A glorious sunny day in early Autumn – the sky a rich and unexpected Summer blue. The grassy park beside St Aidan’s Church slowly filled with people as the HAREHILLS FESTIVAL began.
We almost couldn’t get in when we arrived as the gate to the park, which was falling off, had been taped shut with packing tape. Happily, a helpful usher sliced the tape through with a car key and opened up the park like a parcel – cheerful, well-packed and full of people, music, street food, games and conversation. We set up the tea trolley beside a path at the top of a grassy slope, a little way from a coconut shy. The sun was so hot that we had to keep swapping chairs to even out the sunburn.
Bhangra music and Happy Hardcore wafted down from the stage at the upper end of the park, the breeze bringing with it the scent of jerk chicken and Polish pancakes. The festival seemed to attract all sorts of people from the very young to the elderly – people who live locally, but also others from further afield – people who live out of town, but who work in the area.
Activities ranged from graffiti art to planting herbs and seeds – taking in a giant deck-chair and a mobile street cleaner that you could RIDE IN!!! The conversations we had were wide-ranging as well. Some of the questions were philosophical, others engaged with the cultural strategy for Leeds in the run-up to the bid to be the 2023 European Capital of Culture. Below are some of the questions we asked, along with some of the answers.
Who or what has influenced you the most?
Lots of different things, but I’m going to say my grandma because she was an orphan and she was left at a train station as a baby and she was just so strong and such a giver – even though times were hard.
Do you think before you speak?
No! And it sometimes gets me in trouble. I suppose I ought to think more!
What kind of world would you like to leave the next generation?
A better one! I’d change the level of poverty. There’s such poverty in the world and I think that would change terrorism – get rid of it.
What is normal?
I would say that normal is a state of mind. It’s an acceptance of what is present – because normal can change and getting used to a new normal can be difficult.
What floats your boat?
(Mum) She’s really good at football. She’s the captain.
Have we lost the art of conversation?
No. I talk to people on snapchat. I’d rather talk to people face to face. But it’s cooler on snapchat.
Can you love someone even though you don’t agree with them?
It depends what their beliefs are. Maybe if they like Bake-off and you don’t … but I think there are some things where you have to draw the line.
What’s good about living in Leeds – in terms of the things there are to do here?
Bars and restaurants. I love all the different places that there are to eat. I think it’s quite sophisticated. I went to university here and I graduated two years ago. I think you see a different side of the city when you’re not a student. I like the little festivals that pop up – the vegan food festival and there was a little gin festival in the Corn Exchange. I’m from Manchester and when I first came here, I thought it was really small but when you get to know it, there’s loads going on. You just have to find out where it is.
What sort of things do you like to do in Leeds?
I play volleyball for Leeds Panthers. I like that a lot – and I go to the Yoga Space on Meanwood Road.
We actually live in Harrogate but I do a lot of stuff with the cricket teams here, organising the local teams. We lived in Leeds near Gledhow Valley Woods and we fell in love with the woods. There’s a lot of work done there with Friends of Gledhow Valley. We went on this great mushroom-picking course and found these lovely mushrooms that you can eat. It’s great but they’re not that good at publicising themselves – you just find posters in the woods that tell you to turn up by a tree at 9 o’clock.
Can you think of anything that makes Leeds special?
It’s got a Harvey Nicholls that people go on and on about as if it means something.
I think that what makes Leeds really special is that you can walk down the street and hear ten different languages. I think that’s reflected in the independent shops – Harrogate is more big brands – and you don’t feel you have to dress a particular way when you go out. You can wear what you want here. It’s more open – more accepting.
What do you think of your neighbour? Excellent. I live round the corner near the fish shop. The family next door are Asian and they’re lovely but my friend lives on the other side and that’s great. I don’t mean this to sound racist but it’s nice to have someone next door you can talk to – to say “hello” to on a morning.
What do you think of Leeds?
