LEEDS 2023 awarded £2.1m to bring Leeds’ heritage stories to life

Lens Lab Leeds sharing event at Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds. Photograph by LEEDS 2023

LEEDS 2023 has been awarded just over £2.1million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop creative projects unearthing and showcasing the history and hidden stories of Leeds’s communities and its people.

LEEDS 2023 is one of seven new projects nationally to share £13.7m awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, aimed at supporting nature, communities and cultural recovery post- pandemic.

The grant has been awarded to Leeds Culture Trust, the charitable organisation delivering LEEDS 2023, which made the successful bid to support a range of creative projects central in “Letting Culture Loose” across the city throughout its landmark year of culture in 2023.

This funding of £2,120,130, made possible by National Lottery players, will be used to unearth individual and community-based stories, bringing them to life in original and engaging ways to reach new audiences. The award will help bring to life new project ideas and others already in development for LEEDS 2023 which has committed significantly to uncovering the city’s hidden stories.

Whether it’s the city’s great innovators like self-taught civil engineer John Smeaton, its city parks or the undiscovered histories of Leeds’s communities, work has already begun to unearth Leeds’s eclectic heritage. Stories are emerging from many parts of the city, including Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley which has been working with poet Matt Abbott to explore the hidden stories of the Mill and its local communities. This has already led to new poetry being created and readings at the Mill.

In Otley, a series of craft workshops “The Day The Elephants Came to Town” emerged from an historical event that took place in the popular market town. Storyteller and artist Vickie Orton researched and uncovered new facts, working with community groups – including the local Brownie pack, knitting circle and The Men’s Shed – to give the story a new lease of life.

Photographers Lens Lab Leeds, who use portraiture to tell stories, have been working with faith communities in Leeds, including Mill Hill Chapel in central Leeds, United Hebrew Congregation in Shadwell and the Al Hassan Centre in Harehills, to start exploring faith and faith-based spaces in the city.

These stories, and more, will attract visitors and engage audiences to experience Leeds in new ways. Local residents will see their own stories brought to life across the city, providing an original Leeds perspective as preparations for the landmark year of culture continue apace.

LEEDS 2023 creative director and CEO, Kully Thiarai, said: “The LEEDS 2023 team is delighted to have been awarded this latest funding which will play a crucial role in developing these original and exciting projects.

“As an organization we are absolutely committed to revealing and celebrating the diverse stories and the great heritage of our fantastic city. One of our greatest strengths is our diversity and this project helps to amplify all those voices and celebrate our differences.

She added: “This funding is a huge show of confidence in LEEDS 2023.  We are getting ready to deliver an exciting and uplifting programme that will delight audiences of all ages and backgrounds, but that will also leave a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy and learn from. Heritage is so much more than just buildings, statues or artifacts and we want to celebrate the people and the communities that have helped to shape Leeds into this amazing city.”

David Renwick, director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Being home to many diverse and vibrant stories, Leeds has a heritage that is very much deserving of a celebration like Leeds 2023.

“Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to be supporting this fantastic programme that truly puts people at its heart, and will share the city’s amazing heritage far and wide. We know that heritage is a great way of bringing people together and creating a sense of pride of place, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how that all comes together at Leeds 2023.”

Based around 12 signature events and a multitude of creative experiences across the year, LEEDS 2023 promises to be an explosion of colour, noise and live entertainment, reaching across the city and its wider districts.

To make the celebrations as relevant and accessible as possible, LEEDS 2023 is taking on the broadest definition of culture. Heritage and the arts, as well as sport and communities, food, and everyday creativity, have all been included in the programme which will be unveiled to the public on Friday September 23.

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