I talk to on Twitter from all over the world still seems to associate the place with football violence . . . and that’s it. About time we did something about it, don’t you think?

  3. I have long believed that Leeds has always been about money, brass, about its acquisition and retention, and that the Victorian philanthropy that gave the city the Art Gallery and Library and other good works got lost somewhere in the 20th century.

    I grew up in Doncaster and have known both Leeds and Sheffield for a good 25 years and see the differences between the cities, and I believe that where Sheffield worked to develop its cultural industries because its manufacturing business went away, because Leeds didn’t lose its industries in the same way, the civic fathers never saw the need to develop anything as frivolous as a music business or arts scene. Newcastle upon Tyne is much the same, and its lively arts and music sector has been a result of the absence of other work for the cultural classes.

    It’s also no coincidence that’s there’s been a huge amount of regeneration money thrown at both of those cities, and that seemingly Leeds has never requested it, even when it has been as far back on its uppers as Sheffield was – I can remember visiting both cities in the mid-90s and feeling like Leeds had far less going for it even then: it took the pedestrianisation of Briggate and the redevelopment of the arcades to bring the city centre back to life.

    The city’s political stasis can’t have helped either, and the cultural life that has developed has, unlike in Sheffield and Newcastle, largely developed without local government taking a major role, which is both a blessing and a curse: a good example was the opening of the Sage and the Baltic in Newcastle: they were immediately staffed by many of those involved in the art and music scenes of the city, which seemed to be patronage by another name.

    So to an extent, there can be some pride in what has developed being independent and without having to jump through the hoops of grants and committees and the other political expediencies that come from supported cultural sectors (someone is bound to prove me wrong with this, but it’s my perception). I’ve often seen comparisons with Sheffield that hold that up idea, as if accepting support in way that the place does is wrong – but it’s given the city sporting and cultural facilities that Leeds struggles to match.

    So is the answer to hold out the begging bowl? Sometimes it’s the only language the city understands, but at other times we should be proud of what Leeds does achieve.

  4. Great article – it certainly rings true with me. A few notable Leeds establishments that come to mind include The Hyde Park Cinema, Cottage Road Cinema, Brudenell Social Club and The Common Place.
    Here’s hoping things will keep getting better – the Leed City Museum seems like a step in the right direction – but the repurposing of the Corn Exchange maybe not…
    PS – I love that Koffee Pot mural – Manchester’s own Hammo if I’m not mistaken.

  5. Where do I start? I’d love to see Leeds competing with the likes of New York or Tokyo, never mind Liverpool. But the fact is Leeds will not compete with even the likes of Newcastle or Sheffield without full Council support for creativity, for culture and for community.

    In past roles I’ve done a lot of place branding work and as such have worked with developers and regional councils alike. Take Manchester City Council for example – full of creativity, lateral thinking and most of all, strong, ballsy leadership.

    Leeds, as much as I hate to say it, lacks this vision completely. And has done for at least the last twenty years I’ve been taking an interest – the mind-numbing umming and ahhing over whether the city should have a tram system for God knows how long is a case in point.

    Okay, I’m banging on about Manchester right now, but I seriously think it is streets ahead of any other UK city in making a name for itself and competing on the international stage, not just nationally. In Peter Saville, it has its own Creative Director; in its property developments it has made some dire mistakes, but by heck, in order to push the boundaries you have to make those mistakes; in allowing various people to contribute their own art intrinsic to the city’s paving, for example all over The Northern Quarter, it has got even the tiniest things right in creating an eclectic, creative feel.

    Phil is right; a city needs an edge. The ‘I (heart) NY’ branding of the 60s would never have worked if the city itself didn’t have a bold and brave attitude in its people; almost an attitude of us against the rest of the world. I guess to create an edge, people need to be galvanised.

    What happened in Manchester? Well, whilst it has always had a good creative and forward-thinking pedigree, I really believe Manchester has come on in leaps and bounds since the terrible IRA bombing in 1996 – an atrocity that shook a whole city, but one that no doubt created an even stronger community – and a roll-your-sleeves up attitude. I’m sure there are plenty of other factors to be considered, not least, the physical geography and infrastructure of the place, but this is all you’re getting in ten minutes with no research!

    Of course I’m not saying we should hope for a similar tragedy in Leeds, so hold your fire all you itrigger-happy inter-webby Daily Mailsters – my point is that culture and community is born of getting through things together as a people – you can’t just magic that edge.

    However, what the likes of Leeds City Council can do is to get behind every attempt to promote culture, community, arts and responsible, but boundary-breaking, redevelopment – the stuff that’s going on over at Temple Works is brilliant and of course, not the only bright spot in this city that I love, but it needs somebody from within the Council to have the vision to see its true, magnificent potential – and the potential of many other great ventures in and around Leeds.

    Great post Neil.

    1. I don’t think it needs anyone in the council to have the vision – it was the council after all that pushed the promotion of Leeds as a 24 hour city in that you could get a drink at any time, but without trying to resolve issues like people actually getting into Leeds.

      It *possibly* needs someone to get the council to do things – like Tony Wilson did for Manchester, but then bear in mind that over here at the same time we had Richard Whiteley…

  6. I lived in Sheffield for a year as a student and it didn’t have half the things Leeds seems to have going on. I found it such a boring city with hardly any arty things to do …and generally hardly anything to do! It has reasonable museums yeah, and good club nights…except there aren’t that many places for club nights….DQ all the sodding time! Bungalows and Bears now and then and a few other hit and miss places. All fine establishments but so closed in. Sheffield doesnt have the radius of places like Manchester and Glasgow or Leeds for that matter, can be a blessing and a curse.

    Maybe Leeds isn’t as great as say Manchester or Glasgow, on a par with Newcastle cos I mean what happens there? I live right near Newcastle and again decent city but no way would I say it’s better than Leeds. Music wise more musicians will head for Leeds and Manchester than Sheff and Newc. Also Leeds is smack bang middle, easy to get to places, for example London.

    Some people have mentioned it needs a new art gallery, yeah it does. Something like the Baltic would be amazing. And in all honesty when I do come to leeds I’m disappointed with the museum and art gallery.

    Seeing negative things on some blogs like the ‘Is Leeds music scene dead?’ and ‘Cultural Report on Leeds: C minus, could do better…discuss’ Well yeah you’re all promoting a great place to come aren’t ya! I know it needs discussed but I dont think the first thing to do is say what’s crap about it. Big it up for what is is good at and improve things, let me know what’s good to do! I never think it’s just down to councils and what not, though they help, it is all in all up to us to push for things.

