LEEDS 2023: a year when culture connected with every community

The final independent evaluation of LEEDS 2023 by The Audience Agency will be published later this year, but the impact on those who took part in creative activities, many for the first time, is already being felt. A new documentary by Leeds-based filmmakers Sodium Films, Letting Culture Loose: The Power of Creativity, features some of the people involved in the year-long cultural programme, which includes the thoughts of pupils at Ingram Road Primary School in Holbeck.

A new music video and song titled Marching On (Together), has also been produced by LS18 Rocks, a live performance music school based in Horsforth. The video is produced by BA Music Production students from Leeds Beckett University, and conceived following the group’s acclaimed appearance at LEEDS 2023’s opening event ‘The Awakening’.

Speaking about the song, Musical Director Jonnie Khan explained:

“Leeds is a phenomenal cultural hub that has for far too long been reluctant to shout about how great it is. LEEDS 2023 has helped give artists in the city a platform to shout loud and proud about their work. The Awakening set us off on a breath-taking journey and led to our Marching On project, which has evolved over the months into something that has continually got bigger and better. LEEDS 2023 has jet-propelled our creativity.”

Led by Creative Director and CEO, Kully Thiarai, LEEDS 2023 was officially launched with ‘The Awakening’ live event at Headingley Stadium on 7 January 2023. Twelve months on, interim findings confirm that all 33 council wards were involved in LEEDS 2023 events and 228 schools from all wards participated in activities, with school children taking part at least 35,000 times.

Sir John Townsley, Chief Executive of the GORSE Academy Trust which looks after around 12,000 pupils said:

“Many of our children and professionals participated in a wide range of events and I know from other colleagues across the region just how impactful the whole initiative has been.”

A further 808 young people were involved or engaged through a student placement, paid internship, paid or accredited work experience or an industry insight opportunity attached to LEEDS 2023. One student, Adam Davidson, described his internship experience saying:

“It has allowed me to develop into a far more independent, confident, and experienced individual. I fell in love with the message of LEEDS 2023, and I have gained a new outlook on my identity as a citizen of Leeds; I now take far greater pride in calling this city home.”

The year-long programme of events, many of them free and often located in unusual and unexpected parts of the city, featured at least 1,100 events. This figure is expected to increase once final data has been collated.

LEEDS 2023 played an important role in boosting skills by investing in people through initiatives such as its innovative Neighbourhood Host programme. 33 local people were appointed in each Leeds ward where, in collaboration with their own community, they received paid training and developed individual and distinctive projects as part of My LEEDS 2023. Here they helped inspire and co-ordinate community events that tapped into creativity at a grassroots level. Initial figures show that 177 events were held and 51,500 people participated in My LEEDS 2023. In the documentary Kelly Hamilton, Neighbourhood Host for Gipton and Harehills, comments:

“It’s been a really amazing, exciting journey and I feel like even if LEEDS 2023 is over, I feel like my own personal journey is just getting started.”

Leeds people generously committed their time to supporting culture and have expressed an appetite for more. Another significant achievement was LEEDS 2023’s volunteer scheme which created a 1000-strong army of volunteers who collectively gave up 17,766 hours across the year to support events, artists and communities. Many had never volunteered before. Volunteer Trina Elkington features in the documentary commenting:

“It’s been 100% accommodating … I can honestly say I’ve made some great friends.”

The volunteers have now pledged to continue in their new-found roles with Leeds City Council supporting future sporting and cultural events in the city.

Always intended as a celebration of creativity and inclusivity, LEEDS 2023 engaged with 239 cultural partners locally, regionally, nationally and internationally as well as attracting 57 sponsors and partners. Originally conceived of as a bid to be European Capital of Culture, LEEDS 2023,remained European and global in its approach by making connections with international talent, collaborating with 54 different countries and territories via artistic commissions, residencies, exchanges and training programmes.  LEEDS 2023 has also allowed the city to shine a light on its cultural talents, raising the profile of the city as a cultural destination, nationally and internationally attracting media attention throughout the year that saw 2,172 pieces of editorial and broadcast coverage. The LEEDS 2023 website attracted more than 643,000 unique visitors during the year and its social media channels drew an actively engaged following of 443,000 people.

Kully Thiarai, Creative Director and CEO of LEEDS 2023, said:

“It has been an immense privilege to lead the city’s Year of Culture and deliver a hugely diverse programme of events throughout the city in collaboration with our artists, our different communities, and our arts organisations large and small.

“LEEDS 2023 has bought us together through imagination and play and celebrated Leeds’ rich cultural life. It’s been an unprecedented team effort for our city and we’ve collectively made some brilliant new stories and memories about, with and for Leeds. And we know that stories matter. The partnerships, connections and relationships nurtured and developed as part of LEEDS 2023 embrace the local, the national and the international, and I look forward to seeing how these continue to grow and flourish in the coming years.

“Whilst our Year of Culture might have come to an end, there is no doubt that there is so much appetite for engagement with and participation in a huge range of cultural activity. Leeds is full of talent and creativity. We’ve spent a year shouting about it, and I can’t wait to see what this brilliant city does next.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said:

“This has been an inspirational year which has seen culture come to life in communities across the city and showcased the very best of Leeds to the world.

“From the cultural organisations large and small who got involved, to the many volunteers and all those who attended a dynamic programme of events, the city has really come together to celebrate and shout about everything that makes us proud to be Leeds.

“Now it’s up to us all to continue that spirit of pride and collaboration as we look ahead to the many exciting cultural events and activities in the coming year and beyond.”

As Leeds Culture Trust, the independent charity set up to deliver LEEDS 2023, winds down over the coming months, the wealth of research and data accumulated over the lifespan of the project will be transferred to Leeds City Council.luding economic impact study by The Audience Agency will be published in early autumn 2024.


This post is based on a press release issued on behalf of LEEDS 2023



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