Leeds has a large African diaspora and when the 20th anniversary of Freedom Day, marking Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, coincided with the 10 year anniversary of his visit to Leeds, the city was ready to celebrate with a community both at home and away. With limited budget, a brief to work with a broad range of African communities, not always known to the cultural sector and the expectation of a fitting celebration and tribute to the great Nelson Mandela this was no small task.
The communities across the city for whom there was a deep and meaningful connection with Nelson Mandela and his story of a struggle for peace and a fight against racism were my starting point. These communities celebrated Dr. Nelson Mandela and his work every single day, they had been there when he visited Leeds, made him cups of tea when he visited their community centres and had stories of their aunties, uncles, parents and relatives who had met him or created projects inspired by him.
The many and varied communities of the African continent are represented across the breadth of the city so I created an open call for ideas with a small grants pot of £1,000 per project. I was looking for ideas and events that brought people together, embodied the spirit and values of the man they called Madiba and told a story of his work be that with young or old, or his connection to Leeds. The projects and events would all take place over the course of a week culminating the 20th anniversary of Freedom Day and would be supported by a locally-targeted marketing, advertising and press campaign.
To deliver this project I worked with Pitter Communications led by Susan Pitter, who had been Lady Mayoress when Nelson Mandela visited Leeds and remembered the occasion well. Together we enlisted the services of Project 53 to create a colourful identity that would join all of the events and projects together. There wasn’t budget to create a website and the celebrations would be a one-off so we worked with Leeds listings website, Leeds Inspired, to create a dedicated area of their site for the celebrations.
Throughout the course of the week we were able to support 17 community projects from dance shows to steel pan performances, coffee mornings, feasts and urban graffiti challenges. The events represented 12 different African countries and generated 10 pieces of local coverage for the celebrations.