    I left Sheffield to come to Leeds and from following people on twitter and facebook and generally being a computer nerd this past year in my own shitty home town of Carlisle (want culture? come live here and see how much we have!) I’m too excited to go. Really I’m looking forward to all the art and music and stuff to actually do.

    I dunno, I am biased, and I’ll be a student when i go (maybe different from living there all your life and working there), I come from a small place with not much going on and maybe I’m grabbing the wrong end of the stick but I think Leeds does have a lot going on. Been staying with friends there most of this year and I can’t wait to go live there.

    So thanks Leeds!

    1. Hello Hatti

      Thanks for your reply, and it’s really lovely to get a balance…if you take a look at the website you would normally be hard pressed to hear us say negative stuff about Leeds, but from time to time we like to lob a hand grenade in and look at what Leeds could be doing better! Hence the tongue in cheek school report title, it was meant to be a little provocative and get people adding their views…(however for first time visitors to the site it may look like we love a bitch fest!)

      Sometimes it’s not about competition with other cities, it’s about realising our potential, as citizens and as a city, and I think if you live here for a while you could be guilty of taking stuff for granted, hence why it’s refreshing to hear of alternative opinions…

      I do hope you decide to stay, I did…having left the gentle southwestern shires, Leeds has been my home for 15 years and whilst I love living here, I’m not immune to puzzling about what makes it good, but would could make it even better!

      1. Sorry I think I went off a bit!
        I should have looked at your other posts first! And I have read some, I just felt like when I read this I left Sheffield for somewhere more exciting and you’re all telling me it’s not. I know that isn’t what you’re doing but it’s how I interpreted it. I should have had a cup of tea like rich!

        I had the choice of Manchester to be a student but Leeds felt so much more homely and attractive, and other things which aren’t the basis of this argument which is i felt it was safer. Dont know if it is or isn’t but I felt it was. It seems like a massively art city with all the different colleges etc.

        I agree with those of you who have lived there a while it could seem old and boring and like nothing (new?) is going on and obviously you are all gonna know more than me about the place.Maybe once I’ve lived there a year or two I can make a proper decision!

        1. No it was a timely reminder to consider that not everyone knows about the Culture Vulture ethos, and it was because we knew of so much fantastic stuff happening that the website was born! Part of the problem (as we perceived it) was that that the visibility of the cultural offer was very low, with marketing concentrating on the big, admittedly impressive flagship cultural stuff, and less of the stuff that makes us tick and gets us giddy!

          Hopefully people like you will stay and contribute to the enjoyment of the City, and continue to voice your opinions, as that is what is needed!

  7. OK Neil, let’s kick some ass. I invite you to package your polemic into a five minute presentation and put it to the audience of Bettakultcha 4.

    Let’s see what they make of it.

  8. I read through this and felt quite scandalised and a bit angry, so I went and had a bit of a sit down and a cup of coffee to mull it over.

    Much as I love Leeds (and I do completely love the place), I’ve sadly got to agree. It’s simply not as creatively organised as a lot of other places. Much of this is to do with political leadership – artistic and cultural things will always happen, but the help of strong political leadership in a council is vital in bringing that artistic drive to the people. Council leaders need to make big, bold decisions.

    I think that talk of Barcelona or Bilbao, New York or Tokyo as comparisons are just pipe dreams right now. We have to think like Yorkshire folk and get our own back yards in order first.

    Manchester is the example we should emulate (emulate, not follow. Sentiments displayed above about being daring and cutting a new path are bang on). I really hate to admit that Manchester excites me…it feels like a big city with an edge to it. You can feel the energy of the place. I go there, I see different things, and I’m inspired.

    What I don’t do enough of is translating that inspiration into action on this side of the Pennines.

    One thing to remember…Barcelona hasn’t always been the place it is now. It’s transformed itself over the last twenty years or so.

    Leeds can too.

  9. I think this is a great article and makes some interesting points.

    In my opinion this city has a massive amount of potential but needs to have a serious change of direction if it is to ‘move up a league’

    When I read some of the figures quoted for projects and schemes in the city, I can not help but imagine the possibilities if that money was invested into more ‘creative’ projects. I do not just mean creative in terms of content (more public art and a better supported underground music scene would be an immediate focus) but also in terms of thinking. We need to take some chances, invest in young, new, forward thinkers… you know, the people we are losing to more interesting roles down south and even across the pennines.

    I lived in Barcelona for 3 years so I have studied extensively how they created the Barcelona ‘brand’ and we will not get anywhere near that through retail and financial expertise alone.

    There has been talk of what our personality or selling point is, and sometimes you do not need to decide that: we can let other people do that: we be ourselves, promote interesting people / work / projects in the city and we will create an identity.

    I am still clinging to the hope that the council / the city / all of us can join the dots and work together for the benefit of the city and look back at conversations such as this one as the catalyst for improvement.

  10. V thought provoking stuff for someone who’s about to start work at the Council.

    Think the challenge is right. Lots more to do to help culture innovation and creativity. Great ideas about how to on this blog.

    Need to sharpen the city’s vision with ambition and distinctiveness.

    Leeds has huge advantages over virtually every other city in UK: economy forecast to grow faster than Milan and Paris, central location slap bang in middle of UK, near enough to London to benefit but far enough not to be dominated, two thirds of city is green belt, surrounded by cities and two National Parks, universities, and the cultural offer mentioned above plus Northern Ballet, Opera North, WY Playhouse, etc. Then there’s the people and the passion.

    IMHO our glass needs to be half full. Give credit where it’s due like a trebling of visitors to galleries and museums in last 5 years. Then people will accept the need to change and participate.

    The tide will turn if we work together and start talking up what we’ve got. And learn from others like Manchester and Glasgow.

    See you tomorrow Emma.

  11. I think I understand why I love Leeds after this post – it’s a Perpetual Tabala Rasa.

    Sure, it lacks a distinctive identity or narrative core, but it’s also a wonderful canvas. We can make it a Bilbao, or a rival to Manchester, or a tech hub, or a music hothouse or an experimental city, or a financial hub.

    All these things are concievable, because the hope and possibility of making things change are palpable…maybe all we need to alter is the tempo, longevity and virality of the city.

    Look next door at my home town of Bradford, where even hope isn’t possible and a city has lost its confidence, its looks and its self-esteem. Things can be a lot worse.

