How Leeds Inspired acts as a backbone for city’s culture and arts

The Leeds Inspired office is tucked away at the top of Leeds Town Hall, but this isn’t the only way that the team-of-three overlook the city.

Sunday, 27th June 2021, 4:45 am
The team behind Leeds Inspired - from left: Abby Dix-Mason, Sarah Howells, Jane Earnshaw and Ted the dog. (photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Set up around 10 years ago, Leeds Inspired is part of Leeds City Council and sits in the culture programmes department.

It supports all the cultural activity that takes place in our city, and works behind the scenes to ensure every person has a voice, and every person’s cultural wants and needs are met.

It’s a trusted brand, a backbone and it brings creativity from a luxury to a normality - running through Leeds from the city centre out to every single community.

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Abby Dix-Mason says Leeds Inspired has funded over 600 projects in the last 10 years (photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Abby Dix-Mason, one of the Leeds Inspired trio, says one thing she loves about her job is supporting new organisations and new artists and following them on their journey.

Ms Dix-Mason told the YEP: “We’ve been able to see projects start from small beginnings and become strong presences in the city and it’s just amazing.

“We watch them flourish, then bloom, and then produce amazing work.

“It really gets to the heart of us being able to support Grassroots art and culture - and we think about who the artists are and what the community wants.

“It’s like a proper collaboration we’ve got going on with the entire city, going from the centre right out to all the different areas.

“We call the people of Leeds our community event organisers.”

Leeds Inspired works in three strands - offering a comprehensive events website for organisers to add to themselves, a grant scheme and through commissions.

It has funded more than 600 cultural projects in Leeds over the past 10 years, including around 90 since the pandemic began.

The projects range from artist’s song portraits to dance films, jazz podcasts and bunting festivals.

Ms Dix-Mason said: “Luckily as a team we are good at reacting and if something is happening we’ll deal with it - we are able to be flexible and responsive.

“One thing we did really quickly during the pandemic was recognise that grants were a lifeline to people, including community groups and freelancers, and so we made our grant scheme rolling monthly and worked very hard to turn them around.

“Before, people could apply and get a yes or no within a couple of months - the pandemic turned that into weeks.

“We were pulling out all the stops and we’re continuing to do so until November when we will review the situation.

“Funding 90 projects is a phenomenal amount and it made sure we were doing what we could to support people.

“We couldn’t magic money out of nowhere but we stayed steady for people and showed we were doing our best to adapt.”

Ms Dix-Mason said that they also had to go from approving and publishing events on their website to cancelling them in such a short space of time.

The team adapted and the website then became a hub for online events, including podcasts, live streams and YouTube tutorials that they had never done before.

She said: “It was absolutely heartbreaking because behind every cancelled event there was a story on the other side with a human cost and what someone would have to go through to cancel it.

“It’s been overwhelming in a lot of ways because the creative sector stepped up and so much work went into that behind the scenes for them to have an online presence so people could still access things to do.

“It’s all very bitter sweet - it was sad but I am in awe of what the people in Leeds did to still keep things going.”

It is hoped that a new funding scheme, Leeds Inspired Live, will launch soon to act as a catalyst to bring people into Leeds city centre by funding around 30 projects - separate to the usual grant scheme.

Miss Dix-Mason said: “Delaying the easing of restrictions has hit people hard, especially anyone with a venue.

“We want to help people whether they’re in Leeds, Morley, Seacroft or wherever to bounce back.”

She added: “Culture needs to be relevant to people and that’s about having an interesting range of things on offer.

“Every now and again people say ‘oh, you need to define culture’ but actually it means loads of things to loads of people in Leeds - street food, cinemas, or something so out there that you couldn’t have even imagined it.

“We want to make Leeds a place to live and work that has opportunities, a creative vibe and a cultural energy.”