Rallying call at summit debating Leeds European Capital of Culture bid

The skyline of Leeds. PIC: James Hardisty
The skyline of Leeds. PIC: James Hardisty
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‘Let’s go for it!’ was the overwhelming feeling as hundreds of people gathered at Leeds Town Hall to discuss a possible bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

The summit was designed to gauge initial interest in the idea, and to discuss ways of moving forward in the coming years.

Guests were invited to hold round the table debates about why - and why not - the city should bid. Among the key concerns were galvanising youngsters, and ensuring Leeds’ inner city communities and grass roots arts and cultural organisations are a key part of the event, which should not be “city centre centric”.

Among a special panel of guests were Anthony Clavane, who wrote the acclaimed 
book ‘Promised Land’ about Leeds, and James Brining, artistic director of West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, the city council’s leisure portfolio holder, said the process of putting a serious bid together could start as early as this Autumn, following the Tour de France Grand Depart.

“We are planning ahead, this is a long term vision,” she said. “It’s a discussion that the council have kicked off, but we want the whole city to take part in and have ownership of, and play a role in whether we go forward or not.”

“Everyone has got an opinion,” she added. “Even those who don’t necessarily identify themselves as ‘cultural’, who don’t go to the theatre or art galleries, but they will certainly have an opinion on it.”

She acknowledged it was important to “bring this to local communities”, adding: “I think if we don’t get that right, if it doesn’t impact on the ordinary person in Leeds, then there’s not much point in going for it.”

Coun Yeadon added that any taxpayers outlay for the bid would be “looked at in the next few years” but stressed that it “will certainly reflect what people want in a bid”.

Tom Riordan, the chief executive of Leeds City Council, said it was “legitimate” to ask if such a bid was right in times of austerity, and added: “But the other argument is that you need something positive. More than anything it’s about people getting involved. And if people want to be involved in this, they can be, so let’s start now.”

He said it was “a bit of a Yorkshire trait” to not be seen to be “showing off”.

“We have got to change that a bit,” he said. “We have got to project the great things that we have got in Leeds [which] make such a difference, and make the city. We have got to shout about the sum of all that.”

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The earliest year that a UK city can next be the European Capital of Culture is 2023.

If Leeds wins the bid, it will follow Liverpool, the last British holder of the title, which saw huge benefits as a result.

Research following the event found the festival year in 2008 saw 9.7m visitors to the city and the event generated £753.8m for the city’s economy. Liverpool had “brushed off its bleak image” following its year in the cultural spotlight, reports said, and popular negative images of the city had been replaced with “a picture of a vibrant cultural hub”.

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