    Here we all have chances to make things better – so cheer up 🙂

  12. I think that things are already on the move in Leeds. I feel more potential in the city than for any time in the last 30 years. But the legend that is John McKnight offers us, and our Council, a warning:

    However we must understand the limits to government. If it replaces the work of citizens and their associations it will not create a healthy society – but a dependent one. The community will look to government to solve local problems and government will be unable to fulfil this role. Local problems will worsen. ‘Secure, wise and just communities are created by citizens and their associations and enterprises, supported by governments making useful investments in local assets’.

    For more on this theme:

    Let’s work with the council – but not hold them responsible for doing the work that has to be done by us. Let’s help them to help us.

  13. A very interesting post indeed. And a lot of it I agree with.

    In terms of commercial opportunities Leeds does very well at promoting itself, and bringing people in to the city. The nightlife and shopping here is very well known, and people travel from great distances to come out here.

    But what about the people who live here who don’t find nightclubs and shopping centres exciting and strive for a greater cultural life.

    The one thing that strikes me about Leeds is the relative conservatism of the arts here. Places like the Leeds Art Gallery and Leeds Museum are certainly interesting, but compare them to the superb Baltic, and it suddenly seems very lacking indeed.

    There are some great places – Temple Works, Hyde Park Picture House, Common Place, Brudenell – but where’s our equivalent of the Cornerhouse, why don’t we have an art centre with a great social space/bar/cafe attached like they have in most other cities, and even in Bradford.

    It’s frustrating, because, as Neil says, there’s real potential here, but we’re not keeping the talent and, as a city, we seem to focussed on pushing the shops (which are already massively succesful) and not helping the cultural side of the business to grow.

  14. I can’t disagree with anything here, if only the council put as much effort into promoting Leeds culture as it does green lighting flats and shopping centres. There was an opportunity to transform the Corn Exchange and its surrounding area of indie clothes shops into a Northern Quarter or Camden Market but all they did was gut it and put some gourmet hotdogs in there… and I fear Leeds Market is next, what will that attract to the city during a recession?

  15. Like Hatti, I came here as a student, from growing up in a wee village near Milton Keynes (yawn) and studying firstly in Wolverhampton (yes, they have a university. I was shocked too).

    For the bright eyed student/post graduate, Leeds offers a lot. The ‘underground’ student and graduate led arts scene is great, often pulling in more people than traditional and commercially-backed enterprises. If you want an exhibition, gig, talk, lecture, show or even political protest to go to in Leeds, there will always be one around, somewhere, if you know who to speak to.

    What seems to be the case is that the arts – along with retail, food and cultural activities in Leeds – often wants to gain the support of commercial, private or council funding. And this is not wrong, mostly it’s even necessary, seeing as this funding can achieve great things. But with the funding comes an almost automatic swing away from interesting, powerful, edgy and forthright enterprises. Leeds seems to put so much money into consumerism – coming from near Milton Keynes, a city which relies solely on its shopping centre as an attraction, the sheer force of the retail sector and consumptive attitude shocked me. It’s also not a particularly attractive aspect for a city to have, encouraging mad spending and therefore disengaging with a massive section of the population who aren’t interested/can’t be involved with this. For example: Leeds Retail Week offers a realistic and interesting way for small, independent boutiques and businesses that could be the keystone of a Leeds-based Northern-Quarter style hub to promote and market their business and individuality – except it is taken over (and funded) by Leeds high street shops that have more money and more power.

    The reliance on and appetite for consumerism that Leeds seems to exude – or at least, the council wants it to exude – could be powered towards something different. Take that desire to shop and turn it into a desire to create, make art, play, join together, support and be cultural, and Leeds would be a place that not only maintained its heritage, originality and independence, but also encouraged new blood because of its attitude and didn’t turn away those who felt they couldn’t compete or even just take part.

  16. I also whole-heartedly agree with the comparison made here. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved intimately in various institutions and art projects all round the country. Leeds just doesn’t stand up comparatively. It doesn’t have the vision.

    The problem to my mind is the short-sitedness of many projects that take place here. There’s very little in the way of organising events that permeate the region. This is due to a lack of cohesion and community amongst creatives, organisations and institutions in Leeds, everybody appears to be competing with one another rather than supporting one another. From the experiences I’ve had (working with Somerset House, ICA-Institute of Contemporary Art & Contemporary Arts Society), it’s always been the case that the larger institution takes a keen interest in supporting smaller artist led initiatives, curating projects where they can afford to dish out funding to said initiatives to become part of a larger canvas of specially curated events. The spaces maintain autonomy but keep the cultural sector rich within the area, having this is good effortless promotion for everyone – small amounts of money (which is alot to a an artist led initiative or individual) support the whole cultural picture. Work is spread out so it’s not as time consuming and difficult and everyone has a vested interest.

    The places that attempt to be Mid-Level organisations simply can’t function here at the moment, there’s a huge lack of support – they’re mostly artist-led and artist funded and when there’s no money floating about – people have to pay by working an extra job – leaving them little in the way of time to do what they aspire to do. Although I’m all for creatives becoming entrepreneurial and seeking ways of creating revenue, it’s difficult taking the first step without support, you’re generally chasing your tail if you’re in this position. I’m again speaking from experience.

    I’ve often found there’s little to aspire to in Leeds, speaking from the position of someone who is trying to develop their practice. I feel I’ve done most things there are to achieve here – without taking a gigantic leap and exhibiting at the Henry Moore. I’m always looking elsewhere – London, Newcastle, Europe, L.A., NY. These are the only feasible directions for me to go and I don’t even consider myself successful.

    Another contributing factor in my opinion is the lack of specialisation, it’s good to break down barriers between disciplines but there’s not an opportunity to specialise and really seek to exhibit the finest of a certain discipline – do some ballsy, experimental, out-there curatorial work. This I believe, from conversing with students, doesn’t imbue them with a sense of aspiration – the things that do exist are too accessible to graduating art students, they’ve achieved what they can achieve quite often before they even graduate. They need a platform to develop their practice and put it into context, but also need something to aim at and work towards. An example of an institution in Leeds specialising and doing a good job of it is Pavilion, the recent Elisabeth Price piece was amazing, but wasn’t on for long enough, but again although they’re doing this exciting curatorial work there doesn’t appear to be a way in – I’m not sure it’s that kind of set-up though – I know they take on interns – perhaps this is enough.

