How Leeds Playhouse engaged with 12,000 local people during lockdown

The arts will play a leading role in the re-emergence of Leeds as a vibrant city after the pandemic ends, a major business event was told.

File photo of a ballerina during a dress rehearsal at Leeds Playhouse,

Robin Hawkes, the executive director of Leeds Playhouse highlighted the significant work of Plan for Change, the playhouse’s freelancer support, training and skills development programme, during a virtual roundtable event.

He said the playhouse had also placed an emphasis on digital activity over the last year.

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Mr Hawkes said: “Leeds Playhouse is one of the UK’s leading regional theatres and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

"Known nationally and locally as a hub of creative excellence, this theatrical institution was set up for the people of the Leeds city region and is a great artistic beacon in the North.

“When Leeds Playhouse had to close its building in March 2019 due to the national restrictions, the theatre launched Playhouse Connect  and has since been remotely supporting and engaging with more than 12,000 people in particularly isolated or vulnerable situations across our city region.  

He added: "Alongside this industry leading programme, theatre doors opened briefly in October 2019 to providing a safe opportunity for audiences to experience live theatre once again, and we are currently working to bring performance back to the city in accordance with the latest roadmap.

“Within this period of closure, and thanks in the large part to the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, we have been able to continue to invigorate our front of house areas to make them even more comfortable and inviting.

"We are really committed to be a part of the recovery and reconnection of the city and the city region. We are looking forward to working in partnership to showcase Leeds as a strong and vibrant city.”

Participants in the round table included Rachelle Mahapatra, the regional managing partner at Irwin Mitchell, Helen Gardner, head of legal at Caddick Group, and Rob Valentine, Regional Director of Bruntwood.

Ms Mahapatra said Irwin Mitchell was proud to be the playhouse’s access partner.

She added: "It is within our DNA that we believe in being inclusive and we support what the playhouse is working to achieve."

Ms Gardner added: "Our SOYO site, adjacent to the playhouse, gives us the opportunity to deliver a major regeneration scheme in the heart of Leeds. We want to see people living back in the city and a thriving arts and cultural scene is key to making it an attractive place where people want to live."

Mr Valentine said Bruntwood had a long track record of engagement, support and investment in arts and culture.

Another participant, Eve Roodhouse, Leeds City Council's chief officer for Culture and the Economy, said the playhouse's re-opening will provide a boost for the city centre's economy.

She added: "We want to come together as human beings and culture will be at the heart of that."

Andrew Cooper, the chief executive of LeedsBID, said: "We have a job to do in bringing people back and footfall is increasing but we know in the pandemic that city centres have suffered the most."

However, he said this was starting to improve with hospitality and retail re-opening.

Rebecca Bletcher, a trustee of the The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, said; "We’ve been really impressed with the playhouse’s agility and the way they have responded to need in the pandemic."

Andy Ward, the senior market lead at PwC, highlighted the work PwC was doing to encourage more people to visit the theatre.

Mr Hawkes said: "The playhouse is keen to harness support from the businesses in our region to work in partnership and make our region better for living and working."

The event was chaired by Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post's deputy business editor.