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Leeds bids for the European Capital of Culture in 2023

PUBLISHED: 08:38 13 June 2017 | UPDATED: 08:38 13 June 2017

Millennium Square in the heart of Leeds is the backdrop to many outdoor events including performances by Opera North Photo Alamy

Millennium Square in the heart of Leeds is the backdrop to many outdoor events including performances by Opera North Photo Alamy

Credit: Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

City to submit a first stage bid in October, but they need your help.

Chair of Leeds 2023 Independent Steering Group, Sharon Watson with leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Judith Blake Photo Chris Payne Chair of Leeds 2023 Independent Steering Group, Sharon Watson with leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Judith Blake Photo Chris Payne

Yawning has been banned in Leeds, as has staring idly into the middle distance while wondering what to do with your day and muttering about how bored you are as your finger starts to cramp up from repeatedly clicking the remote control.

There is simply no excuse for having a ho-hum day when there is so much going on around you.

Leeds is always a busy, buzzing city, but the volume has been turned up to 11 since it launched its bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023 earlier this year.

Work actually started way back in 2014, when more than 300 stakeholders met at Leeds Town Hall to debate whether the city was up to the challenge. The answer was a resounding yes, which should come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of this supremely confident, forward-thinking city.

A far-reaching community consultation programme followed, giving the people of Leeds the chance to have their say, and a robust, visionary Culture Strategy was officially launched in January 2016. Then came Brexit, potentially a very large, unwieldy spanner in the works.

But Leeds’ confidence kicked in again and, with Britain’s exit strategy still up in the air, the city decided to push on with its bid for the European cultural crown and, by February of this year, was ready to officially throw its hat in the ring.

Since then, civic, business and community leaders have begun the monumental – but achievable – task of spreading the word that when it comes to culture, Leeds leads the way. Chart-topping local lads The Kaiser Chiefs and Grammy Award-winner Corinne Bailey Rae were among the first big names to make their voices heard.

‘We spent years performing on the local music scene, so we’ve all seen first-hand the talent, energy and passion for music and culture that exists in Leeds,’ said Ricky Wilson, who formed The Kaiser Chiefs – then called Runston Parva – with a few hometown mates at the end of the 90s. ‘The international spotlight the European Capital of Culture title would bring could be a real game-changer for the city and make a huge difference to those working hard in local communities. Everyone should get behind the bid, believe that we can do it and do their bit to give Leeds the showcase it deserves.’

Corinne Bailey Rae added: ‘As someone who grew up in Leeds, I know that culture and diversity are in the city’s DNA, and to see local communities at home being given the opportunity to shine on such a big stage is something that’s very close to my heart.’

The pop stars have spoken – and now it’s your turn. The steering group behind the bid wants anyone and everyone in the city to get involved and to share their ideas for cultural and creative projects via leeds2030.co.uk.

‘It’s always been our ambition that people living and working in Leeds feel the bid is truly collaborative, that it belongs to them and that they’ve been given the chance to shape and influence it each step of the way,’ said Sharon Watson, chair of the steering group. ‘We feel passionately that it’s the people at the heart of our communities who are best equipped to articulate the creativity and energy that makes Leeds a place where culture in all its many different forms can grow and flourish.’

The new website is packed with useful information and inspiring ideas, including a specially-commissioned short film featuring iconic locations across Leeds, aimed at kickstarting the city’s collective creative flow.

Once the ideas start to coalesce, Matt Burman, Emma Beverley and Jenny Harris – a dynamic group of Leeds-based producers know as Collective 23 – will then curate a suggested programme to submit for the first round bid.

Matt, who previously worked as artistic director of the successful Yorkshire Festival, explained: ‘This is a key phase, when the people of Leeds begin to give us a real, tangible sense of what culture means to them, how it influences their lives and how it links their communities.

‘There really is no experience necessary for this first step in exploring ideas. We’re encouraging people to be as bold and imaginative as they can.’

If you would like to get involved in the European Capital of Culture bid – or you have a bold, imaginative idea to share – go to leeds2023.co.uk

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