Leeds is up and coming. It’s a lot more colourful now. There’s a lot more hats about – and belts! I think Leeds is doing alright. I’m from Halifax originally and I’ve only been here 22 years. I’d rather be in Leeds than Halifax. I used to come here for the nightlife. It’s Halifax town but Leeds city you know what I mean? All this building work that’s going on! The city centre’s getting developed. Not everyone likes it – like this new John Lewis – but I think it’s getting better.
Do I support Leeds or Halifax? I support my legs and my legs support me!
Do you go out a lot in Leeds?
I do go out but I tend to stick to local pubs – I used to go to town but it’s got bit aggressive now – you see a lot of fights. I don’t want to go out and get involved in a fight. There’s a lot of aggro.
What is happiness?
To me personally – feeling content with the world. Tea, sunshine. Sort of just being in the now really, not dwelling on anything. Just taking what is now – family and friends and people around you.
How do you feel about Leeds as a place to live?
I love Leeds. I’m not from Leeds originally but I stayed because I love it – the diversity, the people, the friendships. There’s lots going on. It’s just a really vibrant city. There’s all the lovely parks and you can get out into the Dales really easily. I think the council do a really brilliant job under really difficult circumstances. I mean, what’s going on with libraries at the moment. (Shakes head). They try their best but it’s not easy.
What makes you happy?
What makes me happy? Good luck with that! A good dosage of Rock and Roll. I do like dancing. I like watching Riverdance but that doesn’t make me happy. A good solid dose of rock and roll. I saw a Jimi Hendrix tribute band last week, Leon Hendrix was there. I got him to sign my guitar. That made me happy.
What could make Leeds better?
It’s hard to say because I’m not a Leeds person. I’ve been here for twenty-six years. But it’s a great city. They would have more books in the main library. Get the buses sorted – especially FIRST. They keep cancelling services. If you’ve got heavy shopping or you’re going to work, that’s no good. We’re not all Jeremy Clarksons who can drive around. And there should be more buses that take you between the different parts of the city – not just into the centre. The 91, the 86 and the no 9 – they don’t go into the centre. They’re really good services. The 62 was great and they cut it. I like Leeds a lot. I like the amount of dialect people use. That’s been watered down a lot though. The National Curriculum is killing it. We all speak the same now. We’re losing our Yorkshire identity.
What do you like about Leeds?
It’s accessible. You can get into Leeds from almost anywhere. You can’t just nip into London can you? I’m in Harrogate and now the 36 bus is running, I come into Leeds a lot more. What else? The Leeds Rhinos! I’m not a football fan and they’re terrible anyway.
I like the nightlife in Leeds – there’s a lot of variety in bars and restaurants – me and my girlfriend go out a lot and one of the things I like is the variety of places you can go.
What could we do to make Leeds better?
There’s lots of parks around Leeds. I live near Roundhay but I think there should be more green spaces in the city centre. There’s a nice space up by Bond Street. Queen Square – that’s an amazing space.
When would you step in?
I feel like I already have stepped in. I opened SHINE, the big building over there. My husband and I had big corporate careers over in America and my son was born and I came home and saw what was going on in Leeds and we decided to stay and we took the building over from the council and raised the money to open it – four and a half million. But we run it on a business model. It’s corporate money and we let out the space – that’s what brings the money in. We employ ex-offenders. It’s a joy. Every day is a joy. Today we’re asking people if the cottage round the back of the building should be a cooking school for the community, because it could be something else – It could be flats.
I think it’s a really, really vibrant entrepreneurial place to be. I think it’s really, really rich in terms of what it has to offer – particularly in terms of food and cooking. I think it tends to focus on the shopping side of things and the city centre and I’m not interested in that – that consumer culture. I had twelve years if that in the States and I’m just not interested. I think they should be promoting other areas – the outskirts. They have a lot more to offer. They’re really rich.
I think there’s a great art and culture side of things as well, which I don’t do as much of as I should. Northern Ballet and West Yorkshire Playhouse and Phoenix Dance. I live in Harrogate and it’s a real bubble, so I’m glad that I get to work in Harehills and see what is going on.