A safe, socially distanced and 100% Leeds way to get into the festive spirit…
The shops have reopened, just in time for Christmas, but that’s not the only reason to visit Leeds city centre because the city’s main thoroughfare will be given a heartwarming glow with a new Christmas light installation. Dear Leeds is a sight to behold – a triumph of neon that celebrates everything we are and everything we’ve been through over the last 9 months. #WelcomeBacktoLeeds
James Glancy Design is the company responsible for London’s biggest and most spectacular Christmas displays. They’ve worked with Carnaby Street for the last 23 years, creating a new design every year, each more impressive than the last, and they’re also the people behind the famous ‘Spirit of Christmas’ installation that floats above shoppers on Regent Street.
But this year, you can see their creations much closer to home because LeedsBID has commissioned them to produce a new festive light installation for Briggate. Inspired by Kate Ryrie’s poem, Dear Leeds is a homage to the people and businesses that make the city special, at the end of what can only be described as an incredibly challenging year.
“We really need more wow factor on Briggate, we need to treat it like Oxford Street and give it as much focus as possible as the centre of the city,” Andrew Cooper, Chief Executive of LeedsBID, told us. “But because of what’s happened with COVID, we decided that, rather than the usual Christmas thing, we wanted something that would reflect the cultural and creative DNA of our city, something that’s different, something that’s Leeds.”
And that’s exactly what they did. Dear Leeds is a message of hope and solidarity written in two tonnes of neon. Each decal is suspended in the air above Briggate and stands at between six and eight metres. Brightly coloured vinyl outlines the neon, so even in daylight they’re impossible to miss, and mirrored Dibond makes it look like they’re floating in the air.
The messages are designed to work together or apart, and they tell a different story depending on which way you’re walking down the street. One way, it reads ‘Dear Leeds, we are your people’, ‘Past, present and future’, ‘Of big hearts and bigger minds’, ‘Exactly where you’re meant to be’. The other says ‘A new year, your future’s in sight’, ‘Marching on together’, ‘Where tomorrow is ours’, ‘This is your time, love Leeds x’.
“The words are a reflection of the characteristics of our city and the people in it. There’s references to football, there’s references to the city, there’s references to our resolve,” Cooper explained. “Hopefully, it will capture the mood of what we’ve all been going through and add a bit of sparkle to what has been a very challenging year.”
The installation is already in place, and the lights were switched on at 8am on Wednesday 2nd December 2020, the day lockdown ends and the shops reopened. It’s the perfect excuse to head into Leeds for a little last-minute shopping or to enjoy a safe, socially distanced excursion now that restrictions are starting to be lifted – and trust us, it’s worth the trip.
“For us, it’s all about visual impact. When someone turns a corner, we want them to take a sharp intake of breath, then take a picture and stay a while,” James Glancy, Founder of James Glancy Designs, told us. “We try to make our designs very camera-friendly too. What we’re hoping is that the designs will be sent around to friends, to as many places as possible on social media.”
That shareability is more important now than ever because our trips into the city centre are few and far between. For those who are shielding, it may not be possible to see Dear Leeds in person, but thanks to the magic of the internet, you can share the experience online. Take a selfie, shoot a video, even FaceTime with friends live, in these strange times, we all have to find new ways to connect with people.
Putting this together, in the midst of a pandemic, was no mean feat. The installation is connected to eight different buildings, each with a different landlord and tenant – so even just getting permissions to install new fixings was a mammoth endeavour. It’s been a real collaborative effort. And with James Glancy Design being based in London, they had to mock everything up in the studio and get it signed off remotely. But it all came together in the end – and we’re so glad it did.
Dear Leeds will light up for the first time on Wednesday 2nd December 2020 and stay up throughout the festive season.