    In regard to the commercial and retail sector, I think it’s a simple case of not-enough independent business – specialising and attempting to compete with larger companies – utilising creatives to give them a cutting edge. There are places in Leeds, which do this, but there’s not enough cultural partnerships – independent businesses generally contribute alot to the fabric of a city and create communities around them – it’s always a catalyst for fresh innovative ideas. The way the City Centre has been laid out has effectively made it an impenetrable fortress for this kind of independent business, the inner core being very commercial very profitable business that can afford to pay the huge rent and rates on these properties. I don’t really know that much about property in the City Centre so I’m just making an educated assumption.

    I’m always going to be an idealist and am always going to do what I can to contribute to the place I live, but I am quite often feeling very jaded by Leeds and very excited about elsewhere.

    Good debate!

    JC / NV

  17. Yes, Tom

    “why don’t we have an art centre with a great social space/bar/cafe attached like they have in most other cities, and even in Bradford?”

    That for me has always been the big question. I won’t repeat myself by saying that I think the Majestyk is crying out to be made in to a cutting edge arts centre that can compete with the likes of BA in London or Greenroom in Manchester. I think I’ve said all that before.

    When I worked for Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre that was always our vision to one day have a purpose built arts centre that would not only house us and a friendly bar but the Performing Arts courses allowing for that natural integration/progression from student to professional work. Though this has sadly not happened for us I think it should still happen!

    Leeds has great nationally respected arts organisations like Opera North and WYP and the Henry Moore Institute but where are the boundary pushers? Who is developing the next generation of artists? Giving them a space to try and to fail? Are we really to believe that the only place for radical work is in those found spaces and backroom galleries? Leeds’ image is so very very safe. Like it’s trying too hard to be better than it is. Come to Leeds, we have terribly nice theatre and a Harvey Nick, don’t you know? It’s all very Hyacinth Bucket. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Manchester seems to much riskier a prospect. It’s bigger and harder to navigate and maybe a little bit scary. I wouldn’t dare move there but if I want to see interesting theatre I HAVE to go there. There’s so little in between here and there.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like Leeds. I just long for it to take a few risks.


  18. Thank you all for replies. It’s good to see so much feedback.

    I’d just like to add a few thoughts about how I think Leeds could move forward.

    I don’t think a large purpose built venue is a solution, I fear it becomes an obsession just as a music arena has become over the past few years. Lack of large arts spaces are only part of Leeds problems; the argument then becomes what are you putting in the space? What is it’s purpose? What makes it different to the Henry Moorre or the Leeds Art Gallery? In fact why not expand those spaces add opportunities for film screenings, gigs and new experimental work. The combination of Leeds Town Hall, Leeds Library, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute done correctly with the mixture of heritage of those building,s, a combination of new and old architecture, new and established work would rival any city.

    To make Leeds truly successful it’s a balancing act, and this is what makes Manchester and Glasgow interesting, a mixture of retail, art venues and independent spaces. Leeds has the the mainstream retail, as has already been said it attracts people form all over the country. What it really lack is small independent spaces, by this I mean everything from greasy spoons to pubs to shops to galleries. To me the some of the most diverse, interesting cultural spaces in Leeds are the Market and the Merrion Market, these should be starting points. The Leeds Market to me is what should be at the heart of an independent Leeds, there’s a real opportunity to look at the history and the purpose of the space, keeping it’s character. It’s a place to sell, buy, meet people and network. It doesn’t mean rebuilding it or a dreadful re-branding campaign it means looking at it as a low cost independent space. Lowering rents, encouraging businesses to start up there, keeping the cafes and keeping the existing businesses. The Merrion Market has tried doing this, it’s not always successful but over the years it’s had second hand record shops, reggae music stalls, DIY Internet Cafes, really good greasy spoons, art galleries, a fancy dress shop that refuses to die, a craft shop and of course Neville’s DIY.

    I agree that the council shouldn’t be the only option. Some of the most interesting things we found setting up the first Test Space event was because we didn’t have funding and we had to look at alternatives. It gave us more freedom, we had to look at other solutions. That meant working with established businesses such as Crash Records, newer spaces such as On the Wall or venues such as SubCulture. In the end I think this kind of independent collaboration and networking is crucial for Leeds to succeed. I don’t think it can be created by the council, I think the council can be more forward thinking about it how encourages creative businesses and people but this doesn’t always mean funding and venues. For example I live in Harehills, last time I was at a gig at the Brudenell I had to leave at 10.30pm in order to catch the last bus, something as simple as couple of night buses from the city centre would be a start.

    I also agree with some of Hattis points. If you’ve lived in a city for a long time often you are it’s harshest critic, I’ve worked with people in Manchester who believe both Leeds and Liverpool have more opportunities and creative things going on right now. It’s a matter of opinion and no city is perfect.

    There was a mention at the start of the replies of Leeds being know in this country for football (well football violence) I’ve had conversations with taxi drivers in the middle of Burma who have heard of Leeds because of Leeds United and the team that got to the Champions League semi-final. There’s an argument that a football team is a crucial part of a cities identity and Leeds United embodies both what makes Leeds great but also it’s numerous flaws. But that’s a whole other blog post.

    1. The Merrion Market would be an excellent place to start. The Art Market is a great, dinky little gallery that is in the heart of the Art Market and allows illustrators, artists and other creators to exhibit. We need more places like this. If I knew that there was a chance of owning my own small shop unit, being able to kit it out, invite people, be part of a cultural-creative-commercial community there, I would do it like a shot.

      It wouldn’t have to be simply retail items either, although encouraging independent clothing, artists, food and other creators would be fabulous: you could have workshop-shops where you can learn new skills, web cafes, learn to cook places a la Jamie Oliver, sewing workshops, daycare, mini arts libraries, specialist food stores, independent record and music outlets, band stand-type stall, everything! Does that sound a little mad? Maybe.

      All it would need to start would be Leeds Council and Merrion Centre owners (or whoever they are) drawing up a ‘start up business’ plan and pricing package for young (or old) graduates and makers. Start it cheap, then once the business has been there and succeeded for a year or two, slight increase. But keep it LOW for new businesses coming into the market.

      Putting all those creative people in one place would also lead to: joint projects – communal ventures – interdisciplinary work – mutual support – a flagship for other ventures in other parts of Leeds, Yorkshire, UK…etc! It would also revitalise what, at the moment, is an exciting, strange, unique and fascinating venue, but lacks heart and soul.

    2. “something as simple as couple of night buses from the city centre would be a start.”

