London, New York, Paris – what do they have in common? Yes, they are often found emblazoned on bags from shops that most of us can’t afford to enter but that’s not what I’m getting at here. Throw in Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol even; they all do a cracking job of letting the world know how great they are. Then we have Leeds, the mighty Leeds, the most loved City in, well…..Leeds.
I’m not a Leeds lad but I’ve been here for over 20 years and long ago adopted it as my home that I have no intention of leaving. During that time I’ve had more conversations than I care to remember with people about our City’s inability to communicate its story effectively beyond its borders. You could write a whole article or more exploring why this might be, and many people I have spoken to have their own thoughts on the subject, but that’s not the purpose of this piece.
This is an open letter to all those who want more from Leeds, a call to those who know what this City is capable of but know all too well that we are failing to live up to our potential. This is a call to action, not to look back at what we’ve done or more importantly not done, but to look at the future, to identify what we need to do to fix it. I for one (and I know I’m far from alone) want Leeds to start receiving the recognition it deserves nationally. Some want to take this a step further and are now pushing at an international level, but after 124 years of relative silence let’s not run before we walk. There’s so much work to do, to pitch our message across the UK before we start stressing that the local airport isn’t fit to bring people from afar.
In a City that’s home to some of the best marketing, brand and press agencies in the country it baffles me that we fall down in this department. It baffles me that I hear so many of you agree with these words while being vexed by the comments made in the press. Most of all it baffles me that you are the very people in a position to change things. Year on year nothing changes while our neighbours continue to deliver their messages of success; they continue to innovate and develop. They project these stories of greatness way beyond their borders and across ours. Most importantly they work together, to them it’s us not me.
How many of you reading this know all too well how wonderfully marvellous Manchester is, at times to the point of jealousy, yet we react to this with little more than a grumble amongst ourselves in the local bar? I know many of you already and I meet more every week. We grow in numbers but not in strength.
Recently Leeds tried to up its game and I wrote a little about that here – https://leedsliving.co.uk/city-living/premature-celebrations/ The timing on the eve of the 2023 bid couldn’t have been worse but it’s not just the timing, it’s the subject matter. Stories of greatness shouldn’t be measured by the number of zeros following a pound sign. Nobody but C-list ‘celebrities’ and reality TV stars really appreciate people who shout of their wealth. The stories we should be telling are the ones that will compel people to come to Leeds, to find out more about its people and culture. I’m sure they have their own shiny new buildings devoid of character and interest, so why travel to see more?
I understand we all have our crust to earn but if the incredible talent in this City took a little time out, to work together, united, to tackle this problem then think what impact we could make.
For those of you who don’t know, I co-founded a little not-for-profit publishing company, the very same which maintains the site you are now reading. We strive to provide a platform both on and offline for the City and the wider region to help us all tell our stories, a platform for everyone to use.
I’m working with a handful of wonderful, dedicated people towards this end but we can’t make the impact that’s needed without your help, so instead of complaining that other Cities gain the recognition that Leeds deserves, step up and collaborate. Working individually to your own agendas as I know some of you are doing is clearly not having the impact it needs to. We need a different strategy.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Lanark by Alasdair Gray. This was passed to me by a good friend, Phil Kirby, one of Leeds’ finest proponents of realism and a writer who I greatly respect and admire.
“Glasgow is a magnificent city,” said McAlpin. “Why do we hardly ever notice that?” “Because nobody imagines living here,” said Thaw… “Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist, not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.”
Leeds could be magnificent too.