Capital of Culture could transform the face of Leeds business

A successful bid to bring the European Capital of Culture to Leeds in 2023 can be the catalyst for delivering large-scale infrastructure and societal change for the city, one of the bid's leaders has claimed.

The West Indian Carnival, Chapeltown, Leeds.29th August 2016 ..Picture by Simon Hulme
The West Indian Carnival, Chapeltown, Leeds.29th August 2016 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Karen Sewell, business spokesperson for the Leeds 2023 steering group, said that if judges selected Yorkshire’s largest city as winner next year it could act as an impetus to deliver top class hotels, a conference facility and kickstart development for the South Bank regeneration scheme.

She added the unique opportunity to shine a light on the city’s first-class cultural offering could help the region’s firms attract a greater talent pool of staff and graduates, both nationally and internationally, and added that she hoped a successful bid would bring communities together.

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Ms Sewell, the EMEIA general counsel and head of UK legal at engineering consultancy firm WSP, told The Yorkshire Post: “There will be a massive influx of visitors into the city.

Skyline of Leeds

“As a city we need to enhance our offering to visitors. We have less hotel beds in Leeds than say, for example, Sheffield. 
“We have no international conference facility in Leeds.

“We really need to enhance that to attract national and international visitors to the city.

“I think this year of culture would provide the impetus for us to do that.

“In terms of inward investment, hopefully us becoming Capital of Culture in 2023 will lead to an added impetus for other projects, for example the South Bank and infrastructure projects etc.

“I think there are an enormous amount of benefits that could come to Leeds as well as just the feel good factor.”

Ms Sewell, a former partner at Addleshaw Goddard, added that shining a spotlight on what Leeds had to offer could prove vital in terms of attracting a top calibre of recruitments to the city.

“I was interested in the factors in that we had more success attracting top graduates to our offices in Manchester and London as we did for Leeds.

“I wanted to get involved in something that would change that aspect of Leeds life. Obviously there is a thriving professional services and corporate finance community in Leeds, but I was interested in that other side of Leeds.

Skyline of Leeds

“The social, cultural things that mean the best graduates want to come to Leeds and that those people don’t get attracted to working in other parts of the country.

“Really for business the long-term impact of that enhanced cultural offering of the city would be to make Leeds the place of choice for top skilled workers and graduates.

“Ultimately your life is not just about your job. “It is about the cultural offering of the place you live. Here in Leeds we have fantastic track record in holding world class events.

“But we need to enhance, publicise and emphasise our cultural offering.”

Ms Sewell added that the support thus far from the business community of the city had been superb.

“We have had significant financial support from backers. But equally important is smaller businesses, who can’t give financial backing, giving us airtime to this bid.

“With their staff they can pledges their support in their social media and websites.

“We need to demonstrate in our bid that Leeds wants to win. That can be incredibly persuasive to the judges looking at this competition.”

One UK city will share the European Capital of Culture title for 2023 with a city from Hungary. So far Leeds is up against Dundee and Milton Keynes.

Ms Sewell said: “I am so confident that we have the cultural firepower for the year.

“There is a real opportunity to bring together all of the communities in Leeds and to our near neighbours in Yorkshire to be a unifying force.

“That opportunity for any kid in Leeds to see a world class cultural event, literally on your doorstep, in your school, in your local park... you can’t put a price on that sort of inspirational event. And it could be on display for our children in five years time.”