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LEEDS 2023 uncovers hidden stories of the city through new community-led creative projects, putting local people at the heart of the year of culture

Lee Brown Photography. Courtesy of Peter & Paul LTD. Artwork by Third Eye Signs & Bobbi Rae

LEEDS 2023 has commissioned more than 20 ambitious new projects which will celebrate the unique stories found in neighbourhoods across Leeds, placing local communities at the very centre of the planned year of culture.

My World My City My Neighbourhood is the first major, community-led series of commissions to be announced as part of LEEDS 2023 while the city prepares for its year in the spotlight. The projects are as diverse as the communities themselves and explore everything from the history of the wool trade to a local allotment, a busy commuter road and even the city’s skateboarders, covering neighbourhoods from Guiseley to Garforth, Burmantofts to Beeston.

The commissions will unearth hidden stories, unleash creativity and embed culture right across communities. They include a project exploring the social history of Leeds from a Deaf perspective, led by theatre-maker Janet Alexander. Mixed media artist and Trainee Art Psychotherapist Thahmina Begum will work with Bangladeshi and British Bangladeshi residents in Beeston in a celebration of heritage, language and mixed identities.

Artist Penny Rowe will be working in Garforth, exploring what it means to live there and contribute to the ongoing cultural development of the area, and artist Harry Meadley is seeking to develop a project that brings attention to the rich skateboard culture of Leeds.

Thahmina Begum’s Deliciously Hybrid (2019). Courtesy of the artist.

Each project will be led by a Leeds-based artist who will lay the groundwork from now until February 2022, before handing over the reins to the local communities to make their own, as a central part of the celebrations in 2023.

Kully Thiarai, Creative Director of LEEDS 2023, said:

My World My City My Neighbourhood is all about uncovering the untold stories of our city. You may think you know Leeds, but there are so many incredible hidden tales in our communities just waiting to be revealed. And who better to tell those stories than artists from those neighbourhoods and the local people themselves?

She added: Leeds is a city that speaks over 170 languages, and we want to hear everyone’s voices as part of our year of culture. There are so many people in the city that we don’t get to hear from and a chance for us all to listen and be inspiration. There’s such a broad range of fascinating ideas in these projects and I can’t wait to see how they will grow and showcase these different neighbourhoods and communities.

From Harry Meadley’s Case Studies (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

The artists, who were chosen through an open call earlier this year, each have a personal connection to the neighbourhoods they will be working in, whether they grew up in the area, have friends or family there, or have worked there previously. Artists will be matched with community organisations in the different wards and will be supported by the producing team at LEEDS 2023.

My World My City My Neighbourhood is supported by Arts Council England and Leeds Community Foundation.

This project is for the people that make Leeds. It’s for the people that live and work here and are dedicated to the pure joy that goes into this place. This is a moment to celebrate all types of culture and all types of people that make up this wonderful city. We hope to create a significant project that connects Leeds to the people of Leeds so keep an eye out for more updates from the My World, My City, My Neighbourhood project.

My World, My City, My Neighbourhood Artists:

Abigail James will be working in Guisley as a textile artist looking at the history of the Leeds cloth and wool trade exploring what this means for the adults and young people of today.

Ben Mills will be unlocking creativity in the folks of Farsley and Calverly and asking what stitches us all together.

Boris Cruse and Paul Digby, with the support of Leeds City Council Mental Health Hubs, will forge a team of creative people with Lived Experience of mental health issues through a mentoring programme.

Cassandra Oliphant and Jonathan Parker will be working with the South Asian women of Hyde Park to elevate and celebrate their voices.

Harry Meadley will be working with and as part of the Skateboarding community in Leeds. They hope to work towards the acknowledgement, acceptance, and celebration of this varied and inclusive community.

Irish Arts Foundation will work in collaboration with a number of Irish community and voluntary groups, venues and organisations to further develop Irish cultural performance, participatory workshops and community activities.

Janet Alexander will be focusing on Leeds social history from a Deaf perspective. She will be gathering stories from elder members of the Leeds Deaf community and exploring these creatively.

Joelle Braithwaite will be working within Burley and Bramley to grow amateur community music-making and hopes to showcase the industrial areas which have a strong historical culture of community music making going back centuries.

John R Wilkinson & Ali Pidsley will be bringing together groups and individuals from across Wetherby to get people involved in a new writing project based around the ‘act of creative growing’.

Mafwa Theatre will be working with the community in Lincoln Green to explore and map their area using gardening and photography, drawing together responses from their creative engagements.

Leeds Animation Workshop will put on a series of workshops across the Harehills community. It will end in a film which will create a rich and colourful portrait of this lively area.

Lizzie Coombes and Katy Hayley will talk to their neighbours living and working alongside the busy Meanwood Road about developing an identity, community, well-being and a sense of belonging.

Lydia Catterall will be inviting the local Seacroft community to get stuck into some creative cartography in order to map out the stories emerging from the area.

Ndidi Nkwopara will represent the African community which is the 2nd largest ethnic group in Leeds. She will work in collaboration with the Leeds African Community Trust (LACT) to tell the stories of African migrants in Leeds.

Pamela Crowe will work with the Headingley community to create a Small Press, the #23PRESS, which will will illuminate the multiple voices, cultures, and languages that make our city.

Penny Rowe will celebrate what it means to live in Garforth. The project will contribute to the ongoing cultural development of the area.

Rommi Smith will explore what ‘allotmenting’ has to teach us about creativity and community. In this journey, Rommi will collaborate with her allotment community in Armely, as well as other local creatives.

Sandra Whyles will be working with communities in Chapeltown to showcase the unique richness of diversity there. The outcomes of the project will be shared through various methods and means with the aim of developing meaningful processes for future Chapeltownians.

Stand & Be Counted Theatre Company aim to make moments with the community of Hunslet where people genuinely feel ‘welcome’. They want to create a safer space for people to develop their confidence, have their say, and make a change.

Thahmina Begum will work with the Bangladeshi / British Bangladeshi community in Beeston to explore themes of language, heritage, mixed identities and celebrate them.

The Highrise Project will set up a creative community and space in Armley for the public to use and develop their creative ideas and practice. 

Yorkshire Life Aquatic will be exploring the cultural history with community spirit in Bramley. Lucy and Zoe will be showcasing ‘people power’ and resistance threading through Bramley’s historically working-class industrial roots.