      Hear hear! Sadly the chances of convincing First Leeds buses of this are slim to none…

  19. Really interesting comments and many are what I have thought myself for some time.

    As an Architect I obviously concentrate on buildings and believe there is a lack of vision for quality interesting new buildings. Casing point: Manchester got the delighfully sleak & dramatic Beetham Towel, Leeds got the trully ugly sister of Bridgewater Place.

    There are countless creative architects in and around Leeds who do not want to design these building but are having their hand tied by the planning department who are scared of the new & different and by clients who want things done cheaper to maximise their profits. There is no simple answer to these problems.

    However there are exceptions to this such as the recently finish Broadcasting Place for Leeds Met Uni. I love it, many people hate it but at least it is nice to have something unique to look at in our city.

    As a final thought; Once the brewery move out of Leeds centre what will become of this site? I fear it will be derelict for many years before becoming more standard retail or office units. I’d love to see it as a new large park creating a great desination within the city.

  20. Neil – what a great article and burgeoning debate! As someone who’s used to banging on about Sheffield’s identity all the while, it’s fascinating to be privy to this conversation about culture in Leeds. You’ve obviously articulated sentiments that are on Leeds’ collective mind a lot right now. Having worked in Leeds for nearly three years myself (while living in Sheffield) I feel like I can say I understand something of your hopes and fears. So speaking as an outsider but not an alien (!) it strikes me that the biggest challenge is the disconnect between how the official channels market Leeds – brash, consumerist, clubby – compared with what the resident vocal, active and growing creative community put their heart and soul into doing every day.

  21. One area overlooked in both Neil’s article and subsequent comments is the extent to which Leeds is leading many other cities outside London, and in particular Manchester, in establishing a culture of debating. For example:

    • Leeds has 2 Café Scientifiques – in Chapel Allerton and Headingley – which have been going for more than a decade.
    • It has Taking Soundings, based and run by lecturers from Leeds Met which has been going for over 3 years, and is the only public debating forum for the magazine Soundings.
    • It has Café Economique, again over 3 years old and based in Chapel Allerton, which recently held a full day conference on the economy in Leeds.
    • There’s Leeds Salon, which I co-foundered early last year – which, like the Café Scientifiques, is part of a growing national and international network of Salons.
    • And the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre based at Leeds University is another forum with a number of big names debates under its belt.

    All these discussion groups draw in good sized audiences of 30-100+ people; and more are popping up all the time: there’s the recently established Chapel Town Salon art gallery/forum (no relation), and rumour has it a new Café Philosophique based in Weetwood will be up and running before the end of the year. And last, but not least, there’s Leeds-based charity Together for Peace, who last November held a weekend of culture and debate at Leeds University, which included Leeds Salon and Taking Soundings events, and which is aiming to pull off a similar event in 2011.

    Compare this to Manchester. Where really there’s only Manchester Salon that exists on the same level to the above-mentioned Leeds groups. And the Manchester Café Scientifique actually packed-in in 2006 due to lack of interest, while both Leeds’ Cafe Sci’s get over 50 people an event. If Leeds wants a unique selling point, it could do worse than promote itself as a city of debate.

    The only thing Leeds needs to do to further this culture of debate is create more free or affordable venues for debate within the city centre – and maybe this is where Neil’s idea for a re-invention of the high street could come in with new smaller venues that could be used for smaller scale cultural activities. Plus if Leeds CC brought down the price of the some of the existing rooms for higher in and around the Town Hall and Millennium Square, and Leeds Met did likewise with the Rose Bowl that would be a great help.

    Paul Thomas
    Leeds Salon

    1. I agree Paul, it’s one of the things I’ve overlooked in this post. I only found out about the Salon recently, I like this idea of Leeds as city of debate, or an underground scene of debating. It’s something we’re looking at for the next Test Space event, broadening out from visual arts.

    2. Thanks Paul, I had no idea about the wealth of thinking, discourse and debate in the city, and I’m sure despite great attendances a lot of the Culture Vulture readers would not be aware of the wealth of opportunities to them.

      This is almost another blog post in the making!!!!

      I do wonder though with all this thinking and debating, whether action is also called for? Maybe it is already happening? What would it look like?

      Just thinking out loud…

      1. Emma

        We can have a chat on Friday, I’ve registered an am hoping to pop along in my lunchtime for a chat.

        Part of my comment could have been a draft for an article I wanted to write for CV following a review Helen Crawford did of Cafe Sci in Chapel in which she eneded:”Leeds does seem to be buzzing with debating, parlour and salon groups these days, are we entering a golden era intellectually?”, in which my reply was “lets hope so”.

        The growth of debating fora is a national phenomenon, but Leeds does seem more dynamic than most places.

        Leeds Salon

  22. I can’t really comment on any huge level as I have only been a resident of Leeds for two years (I moved here from the South coast so a complete change).

    However, even in that time I have seen a lot of change and not just more flats being built.

    Maybe it’s just a transitional period whilst ‘new things’ are being established. I seem to see things most weeks/days and new events popping up all the time.

    Leeds isn’t like any other city I’ve been to, it has such a nice vibe to it. And everyone that visits me feels the same.

  23. I like this article. I’ve been in Leeds for about 18 months now, after moving from Manchester, and I actually find Leeds a better place to live. We have people who are affectionate and thoughtful, creative and concise. We have a true Yorkshire spirit. Manchester for me had arrogance, which I don’t want to see or feel. It was a feeling of vanity often fuelled by ego, which was never that appealing. I think there are plenty of great things going on in Leeds, and I have no doubt many people will eventually find a way of showing the beauty and dignity which is so often missed. I don’t think it’s about being rich, famous and the most noticed for everything. I think it’s about growing something small and constantly searching for great things. Pushing the boundaries of creativity. We have music scenes which are bustling with brilliance. We have the Hyde Park Cinema which is built upon the love of film. We have great social meeting places. A good range of shops. Wonderful restaurants and people who are actually interesting, who are never trying to be something they’re not.
    I went to Australia for a year and saw a beauty in Melbourne which I can in someways relate to in Leeds. Sydney was big and bustling and most peoples favourite, but the small things in Melbourne were what made the difference. And I’d like to think that the more Leeds develops, it will be the small things that make the difference. The attention to detail, and the all round passion of being part of Yorkshire. This is what it’s all about.
    I think people expect everything to come to them, when really, to make things happen, you need to get out there and get involved.

