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Building a World Class Welcome – The Secrets Behind Making Leeds City Centre More Vibrant

· Andrew Emery · Culture

Making the city a nicer place to be.

LeedsBID Easter Bunny Trail Leeds

LeedsBID has changed Leeds for the better, delivering a cleaner, more vibrant, colourful and welcoming city. Find out more about what they’ve done and what they’ve got planned for Leeds in the future.

From art trails to egg hunts, the city has been putting its best face forward, but there’s more in the pipeline.

First impressions count for a lot, so you might have spotted a few changes in Leeds city centre over the last few years. New murals and signs, events and pop-ups, dinosaurs coming to life and public spaces becoming increasingly vibrant – it’s largely the work of LeedsBID, whose remit includes improving the city experience for visitors, residents, businesses and workers. Find out what they’ve done, what it’s for and what’s coming next.

Showing the city’s best face

Leeds Jurassic Trail

Credit: Gerard Binks

Cities are always a work in progress, never fully finished, always adapting and transforming, which can make presenting the best side of your city a real challenge. It’s a challenge that LeedsBID has overcome in the last few years, as they’ve found fresh ways to make the city friendly, approachable, exciting, clean and innovative – together, these elements create the ‘Leeds Welcome’.

What makes the ‘Welcome’ so important for Leeds? As Martin Dickson, Head of Marketing, Communication and Brand at LeedsBID explained, “I think it’s the simple, positive impacts that we’re all after. So if people enjoy their time in the city, feel it’s clean, safe, friendly and they get to do exactly what they want, they will come back! It’s also about the memories they take away, obviously encouraging them to come back again, but it’s essential the welcome is warm and inclusive.”

Briggate Christmas

Credit: Tom Martin

That inclusivity can be seen in the range of events and initiatives they’ve made happen. From new Christmas lights to bringing the MOBO Awards here, dinosaurs trails to Easter egg hunts, striking street art to forward-thinking festivals, it’s been a multi-pronged approach that aims to enhance the experience of Leeds city centre for everyone – from the people who live here to visitors from out of town. It’s about making Leeds the destination of choice in the north of England.

The welcome for those arriving in Leeds has been apparent – artwork at the train station has brightened up the concourse. Step outside the station, and the streets are clean courtesy of the Street Rangers Team. Until the pandemic hit, you could also get directions and advice from the Welcome Ambassadors. “We have seen hugely positive benefits and outcomes,” Dickson told us. “And it gives us the best platform from which to continue to deliver such important work for the benefit of all in the city.”

Delivering change you can see and feel

Nomad Clan Athena Rising

Credit: Bokehgo

How do you measure the impact of all this hard work? While LeedsBID have to deliver tangible benefits for the city, such as increased footfall and spend in shops, in many ways it’s also about measuring a feeling. They’ve spent a lot of time evaluating and gathering feedback on their activities, and the key takeaway is a huge upswing in engagement. The animations, like the recent Summer Roadshow, have brought more people into the city centre, and provided entertainment for those who are already there.

As Dickson pointed out, the key thing here is the positive impact for people who come to the city. “The public feedback and comments during the time we’ve delivered so many projects around enhancing the welcome themes, have shown the success and strength of focussing on this key place-management element. Whether it’s the big things like the dinosaur trail, family animations or the Street Rangers who quite literally make the city streets shine.”

Street Rangers

Credit: Ben Bentley

Speaking of the dinosaurs, the Leeds Jurassic Trail is just one way they’ve made the city centre more attractive to families. Some at LeedsBID felt that there wasn’t enough to do – beyond shopping – in the city centre for families with children under 10, and that inspired the celebrated and hugely successful dino trail, which is returning once again this summer. The Easter Bunny Egg Hunt also brought parents and young kids into the centre, on the trail of chocolatey goodness.

It doesn’t end there, however. Such has been the positive response that LeedsBID continues to expand the offering to families. That includes free events during school holidays – perfect for when parents are desperate for things to do with their brood, but also timely with regard to the cost of living crisis. Interactive, fun events such as circus skills workshops and performances are a great resource for parents, while the increased number of Christmas events has also added a buzz to the city’s streets over the festive period.

The Leeds Welcome is set to get warmer

Leeds Piano Trail

After a couple of years that have seen the return of the Leeds International Festival of Ideas, the bigger and better Piano Trail and more, there are plans afoot to make Leeds even more fabulous than before. The success of the A City Less Grey project, that transformed Leeds with a rainbow of street art, has led to even more murals being commissioned – with one set to arrive on the side of the Hilton City hotel this summer, courtesy of Josephine Hicks.

There will be more impact for those arriving at the rail station too, with new ‘Welcome to Leeds’ visuals, offering a visually stunning tableaux of things the city offers. Step outside, and the streets will be in great nick thanks to a growing team of Street Rangers. They’re recruiting for more Rangers, including a waterside team for 2024 as LeedsBID look to expand south of the River Aire – a move that will help them to improve conditions and activities on the rapidly developing South Bank.

Welcome

And will the famous bowler hatted ambassadors be making a return? Yes and no, Martin Dickson explained. “Plans are well advanced to bring a new iteration of Welcome Ambassadors back to the city streets in the autumn. Our famous bowler hat wearing team came to a natural conclusion and gave us a time to reflect, and thus we’re creating something that will be just as innovative as that original team and the impact they brought to the welcome, but as a very different package and with different outfits!”

Clearly, LeedsBID don’t want to stand still – this year’s Jurassic Trail, for example, is not a retread but has plenty of new dinosaurs – they want to be innovative in delivering powerful welcome experiences for people. By delighting those who come to the city, and creating a friendly environment, the aim is to spread the story of Leeds as a place to shop, work, live and go out. The Leeds Welcome is getting bigger and better, and there’s more to come…