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We started in 2014, we’ll see you in 2023!


A city-wide conversation


Over 300 stakeholders invited to Leeds Town Hall by Leeds City Council – representing culture, arts, business, community and third sector – to debate whether or not Leeds should bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023. The response was a resounding yes!


Leeds City Council’s Executive Board asked a small team of officers to undertake a year-long public consultation, asking simply: should Leeds bid for European Capital of Culture 2023?

For the rest of 2014 and into 2015, community events large and small were held alongside social media debates, giving the people of Leeds the chance to have their say on whether we should bid. Thousands of people were provided the opportunity to respond, covering a broad, diverse cross section of individuals, young and old, from a variety of backgrounds.


The world’s largest sporting event, Tour de France, kickstarted in Leeds, with the first day’s race from Leeds to Harrogate watched by over 2 million people. The Grand Depart acted as the culmination of a 100-day celebration of our region with the Yorkshire Festival, with arts and cultural events taking place every day across Leeds. The now-famous yellow bicycles and multi-coloured bunting provided our communities a timely reminder of how culture can unite people like nothing else.


Structure, sport and support


Work to create an Independent Steering Group for the 2023 bid began. While the council is facilitating the development of the bid, the whole city has the chance to claim ownership and have their voices heard.


One year after Tour de France, another international sporting event made its way to Leeds. Elland Road played host to two games in the Rugby Union World Cup, with fans from Canada, Italy, USA and Scotland descending on the city.


In the autumn of 2015, Leeds played host to the prestigious British Art Show, in partnership with Hayward Touring and London’s Southbank Centre. To support the main show, a three-month period of events under the Unfold banner took place in over 75 venues across Leeds and the surrounding area, including community activities, exhibitions and new public art commissions showcasing the city’s vibrant, diverse art scene.


Seeing off the year in style, the MOBO Awards headed to the First Direct Arena, celebrating the 20th year of the awards show to celebrate musical achievements in 2015. Broadcast live on ITV2, performances from a range of artists including international stars FKA Twigs and CeeLo Green wowed the capacity crowd.


Consultation, a new Culture Strategy, and giant disco balls


January was the time we launched our vision for a Culture Strategy created by the entire city. The European Capital of Culture bid process requires a robust Culture Strategy for the city to be in place, so this was the perfect time to update our existing plan, and give the people of Leeds the chance to define what culture really means to them. Full details of the Culture Strategy and its progress can be found on the dedicated website here.


The decision reached via June’s referendum for the UK to leave the EU put the nation’s European Capital of Culture status for 2023 under the spotlight. With little concrete information regarding the terms of the exit deal due to emerge for sometime, the decision was made to continue with our bid plans while monitoring the situation.

In June, the city also played host to the World Triathlon Series, taking over from London which had previously held the UK leg of the competition. Building on the city’s now burgeoning reputation as a host for world-class sporting events, crowds flocked to the city to see Leeds’ own Brownlee brothers take first and second place on the podium. Following the success of the event, the city was later confirmed as the venue for the 2017 leg of the event.


Thanks to Yorkshire Festival, Duke Studios & New Substance, summer started in style for the city with the world’s largest disco ball – two and a half times the size of a double decker bus – visiting the city for the Big Disco event. Uniting Yorkshire through music, over 18,000 people across the region danced in unison to Donna Summer’s iconic hit, I Feel Love.


Following confirmation from Culture Secretary Karen Bradley that the British government will support the nation’s involvement in the European Capital of Culture competition for 2023 despite the outcome of the EU referendum, Leeds officially registered its interest to become the host city. A new brand identity and website were launched, counting down to the official bid launch in February 2017.


Leeds 2023 officially launched


On February 23rd 2017, the Leeds 2023 European Capital of Culture bid was officially launched. A new website was put live to act as a hub for all activity related to the bid, the city shared it’s ambition with the world and the recently-created Programme Team put out a call to the city to submit ideas to make-up the events programme for 2023.

What’s next?

Leeds 2023 Independent Steering Group will work with the local community to complete our official bid book, to be submitted to the European Capital of Culture judging panel by October 27th 2017.

Throughout the year, the whole city will be encouraged to submit their ideas, ensuring our bid and the wider Culture Strategy truly reflects the creativity of the city.

A series of events will also be supported by the Leeds 2023 team throughout the year, including the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Leeds West Indian Carnival, Transform and Slam Dunk festivals, giving the community the chance to engage with local culture and share their thoughts and ideas.

In 2018, the winning cities will be announced as European Capitals of Culture for 2023.