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Over 20 New Projects Putting Local People Right at the Centre of their Creation

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

Lee Brennan, our Head of Creative Learning, writes about our latest community project…

I believe that culture is the most effective tool for social change. At its most powerful, it can transform people’s lives and the places in which we all live, by giving us the chance to see and experience things in a new way.  

For art and creativity to make the biggest difference to our lives, I think it has to be created by and for local people. I’ve spent the last 25 years of my career in the arts sector, working with local communities to co-create performances and projects. I’ve worked in theatres in the North West, most recently at the Lowry in Salford, and I’ve just started a new job as Head of Creative Learning and Engagement at LEEDS 2023 – I’m really looking forward to bringing what I’ve learned elsewhere to a city that’s hungry for change.  

When culture is made by the very people that it’s for, something quite amazing can happen. We’ve just announced a new project at LEEDS 2023 that’s putting local people right at the centre of its creation. My World, My City, My Neighbourhood is the first community-based project that LEEDS 2023 has commissioned. Over 20 incredible Leeds-based artists will work in neighbourhoods across the city, from Bramley to Chapletown, Farsley to Harehills, to make ambitious creative projects by and for their communities. 

The artists we’ve chosen have lived experience of those neighbourhoods. It’s where they grew up, it’s where they work, take their children to school and meet up with friends and family; they know and understand these places in a way that a visiting artist never could. Who better to tell our city’s stories than artists from the community alongside the local people themselves?  

There are some really exciting projects happening – so many that I can’t mention them all! One of my personal favourites is by writer and performer Rommi Smith. She loves gardening and has an allotment in Armley. She says it’s enriched her life, especially during the pandemic, and has introduced her to people from all over the world. In collaboration with people from her allotment, she wants to explore what allotments can mean to the people who tend them and how they can teach us all how we can live better together.  

Another project is by Lizzie Coombes and Katy Hayley, exploring Meanwood Road, a busy commuter road leading north out of Leeds city centre. For many it’s a means of getting from A to B, where cars have priority over people. But it’s also a community with people living and working along the road, and they all have a story to tell. I’m also really interested in Harry Meadley’s project which will be representing the skateboarding community in Leeds. Harry hopes to work towards the acceptance and celebration of this varied and incredibly inclusive community united by a passion for their sport.  

The most exciting part is that once the artists have laid the ground-work, the local community will take over the projects and make them their own. It’s all about empowering local communities and asking how they can lead the conversation, and ultimately make their own social change. 

I can’t wait to see where the communities will go with these projects – this is just the beginning.