Leeds 2023

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2014/01

Connecting the city through culture and creativity

Leeds is implementing a five-year cultural investment programme harnessing city-wide cooperation to turn its ambition to be a truly creative and competitive city into reality. Leeds 2023 tackles gaps and inequalities in creative skills, digital capacity and access to culture in a bid to prepare the city for the opportunities ahead. In particular, by exposing young people to the cultural and creative industries, it provides them with employment opportunities they didn’t know existed and builds audiences for the future.
Leads 2023 will culminate in a year-long international festival that will celebrate the cultural life of Leads and bring the best global arts to the city providing a catalyst for attracting visitors, jobs new skills and economic growth.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable


This project was awarded the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2018 in the following category: Cooperation.

Leeds, United Kingdom

Size and population development
At the 2011 UK census, Leeds had a total population of 751,500, representing a 5% growth since the last census of 2001. Of the 320,600 households in Leeds, 33.3% were married couples living together, 31.6% were one-person households, 9.0% were co-habiting couples and 9.8% were lone parents. The population density was 1,967/km2 (5,090/sq mi).

Population composition
Leeds is a diverse city with over 75 ethnic groups, and with minority ethnic populations representing just under 11.6% of the total population. According to figures from the 2011 census, 85.0% of the population was White (81.1% White British, 0.9% White Irish, 0.1% Gypsy or Irish Traveller, 2.9% Other White), 2.7% of mixed race (1.2% White and Black Caribbean, 0.3% White and Black African, 0.7% White and Asian, 0.5% Other Mixed), 7.7% Asian (2.1% Indian, 3.0% Pakistani, 0.6% Bangladeshi, 0.8% Chinese, 1.2% Other Asian), 3.5% Black (2.0% African, 0.9% Caribbean, 0.6% Other Black), 0.5% Arab and 0.6% of other ethnic heritage.

Main functions
Leeds is the second largest regional city in the UK and recognized as the regional capital of the Yorkshire and Humber region. Leeds has the second largest employment total outside London, with 1.9million in the local workforce, a business base of over 106,000 companies and over 110,000 people commuting to work from outside the district every day. Leeds is a member of Core Cities Group, a coalition of England's major regional cities which work in partnership to enhance their economic performances, and to secure positive identities as places to live, work, visit and conduct business. Key priorities are: Transport and connectivity Innovation and business support skills and employment, sustainable communities, culture and creative industries, climate change, finance and industry, governance.

Main industries / business
Financial and business services, electronics and optical, communications, health and public services, digital and media, bioscience and medical research, manufacturing

Sources for city budget
National Government and taxation revenue

Political structure
The City of Leeds is a local government district of West Yorkshire, England, governed by Leeds City Council, with the status of a city and metropolitan borough. It the second largest local government district in England by population and the second largest metropolitan district by area.

Administrative structure
Leeds City Council is the local authority of the district. The council is composed of 99 councillors, three for each of the city's wards. Elections are held three years out of four, on the first Thursday of May. One third of the councillors are elected, for a four-year term, in each election.

The City of Leeds has long believed that culture and creativity have a powerful impact on the city’s ability to thrive and grow. In 2000 it enshrined this thinking in its cultural strategy to ensure its strong creative heritage plays a pivotal role in its future. By 2013, however, the city administration acknowledged it was not maximising the benefits of its creative industry clusters and grassroots activity. Through a bid for the European City of Culture, the city aimed to realise the full range of these benefits, from building sustainable job growth to making the city more visible as a cultural hotspot.

After submitting an 80-page document and four days before representatives of the City Council were due to meet with the selection panel, the European Commission announced that following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union the participation of UK cities in the European Capital of Culture will not be possible.

Leeds City Council decided unanimously to continue the movement for change it had started. Making the most of learnings from the city-wide conversations and the energy and enthusiasm behind the bid, it developed a new cultural programme, Leeds 2023.

There were three primary objectives from the people-led bid development process.

  1. The project must be for everyone in the city and not just cultural and business interests.
  2. The project must address major inequalities in citizens’ access to culture and cultural expression.
  3. The project, at its core, must be a holistic approach to engaging young people - the city’s future creative workforce and cultural audience. 
January 2014 – The first public meeting was held at Leeds Town Hall and started a discussion with 300 stakeholders about whether or not the city should bid for the European Capital of Culture crown.
March 2015 – Leeds City Council’s Executive Board of Elected Members unanimously supported the recommendation to bid for European Capital of Culture
September 2015 – An open recruitment process received more than 180 expressions of interest to join and independent steering group, which was formed to guide and shape the bid and how it is developed.
June 2017 – The result of the UK vote to leave the European Union deemed Leeds ineligible to participate in the European Capital of Culture bid.
January 2018 – 700 gathered at Leeds Town Hall for a public meeting to hear the Council’s resolution to continue with Leeds 2023
June 2018 – Leeds City Council’s Executive Board agreed to the set-up of Leeds Culture Trust. This independent body is responsible for curating and overseeing the programme’s cultural activities and events
The City of Leeds remains committed that the Leads 2023 programme should hold on to the city’s outward facing tradition and explore post- Brexit models for collaboration with other countries. 
The City had succeeded in getting an unprecedented array of private and public sector partners to support its bid, including 200 cultural groups, 22 local authorities, 15 corporations and seven universities and colleges. Almost all these organisations, plus new partners, have signed up for Leeds 2023 as financial backers, event supporters and project initiators, volunteers and advocates. 
Many of the ideas generated for the European Capital of Culture bid are included in the plans for Leeds 2023. Others will emerge from multi-disciplinary partnerships, the passions of the city’s creatives and the needs of its communities. Additionally, huge outdoor shows featuring hundreds of citizen performers and a core professional cast under the banner of the Leeds People’s Theatre. Productions will be nurtured into life by a theatre company which is launching an academy in a specially adapted bus to train local people in the skills needed to make a big event happen. Another high-profile project will build a full-size lighthouse in one of Leeds most important development sites as a symbol of the city’s arts scene. This idea, originally put forward by the people of Leeds, will incorporate a programme of light, sound and design commissions. 

The lead agency for the project is the City of Leeds. Securing funding from partner organisations to develop specific initiatives has been vital to the programme. Having had to move away from the European City of Culture funding model at a time of austerity and budget cuts in the UK, Leeds 2023 had to be inventive and persuasive. The programme expects to be able to raise a total of £35m over the course of its six years. 

Incubating the Future is one of the most significant activities dedicated to reaching and inspiring creativity and ambition among young people from deprived areas. This coordinated city-wide programme provides experiences, skills and support to help youngsters into creative employment and entrepreneurship through a network of workspaces and neighbourhood production centres.
In terms of activity designed to deepen international connections, Leeds 2023 Explore Fund is one of the most innovative. This fund enables cultural organisations to explore opportunities for overseas work by hosting organisations from abroad or visiting another city. 

The committed partnerships, inspirational individuals and strong coordination behind these and all the other Leeds 2023 initiatives are a direct result of the city’s success in igniting public interest in its vision and galvanising action. Public meetings, face-to-face conversations, social media and a committed steering committee chair all played their part. So too did the city’s transparent approach to the original bid, which it developed inclusively and published openly.

Leeds 2023 - culture for transformation, Connecting the city through culture and creativity, EUROCITIES Cities in action, November 2018

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