Leeds 2023: New project tapping into creativity of school children

Kathryn Welford, Children and Young People’s Partnership Manager at Leeds 2023, writes here for the YEP.

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 11:45 am
Pupils at Bracken Edge Primary School. Picture: Ant Robling.

I believe that children and young people are natural artists. Creativity comes so easily to them, they’re endlessly curious and they let their imaginations run completely wild - something that many of us adults have forgotten how to do.

At LEEDS 2023 we want to inspire and nurture young people’s creativity as much as possible, which is why we’re aiming to engage with every child and young person in Leeds as part of our year of culture. We’ve started on this journey over the past few weeks with our first exciting LEEDS 2023 schools project, led by artist Kate Genever.

Six schools have taken part in the project: Robin Hood Primary, Bracken Edge Primary, Weetwood Primary, Green Lane Primary Academy, Queenswood Education Centre, and Springwell Leeds Academy North. The schools are from north, south and east Leeds, in the suburbs and within our diverse inner city communities. Young people unable to access mainstream school because of mental health or social and emotional needs, also took part.

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We asked the students to imagine Leeds afresh - a city for the future. If they could design and build Leeds in any way, what would it be like? We asked for poems, drawings, photos or models to show their plans, and we received more than 300 ideas from children all the way from nursery classes right through to Year 11.

Their ideas were better than we could have ever imagined.

From a swimming pool full of strawberry jelly to a huge helter skelter wrapped around the town hall, to new woodlands and rooftop orchards, to solar-powered houses and buildings made from recycled materials. Their wish list is truly inspirational and gives a real flavour of what’s important and exciting to our children and young people. It’s definitely a Leeds that I’d like to live in in the future!

Kate Genever then transformed the children’s ideas into beautiful new artworks and gifted them back to the schools who took part. She created an Exhibition in a Box which included 20 limited edition prints inspired by the children’s designs, along with string and clips - everything they needed to display the prints as an exhibition in their classrooms. Every young person participating also got an original print to take home.

We also wanted the wider community to be able to enjoy the children’s ideas, so we commissioned four early career illustrators, Megan Dobbyn, Callum Noble, Tanya Shanduka and Bergrún Adda Pálsdóttir, all recent graduates from Leeds Arts University, to design posters based on the children’s suggestions.

Their four designs will be displayed at bus stops near the schools who took part, as well as locations in the city centre. We’ve also included a poster which Kate Genever designed based on a fantastic quote from one of the young people; he said ‘I have pencil and a dream’ and that was all he needed to imagine the future. I think we can all learn to think a little more like him.

If you could redesign Leeds, what would it look like? Nothing is off limits! Let us know at @leeds_2023.