We were invited yesterday to attend the Cities Summit conference by The Association of town and city Management in Leeds. It was a great day full of interesting discussions and panels focusing around culture and communities within cities across the UK. Hosted by the Leeds BID and Leeds City Council, the conference took an innovative exploration into city growth through culture.


The day began with an introduction from Vaughn Allen, Chief Executive of CityCo and Co-Chair of ATCM Cities Group, he welcomed the room to the wonderful and culturally rich city of Leeds and touched on some points that were going to be discussed throughout the day. Commenting on this time we find ourselves in, where retail struggles to be the main generator of footfall that it once was in cities.

Vaughn then introduced us to John Ebo who is the proud Head of Service and City Centre Manager of Leeds. John talked us through the culture of Leeds, and what makes Leeds the culturally rich and wonderfully diverse city that it is today. There are many different elements of culture that John talked us through, theatre, music and performance, investment, sports, retail and leisure.

Channel four’s headquarters are moving to Leeds into a former cinema, which then became a cavernous nightclub, the local landmark was gutted by a fire in 2014 and is currently being converted into offices. Jonathan Allan, Channel 4’s chief commercial officer, said, “Leeds offered a wealth of potential locations for our national HQ but the Majestic really stood out as an iconic building, which will put Channel 4 at the heart of the city centre. It’s an incredibly impressive redevelopment and offers the right mix of location, connectivity and space for our organisation and great facilities for our staff and our partners in the industry.” The move from channel four will benefit the city as a whole on an investment level, adding to the cultural hues of the city.

The conference also sat within the Purple Flag Month on Leeds Light Night, which John went on to talk us through. Purple Flag is an incredible charity that looks after the night time economy. Cities across the country are awarded the Purple Flag for their contribution to managing the night time economy in support of the community.  As an example the event Light Night Leeds, sees a rise in footfall of 80,000 people to the city over the two live days of the event, with 35 installations spanning across 11 zones across the city. The festival invites artists from all over the world to the event and is a wonderful display of artist works.

Being granted the Purple Flag award for a third consecutive successful year, is a great achievement for the city and something they hold in high regard. Andrew Cooper who is the Chief Executive of Leeds BID, and who spoke at the conference on ‘Creating a City of Ideas and Innovation,’ said on receiving the award again

“This is indeed great news for Leeds, our city centre levy payers and all partners who have worked hard to once again ensure we have retained this important accolade. This award is credit to the partner organisations involved who collaborate to ensure Leeds continues to provide an enjoyable experience for all, from the strength and variety of its offer to maintaining a well-managed experience.”

The next to speak at the summit was Patrick Fox, who is the Director of Heart of Glass. Heart of Glass is an incredible organisations whose aim is to create art that has the power to bring people together and create change, for the people of the community of St Helens. He talked us through a selection of their projects, and their ethos throughout the town of how art belongs everywhere. In particular a project that caught my attention was a project called Your Name Here. The project was the opportunity to nominate someone to become the name of a park in St Helens. The team received hundreds of nominations, which was an amazing response, creating a wonderful portrait of the town. The winning nomination was Vera Bowes, who nominated herself as a child when she was previously known as Vera Page who spent her childhood in St Helens. The project was a great example of how art forges new connections, and transforms lives, affecting relationships between people and places. Patrick ended with a lovely sentiment, quoting the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams saying, “as said in the film If you build it, he will come, but we at Heart of Glass like to say, if we build it we can stay.

Chris Gribble, the chief executive of the National Centre for Writing spoke about the art of storytelling within Cities. Working in Norwich, Chris walked us through a selection of stories that make up the city itself and finished leaving the thought that “Stories are machines for Change” with us.

A discussion on How the Media Covers the High Street then ensued which was incredible insightful and an interesting debate.  Samantha Fenwick, a consumer journalist with the BBC started the debate with the idea that the high street is in fact not dead, and that we need to shift our focus to the evolving nature of the high street instead of concentrating on the negative ‘death’ of so much. The discussion moved to the floor, and members of councils from a town just outside of Leeds highlighted how his high street is only ‘dead’ for the big cooperate chain companies, such as Pizza Express, Debenhams etc. And that small independent companies seem to be thriving! This then lead to some opinions on the transformation of retail spaces. Customers are increasingly looking for more, and the question is how can we give them more within a retail environment. Edinburgh council have amended licensing laws, allowing retail spaces to offer more than just the sale of clothes. This is an interesting idea, and something that will benefit the high street.

Overall the day in Leeds at the Cities Summit was an interesting and insightful one. Looking at the innovative exploration into city growth and culture, it was great to speak with and hear stories from different town’s and city leaders, and how the cities plan to connect communities with the soul of their city.

Thanks for having us!