  24. I’ve come to this debate a bit late but having just travelled back up from a day in London on business – all of it cultural – I have been heartened by the comments by people here. They are clearly passionate about Leeds – but collectively seem non-plussed about what we can do to compete with other cultural centres.
    I’ve lived and worked in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and London. If London is the cultural benchmark – then Leeds is sadly lacking, but by that definition so are most cities – whether they be Sheffield or Liverpool (my home town). No doubt some cultural body has come up with a top ten list of the UK’s top cultural cities and, while I have not seen it, I suspect that Leeds is middle ranking at best.
    The truth of the matter is that there is no political will in Leeds to push it as a cultural centre – a lot of the council’s interests are based on retail and business. And I am sick to death about hearing how Leeds is the retail jewel of the North (what because we have a glorified haberdashers in Harvey Nichols) – have these people never been to Manchester or Liverpool. Have you seen how much Scouse women spend on clothes – each week?
    As to Leeds being the financial services centre of the North – that’s a nonsense too. True we have a lot of big law firms and accountants – but Manchester has more, ditto Birmingham.
    As a former business journalist in the city – I was always puzzled that the city decided to define itself as a centre of retail and business excellence – which is such an ephemeral claim to fame, particularly in the current economic climate.
    For me, Leeds’ biggest problem is that there are not enough grass roots cultural rebels and trouble makers (with the honourable exception of the culture vultures).
    Go to Liverpool and look at its history and you can see it has become a cultural icon (The Tate, Albert Docks, Bluecoats, Walker Art Gallery, Maritime Museum, The Beatles, Liverpool Philomonic, Everyman Theatre, Playhouse, Royal Court Theatre, Echo Arena, Empire Theatre, City Museum, Peoples Museum, two premiership football clubs, thriving music scene, more clubs and bars than you can shake a stick at, and the oldest China Town in the Western world) because of the people and a grass roots beligerence and an innate mistrust of the city’s politicians.
    The same can be said of Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Sheffield. But Leeds has always been more interested in making money (I wrote a book about it in 2001 for Leeds Financial Services Initiative) and has been run by people who each evening, after a hard days graft head off home to Ilkley, Harrogate, Wetherby and pretend they have nothing to do with the city’s cultural interests.
    Back in the 1980s – when I was at university in Leeds – it did seem possible that Leeds could challenge it’s northern city rivals. There was a great underground publishing movement – anyone remember Leeds Other Paper? – a thriving anachist movement, a great music scene, poets, artists, film makers and journalists.
    Inevitably, they all moved away to other northern towns or to London – I was one of them.
    The reality is we, in Leeds, should not get diverted by concentrating on our position vis a vis Mancpoolcastle, but rather look in our selves and consider how we should define the city’s cultural footprint – especially now that all talk is about a city state of Yorkshire (or at least West Yorkshire). Indeed, that may be part of the problem – Yorkshireness.
    Yorkshire folk like talking about coming from the Broad Acres but what they really mean is they come from Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford or Hull. And the problem is that people from Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford or Hull never talk to each other – and that’s going to get worse when the Government introduces LEPs.
    So I have a modest proposal and suggest we have a BarCamp or similar event to create a Cultural Manifesto for Leeds in particular and the region at large.
    Apologies for the rant… but like I said we are all passionate about this, and that has to be good.

    1. I think you’ve made some really interesting points here, Ian. Leeds does seem to be infatuated with money, and historically that is what has always held it back. I sometimes wonder if Yorkshire doesn’t really embrace art and culture as it goes against the typical Yorkshire grain of ‘hard work and no grace’.

      I spent 7 years working at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, watched it turn from a no-go area into a true bastion of independent spirit – and then onto the creative mecca that has become Brick Lane and Spitalfields. Orginally, studios were rented to artists, musicians, publishers and fashion designers at a knock down price. Cheaper than anywhere in Zone 1. And within five years it turned into one of the most expensive areas to rent in the capital. The point being that bring those creative people in first – then the rest will follow.

      Leeds really does need somwhere like the Truman Brewery. An old building that is in the city centre where little shops, cafes and boutiques can thrive. The important thing is price. East Street Arts are in an interesting area, but that nasty motorway cuts Leeds in half. Perhaps if the footbridges that connect Sheepscar/Mabgate to the city were improved then people would be more willing to ‘take a walk on the wild side’. Nothing like a bit of flaneuring to open the mind and spirit. I find that places like Chapeltown / Headingley are interesting – Leeds City Centre just isn’t. Love the Merrion Centre too, but the rash of pound shops doesn’t help its image. Shops like Third Estate are a real example of innovative retail – half of Leeds probably doesn’t know it even exists. And as for the cinema being built at Trinity, well, you know there is still an amazing vintage cinema bricked up in the Merrion Centre. Perhaps we should liberate it?

  25. “So I have a modest proposal and suggest we have a BarCamp or similar event to create a Cultural Manifesto for Leeds in particular and the region at large”

    Yet another parade through the ‘it’s oh so much better somewhere else’ – that’s the problem. There’s folk in other places (and not just Bradford) looking at Leeds and saying – with no evidence – what a bloody brilliant place it is on the basis of a weekend there with the girlfriend.

    And we go to the continent – as tourists – we visit all the sights. And come back and say just how shit where we’re living is…

    Well I live in a brilliant place – there’s loads to go to, there’s plenty to see, there events galore.

    The last thing Yorkshire needs is a cultural manibloodyfesto of any sort – this ain’t Liverpool, all fur coat and no knickers.

  26. “The last thing Yorkshire needs is a cultural manibloodyfesto of any sort – this ain’t Liverpool, all fur coat and no knickers.”

    All fur coat and no knickers??

    Actually, I think that’s Harrogate you’re thinking about. We don’t do fur coats in Liverpool.

  27. It’s a little bit of history repeating itself…..

    Liverpool, Glasgow, Bilbao, Manchester (ship canal), Barcelona – ports. They care passionately about themselves but essentially look outwards. They are places where ideas and peoples and culture meet and blend and argue and get influenced by each other.

    I like Leeds (I’m passionate about Bradford, mind) but it’s always struck me as a bit navel gazing and self reflective. Always a bit too busy worrying about making a ‘scene’ to actually do it.

    It shares Bradford’s problem of thinking that it’s Councils that make culture. They do not and they never have – even in ‘the good olde days’ it was philanthropists (oh how we look forward to their return, ha!) and working mens associations and ordinary folk who did that. The best a council can do is not get in the way too much, not put too many barriers up.

