Art, creativity and bridging generation gap are key to future development of one of Leeds' most diverse communities

A summer school in Leeds has brought generations of a community together as artists in Leeds pioneer a new neighbourhood planning model aiming to give people a say in the future of inner-city communities.

Saturday, 21st August 2021, 4:45 am

East Street Arts has launched a project in Burmantofts, Lincoln Green and Mabgate, some of the most diverse parts of Leeds with more than 70 languages spoken and people moving to here from all over the world.

It is the UK’s first arts-led neighbourhood plan and involves East Street Arts, local residents and businesses to give communities a bigger say in the future of the places they live and work - for many it will be the first time that their voices have been heard.

Activities will give people a say in the future of the places they live and work - including where new homes, shops, offices and public spaces can be built - and these voices will be fed into the ward’s neighbourhood plan, which is a document that sets out planning policies for the area.

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Matilya Njau in the garden she has helped to plant near Patrick Studios in Mabgate as part of a project to connect neighbourhoods.

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generational gaps, whilst a summer school has run through August for 10 to 12 year-olds doing community-led creative classes across gardening, crafting, language skills, multi-media workshops and more.

East Street Arts has supported the community in forming a neighbourhood forum, which gave many people a voice - becoming a platform and conduit for different generations to share their views. Their work has involved the co-creation of a zine with community members and last summer saw the piloting of the East Leeds Gift Exchange - a way for

people to give and receive a home-made gift with neighbours they’d not met before. All ideas building community and togetherness.

Matilya Njau, left with children at the gardening session which was one of the East Street Arts summer school events.

Karen Watson, Artistic Director at East Street Arts, said: “This is new work for us, but we can already see the potential for delivering change and leaving a legacy of people caring for

the future of their community.

The Neighbourhood Plan is helping us to build closer connections to communities here, a lot of the people connecting with this work wouldn’t ordinarily come to arts events. So, by delivering people-focused grassroots creative ideas, we are delivering a deeper engagement with the Neighbourhood Plan - really listening to the voices of the public in new ways.

"The Summer School means children, young people, and those in later life can shape the future of this area. Seeing people who’ve lived here for generations working on creative projects with people who have recently arrived in the UK has been brilliant to see.”

Pauline Alexis, a residents from Burmantofts, shows the group a plant during a gardening session.

Pauline Alexis has lived in Burmantofts since 2006 and has seen the area become much more diverse in recent years.

She said She said: “I’ve just loved the way this project has brought different people together - you don’t feel like an island when you meet other people who want the best for your neighbourhood. It’s really proven we can work together here - people young and old. It’s just started so there are many new ideas and conversations forming, I’m hoping young people here can continue to collaborate - this work has made me think a festival all about food and culture would be so popular here.”

Over the course of 27 years, East Street Arts has supported over 20,000 artists to flourish and build sustainable careers, reinvented 500 temporary venues as art galleries, studios, and meanwhile spaces, created 79 permanent studio spaces for artists, and developed a pop-up temporary Art Hostel at the heart of Leeds’ historic Kirkgate area.

It has kick-started a conversation about the future of tourism in cities across the world and comes as East Street Arts continues to work towards opening a permanent Art Hostel later this year.

Young people have attended the summer school to meet more people and have a say in their local area.