Leeds cultural project looks at what it’s like to live in the North in 21st century

DESIGN CLASSIC: Chris Sharp, assistant curator at Leeds Industrial Museum, gets to grips with the People Powered Press.
DESIGN CLASSIC: Chris Sharp, assistant curator at Leeds Industrial Museum, gets to grips with the People Powered Press.
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IT can print posters five feet tall and three feet wide, weighs in at nearly a tonne and is currently helping communities in Leeds to get their voices heard on the streets of the city.

The People Powered Press – one of the largest letterpress printing presses in the world – has been built as part of a cultural project called These Northern Types that aims to explore what it means to be from the North in the 21st century.

The giant press has gone on show at Leeds Industrial Museum in Armley, with workshops and demonstrations giving writers and community groups the chance to print eye-catching posters for display across Leeds. Oli Bentley, creative director of Leeds-based design studio Split and the driving force behind These Northern Types, said: “Whilst I’m only a designer and know there’s a limit to what we can do, I wanted to make something using type that could amplify voices in a community – which is why we wanted to make such big posters, to be displayed and seen outdoors.

“This machine allows us to make the community part of the printing and making of the pieces themselves. The whole aim of These Northern Types has been to explore northern identity and culture and push past stereotypes and heritage by acknowledging and exploring current issues – rather than sticking to the safe flat hats and whippets and pretending the rest doesn’t exist.”

The printing press was constructed by local firms, led by Batley-based JKN Oiltools with support from Accurate Laser (Leeds) and JW Laycocks.

Ian Plant, from JKN Oiltools, said: “To build something like this that’s a one-off in the world from start to finish and to know it’s going to be used with young people in our communities means a lot.”

Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake said it was “incredible” to see a project tapping into a tradition of innovation and technology while celebrating the individuality of communities.

These Northern Types has taken shape over two years and was part of Leeds’s bid to be named European Capital of Culture 2023. The press will be at Leeds Industrial Museum until August 23.

n A book produced as part of These Northern Types is being launched at Colours May Vary and The Gallery at 164 at Munro House in Leeds city centre on August 24.