    This can change though. T’interweb helps.

    Stop worrying about it and do it, find out what other folks are up to out there and talk to em rather than seeing em as competition.

    This is why I’m liking Culture Vultures more and more. It begins a conversation.

  28. Iain – agree completely. Councils are pants and tend to put down grass roots creativity when it challenges their cultural agenda.
    Also agree on “Stop worrying about it and do it…” I also agree about port culture – they look outwards rather than inwards.
    I suspect that’s why I have a soft spot for Hull when everyone else I know in Yorkshire derides it

    Adelle – “Leeds really does need somwhere like the Truman Brewery” – It’s here – – falling to rack and ruin in Holbeck (I think it’s Holbeck) either the creatives take over and squat, or it collapses (a wall fell down recently) or the council steps in (unlikely). But it’s back to what I said earlier Leeds likes making money and would never take the risk of backing a Trumans Brewery – lovely though the idea is.

  29. To Ian Green.

    I agree with Simon Cooke, we don’t need a manifesto, which could only be artificial and contrived.

    What we do need to do as both individuals and organisation is think big and, as others said yesterday at the Round Foundry, be prepared to take risks. Added to that, just maybe Culture Vulture’s ‘conversations’ initiative, by bringing together those already doing something in Leeds, could be the thing that helps kick-start a more dynamic cultural scene and from which sense of identity could more organically develop. Come along to the next one and find out what’s happening.

    Paul Thomas
    Leeds Salon

    1. Thanks Paul – maybe “manifesto” is too strong a word but at the very least we need a conversation and a plan. Will check into next meeting.

  30. Leeds doesn’t shout about what it has got. Two years ago I learnt about Light Night from an art class I was taking, in Leeds Guide it was advertised on the cover but had an eighth page write up – the night was fantastic but because we weren’t aware we missed out on bookings. If you want culture you have to actively seek it, instead we should be shouting about it.

    1. How do you think The Culture Vulture could help further? We set up because we knew there was a wealth of great stuff happening, we don’t cover everything that happens or is on the radar admittedly! What more could we do to support the visibility of the great stuff in Leeds and beyond?

    2. Also, the great ‘under the radar’ stuff we get excited about is perpetuated by go getters without marketing budget, admittedly Light Night does have some budget, but on the whole the stuff that is unique and exciting is run by individuals, small unfunded collectives etc. So whilst they can spread an idea through their own channels by word of mouth or limited materials/online stuff, they ultimately market to the likes of themselves.

      So the challenge or question is…do they want to market to a wider public?

      If they do, how do they do so with very limited time, and in some cases experience?

      How do they convey a sense of quality for people who trust more mainstream cultural brands and experiences?

      How do they articulate themselves in a way which is understood outside of their peers?

      1. Sorry, meant to reply to this as well!

        Well, if they don’t want to reach a wider audience then its fine, keep it as that type of project and some projects should really be that. If not then once you have pushed yourselves into every cultural vein of Leeds then they organisers and artists will know to come to you to promote themselves and those seeking to fulfil their cultural vent will hear about you and know where to look.

  31. I often have the problem, that I don’t feel I can communicate or penetrate audiences – I’m relatively sure would be into what we’re doing (theartmarket / Nous Vous) – Theater go-ers etc. And yes we generally get the same group of people coming to things we organise. It’d be great If we could afford to take time to access these other channels (whatever they are), and afford to put out promotion for certain things. We generally have a budget of about 20 quid to promote things at theartmarket, not that I feel alot of printed collateral is always necessary – especially with technological advances – but there are alot of technophobes who love culture.

    Light Night doesn’t really have that large a budget, I know from producing the promotional material. I could compare Light Night budget to a one-off / one-evening event promoted in London, I’ve worked on both. Where’s the dollars / support if we’re supposed to be a thriving financial City? Show me the money (Support)! There’s ways of promoting and supporting people that are mutually beneficial. NOS & The new skate shop ‘Welcome’ as well as Opposite Café to my mind are good examples of where this co-operation and collaboration works.

    We need to look into ways of promoting – Culture Vulture is great, but like I say excludes technophobes (like my mum). I also initially designed LVAF artmap, which was quite a painful experience – simply because I was aware what I was producing wasn’t going to get to enough people – the parameters LVAF have to deal with financially are crippling. Producing a map that has to be printed on a domestic printer by the galleries listed on the map, designing within those parameters was also troubling when there’s so much info that need to be included. Can’t there just be one that includes independent business that just includes all venues with details where to find updates on events etc? Supported by the businesses / spaces on it?

    A collaboration between all organisations / active individuals in Leeds would go a long way in terms of promoting. I’ve seen it happen quite often where people are saying ‘go to this place it’s good’ just on an informal basis – maybe formalising this in some way would work?

    I’m not positive a manifesto is in order, but isn’t a bad idea. I prefer the idea of more independent / autonomous activity taking place and flourishing and being guided by their own personal prerogative, within some kind of support network. Not convinced we need ‘A Space’ either, London doesn’t have ‘A Space’ it has lots. An Area would be better.

    Sorry to ramble again, I have a big mouth and alot to say. It’s great having a discussion about this kind of thing. There’s also lots to go in-to.



  32. It’s been interesting reading all the comments on this but I fear it is becomming somewhere for people to have a bit of a moan that Leeds is not the city they want.

    If we are not happy about things, instead of just talking about it blaming others, do something to change it. As some bloke with a liking for burgers once said:

    “A little less conversation, a little more action please”

    (I repect quite a few people already are doing great things and good on ’em!)

  33. Culturevulture and Leeds Guide have a massive part to play in this.

    WE took Leeds Guide by subscription for a couple of years & I’ve always been disappointed in the small articles/spaces given to art and culture, particularly those massive events (because they are worth shouting about) but also the tiny and interesting events with little marketing budget. We aren’t just a shopping and eating destination, there is a lot more on offer if only you know where to look. Much as I love shopping, it’s not all I want to do. We didn’t continue with our subscription because it became a bit samey.

    I’m only a recent user of Twitter but I’m finding Culturevulture’s tweets really informative. It’s just getting to people like my husband who are technophobes.

    For example, we are free this weekend so where do I find out where to go? We had some money a few years ago & we wanted to buy something possibly from a Leeds Uni art student but when we enquired the university didn’t know what to do with us! So what I am saying is that if we poled up to an event and loved something we could afford then we’d do it or buy it and be generating income.

