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With an existing Culture Strategy which had expired and a bid for European Capital of Culture that demanded a current Culture Strategy, I was tasked with developing a new strategy that would align with the local authority’s overall vision for 2030. Th strategy would need to balance the needs of the established cultural sector and the dynamic independent scene, whilst also representing the voices, views and desires of those creating cultures in very diverse communities across the city.

Although commissioned and developed within Leeds City Council, given the climate of austerity it was clear that the council would not be the sole delivery partner of the strategy and therefore a new strategy would need to provide a common purpose and framework for many partners to share the responsibility for its delivery.



In order to fit with the city council’s overall vision for 2030 the new Culture Strategy would need to span a 13 year time frame in which the city would see more than 70,000 new homes built, a complete overhaul of its transport infrastructure, major targets for environmental reform, challenges for children’s services and adult social care and major regeneration projects that will change the face of the city and swell its population to in excess of 1 million residents by 2030.

Traditional culture strategies tend to focus solely on the needs of the culture sector in isolation from the demands, challenges and opportunities within the city which, given the planned changes for Leeds and a challenging climate of austerity, didn’t seem the right approach for a new, modern and responsive Culture Strategy that had to suit a number of complex needs and be adaptable and sustainable over 13 years.

I started with the context of the city – reading the various strategies that already existed across policy areas to explore what the city’s challenges and opportunities were over the set time frame. This exercise revealed that culture was largely omitted from the city’s future plans, sitting apart from what it considered to be its core business. My next step was to interview more than 100 organisations, individuals and artists who identified themselves as ‘cultural’ or at least delivering cultural activities. Although varied in art form and audiences the sector was unanimous in its perception that culture was not valued, supported, protected and understood by the city, often considered a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘luxury’ that was difficult to defend as care homes were closing and services were becoming stretched. There was a collective view that a new Culture Strategy must demonstrate and support culture’s contribution to the range of agendas in the city from mental and physical health and well-being, education and economy to urban regeneration, social inclusion and support and development for children and young people.

Following this initial period of research I was able to develop a series of ideas about what the purpose and focus of a new Culture Strategy should be which were used as provocations to start a city-wide conversation with people who might not consider themselves to be cultural or interested in culture. Over the course of 1,500 meetings, focus groups, conversations, presentations and workshops I led the development of the city’s first ever co-produced Culture Strategy.

The new Culture Strategy for Leeds 2017-2030 is an iterative document that will be updated as the city changes over the course of 13 years, responding to new challenges and opportunities. The strategy includes: A new definition for culture that encompasses everything from dance, music, art and theatre to food, bingo, busking, computer games and fashion; Six guiding values that a range of delivery partners will adhere to when delivering the cultural provision of the city; Five key areas of focus for the first six years of the strategy, prioritising the issues that the city felt were most pressing.

As with most strategies of this kind, the Leeds Culture Strategy does not come with an allocated budget for delivery, it’s purpose is to influence the agendas across the city embedding culture in their daily delivery and thinking, and demonstrate the value culture can add when incorporated at the start of the process as opposed to when it is used as a cure for a particular challenge that has arisen.

The full strategy and the development of the associated Delivery Plan can be found at:


Main Image: Culture Strategy leaflets created by Refold Design
Left Image: Age Concern focus group
Right Image: Migrant Access Partnership focus group, image by Tom Joy, courtesy of I Like Press