How culture can change lives in Leeds and Bradford – Darren Henley

IT’S an exciting time to be in West Yorkshire. Despite the challenges of the last year, there is a tangible sense of hope and purpose in the air.

Culture is intergral to the future prosperity of Bradford and Leeds, says the Arts Council.
Culture is intergral to the future prosperity of Bradford and Leeds, says the Arts Council.

And I’m heartened and impressed by the path being forged in Leeds and Bradford – and indeed across West Yorkshire – where culture and creativity is placed at the heart of both economic and community recovery.

The commitment to arts, culture and creativity we are seeing now builds on a long history of local authorities here recognising the value of this sector.

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And there is plenty to recognise in West Yorkshire, home to a rich mixture of nationally significant cultural institutions, much-loved historic venues, innovative artists and organisations and dynamic digital-led initiatives.

Darren Henley is chief executive of the Arts Council.

The importance, and potential, of this cultural richness is evident in both the aspirations behind the Leeds 2023 vision and through the implementation of Bradford’s excellent new 10-year cultural strategy, Culture Is Our Plan.

Leeds is absolutely right to see itself as a world class “capital of culture” and this shines through in its new drive, Letting Culture Loose.

It is committed to artistic opportunity for everyone, whether connecting young people through schools’ programmes or older generations via the immersive Bus Pass Project, or enlisting hundreds of “citizen performers” as Holbeck-based Slung Low plans to do through Leeds People’s Theatre.

Thanks to National Lottery players, the Arts Council has invested £223,000 in supporting My World, My City, My Neighbourhood, which will encourage people to get involved in Leeds 2023 and to help shape the year.

West Yorkshie mayor Tracy Brabin is committed to promoting the creative industries.

With Coventry recently starting its UK City of Culture programme, it is an opportunity to reflect on the benefits a year in the cultural spotlight can bring.

It happened for Hull, when it was UK City of Culture back in 2017. And an independent survey on Leeds 2023 has suggested it could boost visitor numbers by 10 per cent, create more than 1,300 new jobs and inject £114m into the economy.

Meanwhile, Bradford’s Culture Is Our Plan is a great example of forward-thinking with the aim of getting two-thirds of people regularly involved in arts, culture and heritage activities. And of course, Bradford also has a further ambition, to be UK City of Culture 2025.

The Arts Council has invested more than £29.3m in Bradford’s cultural landscape since 2016, including £2m in The Leap, which aims to empower 100,000 people across the city to take part in cultural activities.

It’s exciting to see the shared commitment of Leeds and Bradford to build a future based on cultural excellence and artistic opportunity for everyone.

And what is so important is that this is a cultural landscape that is not imposed from the top down. Instead, it’s built from the ground up. The people of Leeds and Bradford are creating their own vision. It’s this collaborative partnership, between councils, artists, organisations, universities, colleges and communities, that will make life even better.

Access to arts and culture does not just have economic benefits but social and health benefits too. Simply put, engaging with creative activities helps us to lead happier, more fulfilled lives

I’ve been impressed by Born in Bradford, a research programme which is tracking the lives of more than 30,000 young people to discover what influences their health and well-being, recognising the role that creativity has to play.

As we start on the road to recovery, I want to acknowledge the support of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden as the architects of the Government’s £1.8bn Culture Recovery Fund. It’s the biggest single such investment in our country’s history and it’s making a huge difference across West Yorkshire.

More than £40m has been distributed to cultural organisations and venues here, from Opera North and Northern Ballet in Leeds to Bradford Literature Festival, Kala Sangam, Castleford’s Topsy Turvy Theatre, and Hoot Creative Arts which does brilliant work in the arts and mental health sector in Huddersfield.

Last month Leeds 2023 was awarded £322,000 from the fund to support it moving forward. It’s easy to see why this is money well spent. With culture taking centre stages in Leeds and Bradford, and new plans for special years in Kirklees and Calderdale, West Yorkshire’s creative future is shining more brightly then ever.

Darren Henley is chief executive 
of the Arts Council.

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