    We love to see new stuff and have our eyes opened but really don’t know where to find out. When I mentioned Light Night it was because I was enthralled with it all, we absolutely loved everything we managed to see/get into but I never found out when it was happening again – I understand it’s not absolutely once a year.

    What I would like to see – maybe on this website (oops if you’ve already got it) – is a list of staples, places to go whenever you want, a list of what’s happening this week and a list of forthcoming stuff. From the obvious like the art gallery to the tiny independent students who are taking a shop for a week. All this in an easy to navigate dead centre obvious place to look.

    But then, what for the technophobes? Well, maybe Leeds Guide would like to work in partnership with you, give you a column or even a page? What you have to say is interesting & would target more of the residents of Leeds rather than the visitors and subsequently would broaden their readership and in turn lead to sales!

    Who knows? I’m really not moaning, just trying to be helpful. What I do know is the more you shout the more you get noticed.

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      As the editor of Leeds Guide, I’m always interested in any criticism or feedback, and I’d be very keen to hear your thoughts on what you think we could do better – please feel free to email me at


      Here at Leeds Guide we’ve found this post, and the subsequent replies, absolutely fascinating. We’re very keen to support and promote the cultural growth of Leeds in any way we can, and we always want to hear about any interesting cultural events or project going on. So if you’re doing something that you feel would be suitable for some web or print coverage at all, please feel free to tell me about it, again on:

  34. the problem with Leeds is that it is geared for two things, drinking alcohol and shopping, and that’s it, nothing else, leeds need to move on from this, be more creative and diverse, as the posts suggest, we need to be more cultural, open up the city centre, than allow it to be roamed by larger louts, it needs to have something for everyone, we need to start attracting families and tourists to the city, look at edinburgh, amazazing what they are doing, leeds need to learn, an inclusive city will bring in more revenue for leeds than larger louts. leeds has potential, i hate what theyve done to the corn exchange, that food court is a pile of p**sh, they could have developed that whole area to have independent cafes and curious shops, allowing new businesses to flourish, giving it a cultural flavour, with its winding alley ways, it could have been amazing, Leeds need more culture simple as.not more nightclubs,

  35. Leeds has a vibrant (and frequently edgy) cultural offer – one of the best in the Uk – Opera North (the only English City to have its own international opera company AND a classical dance company), a rich programme of orchestral concerts and chamber music, a robust and excellent amateur orchestral and choral infrastructure, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Contemporary Dance School, oh and I nearly forgot the Northern Ballet Theatre and Phoenix Dance Company whose brand new Centre opens on Quarry Hill later this year. Opera North have since January 2009 been managing and programming the magnificent Howard Assembly Room next to the Grand Theatre with the sort of event and performance programme not readily accessibly outside of London. Also don’t forget the Carriageworks Theatre with its innovative programme of both amateur and professional music and theatre. The restored City Varieties will open during 2011; the long awaited concert arena with a combined seating and standing capacity of 12500 will be open by late 2012. Leeds City Council has led on many of the aforementioned attractions but there is a rich seam of creative activity which is independent of the local authority of which the exciting Temple Works is an exemplar. More needs to be made of the Corn Exchange (beautifully decorated, restored and now rescued from the hideous signage and merchandise which obscured the building’s glorious architectural features. I agree that the Corn Exchange lacks atmosphere compared to the buzz of the place during the late 80s and early 90s). We haven’t perhaps anywhere on the scale of Glasgow’s Merchant City but the Holbeck area has the potential to match it.

    Leeds geared up for nothing else but drinking alcohol and shopping? What complete and utter tosh! Just take a look around and sniff the air. You can almost smell the creativity.

  36. I see one or two clever and persuasive and imaginative people coming through the ranks in Leeds but there are a lot of sociopathic jobsworths furring up the City’s arteries; and as we all know crap runs downhill and pervades everything with its stink. Take Trinity Arts. The Trinity shopping development is being built on land forcibly taken from the Trinity Arts Church. Try to park outside the church and the jobsworths on the site tell you the Trinity Church access is their land and a fire escape for the site. Until and unless the knobs from the site developers want to block it up with BMW’s & Mercs, then no problems. There is no appreciation for how the ludicrous costs of transport & parking are starving the city of flow. Who the hell wants to spend £5 on a couple of hours – and who on low fixed incomes – like a lot of artists – can justify it. Take the fiasco over Leeds Museums and Galleries preventing photography. Millennium Square is private property – owned by Leeds City Council until they sell it under our noses to some fat cat developers. This isn’t our city. We’re not invested in it, it belongs to the stuffing council so they can rip us off for parking on their streets, for going the wrong way down their one way system, so they can maximise revenue for their properties they forced people into receivership to own. Who wants a heritage like that to be proud of? I resent the way the City is run. If I earn cash from art will I spend a penny on the thieves of Leeds? I’d really rather not. I’d leave in a heartbeat and find any other place that’s better – and even grim old England is teeming with them.

  37. I wanted to add to Rebecca’s comments about events.

    Many of you have obviously been involved in communities and business in Leeds for a number of years, but I think you will find that locals do not know about the majority of events that take place in Leeds. The promotion of events in this city is pathetic.

    I have lost count of the number of events that I have told family and friends about that they did not know existed. It seems most of the small to medium sized events, are promoted within a small group , on social networks, so the general public are never going to get a taste of what Leeds has to really offer, be it culture or any other type of event.

    I am relatively new to running a community, and business focused on Leeds, I am finding that there’s an awful lot of talk, and not a great deal of action. As the founder of a guide aimed at promoting the city, I am happy to meet and work with everyone involved in Leeds, but I get the distinct feeling that far too many people have their own agenda’s, and don’t want to bring down the barriers and work to make Leeds better.

    1. Darren

      I suppose it depends on the type of event and audience people are after, but I would imagine that lots of groups, regardless of having their own agendas, would love to promote themselves to a wider audience, but lacking funds have generally had to make do with social networking and what advertising we can get. Isn’t it the nature of new and/or small groups that you do inevitably start small and have to make yourself noticed? If by ‘there’s an awful lot of talk, and not a great deal of action’ refers to organisations promoting themselves, how do you know? And as things have to start somewhere, how do you know Cultural Conversations isn’t the start of something that allows all those things that are happening in Leeds from getting themselves known about more, and that on their own would have been difficult for any individual group to pull off?

      By the way, if you are working on promoting what’s going on in the city, I’d definitely like to take you up on the offer of meeting up for a chat.

      Paul Thomas
      Leeds Salon

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