Leeds recently featured in an article in the Independent named, “Britain’s worst places for culture named.” We were in the bottom 10.
Thinking back to the incredible performance of ‘Kiss me Kate’ I saw last week, at the Leeds Grand Theatre by Opera North (based in Leeds), or to a few weeks ago where the West Yorkshire Playhouse hosted the world premiere of the ballet of ‘1984’ – put on by Northern Ballet (based in Leeds) – I did initially wonder how the Independent came to this conclusion. But then, of course, culture goes far beyond the Opera and Ballet.
Leeds Grand Theatre – no culture here!
I mean, Leeds has the highest number of listed buildings in any city outside of London, so this certainly can’t have been a factor in this judgement.
Perhaps instead this judgement is based on Sport? At Headingley Stadium, in Rugby (League not Union) and Cricket, the Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire County Cricket have both won the Challenge Cup and the County Championship trophy respectively.
Leeds also last year hosted the Grand Départ of the Tour de France, which has left a legacy of the Tour de Yorkshire! We have great figures which have affected our sporting life here in Leeds, from Beryl Burton to Jane Tomlinson. So no, perhaps this judgement isn’t based on sport.
Maybe it’s music, I mean, aside from the Leeds College of Music and the Leeds Symphony Orchestra what have we got? The Kaiser Chiefs maybe? The Pigeon Detectives from Rothwell or, dare I say, Chumbawumba from Armley? Is Soft Cell not enough?! What about Mel B? If the Spice Girls don’t count as culture then I want no part in these rankings.
If we’re going to talk about cultural assets, let’s talk about Louis le Prince. Louis le Prince made the oldest surviving moving picture in Roundhay. This is a legacy which has gone all the way to Hollywood starting a multi-billion pound industry. No offence to Worcester (5th highest), but that tops your sauce.
For architecture, we have the Brotherton Library, Kirkstall Abbey, Harewood House, Broadcasting Tower and the Corn Exchange to name a few.
Authors who have lived and worked here include Alan Bennett, Helen Fielding and JRR Tolkein.
In Chapeltown we have the oldest West Indian carnival in Europe and next year will have our tenth year of Leeds Pride. Our Universities and other local groups host Light Night in the city centre, a whole evening of free arts events for everyone in Leeds to visit.
So using what metric was this idea of Culture based?
The article states that one factor in how cultured an area is is how many historical ships there are… My efforts to have the HMS Victory brought down the Leeds-Liverpool canal have so far proved unfruitful but from today I shall redouble my efforts.
Another was the number of historical battlefields – perhaps we in Yorkshire get along better than some politicians would have you believe.
I would argue that culture is alive – yes it is about the past, about what brings an area to where we are today. But if culture is not relevant and accessible to everybody, then what is it for?
Leeds is currently in the process for putting in a bid for the European Capital of Culture 2023. Our bid will be based of course on our history, but on our present and our future too. We want to be the best city for culture in the UK, and we have a real fighting chance.
I’m off now to book tickets for the Hyde Park Picture House, a 100 year old cinema down the road. Perhaps whoever put together this list of cultured cities would like to come with me? They’re showing Clueless.
Councillor Jonathan Pryor – Headingley Ward
Lead Member for Culture