How Trinity Leeds and the White Rose became centres for culture and catalysts for change

Shopping centres can be engines for cultural change says Steven Foster, who is in charge of the Trinity Leeds and White Rose Shopping Centres in West Yorkshire.

He sees both centres as having a wider social role, nurturing the communities around them. So it was perhaps no surprise when Landsec, whose portfolio includes Trinity Leeds and White Rose, became a headline partner for Leeds 2023, the year-long celebration of the city’s cultural life.

“It really was a no-brainer to become involved in Leeds 2023,” Mr Foster said. “We share the same ambitions as the organisers. We are providing spaces to bring people together to collaborate for Leeds 2023.

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“We really hope Leeds 2023 will help to unearth the creative stars and artists of the future. There are fantastic cultural institutions in Leeds and Trinity is the beating heart of the city.”

Backing culture: Trinity Leeds and White Rose shopping boss Steve Foster, and Abigail Scott Paul of Leeds-2023.. Picture Andy Garbutt.Backing culture: Trinity Leeds and White Rose shopping boss Steve Foster, and Abigail Scott Paul of Leeds-2023.. Picture Andy Garbutt.
Backing culture: Trinity Leeds and White Rose shopping boss Steve Foster, and Abigail Scott Paul of Leeds-2023.. Picture Andy Garbutt.

Leeds 2023’s ambition is to deliver a transformational year of creative experiences which will create a lasting legacy of economic and social impact. The partnership includes significant financial investment and support which will see Leeds 2023 create a pop-up temporary hub in a unit at Trinity Leeds throughout 2023, which will provide information and activities.

For at least a year, Landsec will work alongside Leeds 2023 to promote the celebration across a multi-platform campaign to reach the millions of people who visit Trinity Leeds and White Rose annually. It’s part of a strategy to build momentum around what is set to be a transformational year for the city.

“Landsec has been heavily supportive of Leeds for many years across both our sites at Trinity Leeds and White Rose,’’ said Mr Foster, a politics graduate who has worked in retailing for more than a quarter of a century.

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“In total, both sites support around 6,000 staff and generate around £240m of economic contribution to the local economy,'’ he added.

“We firmly believe that Leeds is a strong destination for us to invest in.”

When work halted on many building sites following the financial crash of 2008, Landsec held its nerve and continued to invest in Leeds. Building work continued during the darkest days of austerity. When Trinity Leeds opened in March 2013, it attracted more than 130,000 people on its first day as it re-invigorated the city’s retail scene.

Mr Foster recalled: “For a long time, Trinity Leeds was just a hole in the ground. When other developers stopped work, we had the confidence to plough on. Leeds really needed that sort of investment at that time.”

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Both shopping centres played significant roles during the pandemic, when sections of the economy closed for months.

“Sustainability has always been at the heart of everything we have done,’’ said Mr Foster. “We aim to be at the heart of the community. This came to the fore during the pandemic when both centres played a very important role.

"White Rose, for example, had 14 retailers which remained open throughout the lockdown. People have rewarded us for staying open by supporting us even more now. Since the end of the pandemic, there has been a great demand for people to come back to physical retail spaces so they can meet people.”

The centres have continued to flourish during a period of soaring inflation and supply chain disruption.

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Mr Foster added: “We had a really successful Christmas period in both centres. The best retail centres will continue to flourish if they have the right brands. White Rose, for example, is due to have a brand-new M&S flagship store. That is a sign that M&S sees a bright future for White Rose. Along with White Rose Office Park, which has been developed by Munroe K, White Rose has become a real hub for south Leeds.

He added: “Because we're at the heart of the community, we know our customer base really well and the new railway station, which is due to open later this year, will lead to much greater connectivity.

“We are also seeing more investment in green travel routes and cycling provisions. He said a number of brands are “actively looking” to come to the White Rose centre.

Mr Foster added: “This is all part of the flight to prime, with two brands, Rituals (the bath and body brand) and TAG Heuer (the luxury watch chain) opening over the last few weeks.”

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Mr Foster, who previously ran retail operations at Manchester and Stansted airports, is acutely aware of changing consumer trends.

“Every day in retail is different, but the most important person is the guest; by listening to them you can be closer to what they want and need,’’ he said. “People need to feel safe and secure and receive a warm Yorkshire welcome. White Rose, for example, is very family-oriented while shoppers in Trinity tend to be younger and visit more often, but they spend less. Trinity has attracted world-leading retailers since it opened, and Trinity Kitchen has always reflected changing food trends.”

“We have been a catalyst for change,’’ he said. We also aim to make our developments as sustainable as possible. We've installed 3,000 solar panels at White Rose and are planning further investment in EV (electric vehicle) charging points. We are working with a neighbouring sixth form college to develop a series of hedgehog houses close to the White Rose.

“We’re focused on supporting our community, with each centre generating hundreds of thousands of pounds of social impact that is supporting the local community. For example, we support food banks and spend time in schools to help young people improve their CV writing and presentation skills.”

Above all, Mr Foster believes both centres can instil a sense of civic pride at a time when Leeds is undergoing sweeping economic and cultural changes.