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Big Disco meets Big Deck Chair: What does culture mean to you?

On the 1st July 2016, for one night only Leeds hosted the world’s biggest disco in the city’s emerging South Bank area. Created and produced by Duke Studios in partnership with New Substance, for this year’s Yorkshire Festival, the event brought the world’s largest disco ball to Leeds and inspired lots of communities, families and parties across the city and Europe, to host their own little disco.

We borrowed the LS14 Trust Big Deckchair and joined the Leeds 2023 Capital of Culture Bid Team kicking off a tour of Leeds festivals and galas taking place over the summer.

Below is a selection of answers and some comments on the discussion from the glitter filled conversations at Big Disco.

What does culture mean to you?

When we asked this question people gave lots of different answers about what they did in their spare time. From sports (football, running, Zumba, cycling, netball), to the arts (galleries, museums, heritage, acting, drama, music) and other activities such as food and drink, belly dancing (“there’s a big culture of belly dancing in Leeds!”), shopping, drinking, and socialising. Almost universally people talked about people- bringing people out, getting people together, being part of a community. Even with relatively solitary activities such as running, people said that Park Run and Veggie Runners were great because they offered a chance to share something you love with others. Temporary, pop-up and one off events featured in the conversation alongside long standing and celebrated arts festivals.

Being multi-cultural and diverse was talked about a lot – White British. Asian and mixed black Caribbean and white Pakistani. For others culture meant their own personal identity. Answers ranged from “White British” to “Deep-rooted African with a Caribbean flavour”, “African heritage with British birth and influence and life and a Leeds girl” and “British traditional with an open mind.” For some culture wasn’t about one specific and dominant ethnicity but more of a multi-cultural and open minded spirit that those who answered in this way felt pervaded in Leeds.

Others talked of religion and family. One person interviewed simply answered “being a Muslim” while another answered “being a mum.” Attitudes towards others featured a lot in the conversations with people suggesting that culture is about how you treat others, it’s about your character, if you’re generous or not, if you are tolerant or not.

Some of the people we spoke to took culture to mean their philosophy on life – work hard, play hard; being open to anything; being creative; not the norm; being rooted in a place; not being lazy; live and let live.

Big Disco - What does culture mean to you?
Big Disco – What does culture mean to you?

What makes you proud of Leeds?

A lot of the answers were similar for this question.

Unsurprisingly as the event was fun, unusual and everyone there had bought a ticket to be there when asked what made people proud of Leeds, lots of people answered: “This!”

When asked what else makes them proud every day people responded with the following comments:

  • The people – Someone suggested that we are one family in Leeds, families fall out but they also have each others backs. We were repeatedly told that the city is friendly, welcoming and open, that people know how to have a laugh and that they come together to create communities here that are made up of lots of different backgrounds. That the city does events and carnivals really well, big things and little things that make us Leeds. One person said: “The people here have an energy and pride that isn’t arrogant but it’s powerful and exciting.”
  • Diversity, acceptance, openness – These words refereed to everything from ethnicity, women’s rights, LGBT communities, and age groups. One person said that they walk home from the club in full drag at 4am by themselves and never feel threatened or worried about safety, they said they had friends in other cities who can only be themselves inside nightclubs then they have to change before walking home. The audience at this event felt that the city is not just multi-cultural but it’s inter-cultural, with everyone involved and sharing in each others cultures.
  • Progressive – Largely from an older audience who remember a different kind of Leeds from the 80’s. The city’s vibrancy, energy and constantly evolving cultures and architecture gave the city a progressive feel, as opposed to years gone by where it was felt to be unsafe, industrial and slow to respond to global trends. Some commented that they thought the city council was progressive and forward looking citing examples such as plans in the area fro a City Centre Park, and the Child Friendly policy in Leeds. Generally the phrase uttered the most was “Leeds has a come a long way!”
  • Business – Many people talked about the creative businesses created by local people who were changing the face of the city. Some people were proud of this because it should a progressive city particularly in the technology sector, but others were proud because it gave use something distinctive and personal. One person said: “Live Art Bistro represents the best of Leeds. Creative, fun and lovely- not conceited.”

When asked what makes you proud of Leeds one person said: “The best thing about Leeds is the road art of it!” We asked what he meant and he said that he felt that the city was too stifling. He said it’s not just Leeds UK cities feel too uptight, “When you go abroad the attitude is more laid back, people are free to express themselves. There are too many rules suppressing people here. Norway is my ideal- the pace of life is better, people are allowed to do more with the city- the whole of the UK doesn’t respect and value its young people.”

Big Disco - What does culture mean to you?
Big Disco – What does culture mean to you?

What could Leeds do better?

Not everyone interviewed shared the same view of the city. While some were proud of our green spaces and Child Friendly offer others thought we lacked in these areas. We haven’t made any judgements on the answers, just documented them, so some of the answers below, contradict those above.

  • Transport – this was on a lot of people’s wish list and featured in the conversations extensively. The issues ranged from the heavy focus on routes into the city centre but not across communities, to the lack of late services, no night bus and the cost of transport. Although cycle lanes exist people felt that they are unsafe and that the culture towards cyclists and cycling safety hasn’t caught up.
  • Be more progressive – Some felt that the city is not ambitious enough, that there is a complacency and we should not be standing still. Comments included “we need to brave!” and “we should never be satisfied, we should always be looking to the future and pushing ourselves.” Some felt that we aren’t on the map, that no one know what Leeds is about.
  • We need to be more inclusive – Although people recognised Leeds as diverse, some people felt that we are still a disparate city. We were asked to find more ways of bringing the different generations together, others felt that while the Child Friendly policy is a great thing to have more needs to be done to make it a reality. A few people said that there wasn’t enough happening for young people and particularly teenage groups, that venues such as Leeds Art Gallery could be made more accessible for children and young people. Some felt that too much of our evening offer was centred around drinking and spending money which excludes large groups of people in Leeds.

Other specific comments included:

“We need more dance. Leeds is known for dance but always focuses on Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance etc. it needs to urge dance to lighten up- more spontaneous dance groups. We need to bring culture to the streets more.”

” The city needs an identifiable piece of architecture or a landmark symbolising Leeds. Or if not buildings then more big projects that we are known for Light Night could be great but spread too thinly.”

“Get Leeds United into the premiership.”

“More greenery. The city could be cleaner with more paths, green areas.”

“The music scene doesn’t address the 30 year old market.2

“Nothing, I love Leeds- listen to each other.”

“Really look at the areas we are not great at and then improve.”

“Bigger sofas.”

“Better weather please!”

“Leeds is a great city. It could learn to believe in its self.”

We met a little girl called Ivy who said: “I want more ice cream shops in 2023!”

“Leeds is doing fine- a lot better than it used to be! It needs more things like this. Festivals are always in parks but the city should use its brownfield and urban spaces more. More pop-ups, in Hamburg we went to an outdoor cinema, didn’t matter what we saw, just nice to be out enjoying the city.”

Big Disco - What does culture mean to you?
Big Disco – What does culture mean to you?

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