Leeds steelpans experts in Lille

Last week we told you about the recent educational agreement which was signed between Leeds and Lille city councils and the education authority in Lille.  This is a guest blog by Victoria Jacquiss from the Silver Steel Sparrows who went to Lille earlier this month to teach young people to play the steelpans and to perform at Lille’s “Kids Art” festival.

all Sparrows at Lille Friday

On my last trip to Lille, where I introduced my own particular pedagogy for teaching steelpans, I was invited to return with a band of players who could demonstrate that the pedagogy worked, and who could also teach the music students and the music teachers of Lille how to use the system and how to get the best out of their relatively newly arrived steelpans. They also wanted us to play at the Youth Mom Arts Festival, which lasted for four weeks from May to June.

Thus the six of us found ourselves on Eurostar on June 6th. And then teaching at the Maison Folies Moulins from Tuesday to Friday, with the big concert on Thursday evening, and a little one at a brand new school on Friday evening. We also visited the Conservatoire Wednesday afternoon to see their teaching and some of their central youth ensembles.

Along the way we taught five different Yr 6 classes, who children were International relations personified, coming as they did from Morocco, Senegal, Congo and everywhere. In one class, only three were French born. We also supported Viviane teaching the adult taster class on Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday and Thursday aftern we rehearsed Under the Boardwalk and Rolling in the Deep with the music teachers from Lille Conservatoire , the first tune incorporating three conservatoire musician’s own instruments [flute, accordion and cello], and own ideas for the arrangements.

 We stayed at newly-opened and wonderful Gastama Hostel, where we, as with everywhere else, were received like Royalty. The music teachers and people from International Relations worked tirelessly to ensure that our trip was a success. The only negative thing about it all was that we had to come back to the United Kingdom!

Arrival at Lille.JPG



DortBUNT! – Celebrating diversity

Goldenes Buch quer_gsk__

With the city-wide festival “DortBUNT!” celebrating tolerance and diversity, our partner city Dortmund in Germany has marked the 71th anniversary of the end of World War II and its achievements in intercultural dialogue since. For two days the city centre of Dortmund has hosted seven stages with live music and over 100 stalls presenting the work of volunteers, cultural organisations and faith groups who are all contributing to tolerance and openness in the city.

To highlight the importance of peace between nations and the significance of city partnerships to achieve exchanges and friendship on the local level, Dortmund has invited all its partner cities to join the festival. Delegations from as far as China, Russia and the USA have attended along with delegations from France, former East Germany – and Leeds!

Having the partner cities there to attend “DortBUNT!” and to celebrate decades of an international dialogue and exchange on the local level was very important to the City of Dortmund. To capture this historic moment, the delegations have all signed the Golden Book of the city, a guest book for the most honoured guests of Dortmund.



A week for remembrance and reflection

Today I received a message of thanks from a young person who has just returned from a visit to the Somme in France.  She is a member of the National Youth Music Theatre who are performing in “Brass”, a musical which tells the stories of the Leeds Pals who were decimated on the first day of World War I’s Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.

“My name is Kitty Watson and I am in the NYMT cast of Brass.  I am absolutely exhausted this morning after arriving back in Leeds at 2:30am after a truly amazing trip to France where we visited the exact place where the Leeds pals went over the top on July 1st 100 years ago.  It was a deeply moving experience and being from Yorkshire, I felt such pride as we showed our respect to the men of Leeds who took their lives for our country.  This trip has allowed us, as actors, to have an in depth understanding of WW1 and we learnt so much about the Leeds Pals. We will take this knowledge and this experience on stage with us in our performance in Brass at the end of August.”


Members of the National Youth Music Theatre playing “The Last Post”during on their visit to the Somme

Yet, sitting in my inbox alongside the email from were dozens of messages from partners around the world, shock and stunned by the Brexit vote, anxious about the future, but setting out their continued support for Leeds and the work that we do together, be that in culture, education or economic development.

Later this week the Leader of Leeds City Council will play host to politicians from both Lille in France and Siegen in Germany, two of Leeds’ European partner cities.  They will stand shoulder to shoulder in remembering those who fell in World War I.  The city of Leeds signed up to these “twin city” agreements in the 1960s in a wave of post war city partnerships, which were created to promote peace and cooperation between the peoples of Europe; the premise was that the nations of Europe should never go to war again.

As we prepare for this week of commemoration, it is a time for reflection about Leeds as a European city and how we should continue to engage with our partners not just in Europe, but across the world, upholding and honouring these principles of peace and cooperation.

Leeds and Lille pledge to work together in education

On 16th June 2016 the partner cities of Leeds and Lille signed an agreement to work together in the field of education over the next 3 years.  The agreement was signed by council representatives from Leeds and Lille, as well as from Lille’s education authority at a special venue exhibiting children’s art.



Representatives from Lille Education Authority and Lille City Council join Deputy Leader Lucinda Yeadon in signing the agreement


The Leeds – Lille partnership dates back to 1968 and educational links date back to before the second world war.  This agreement will allow the two cities to create more school links, to offer more professional development opportunities for teachers, to plan more joint projects and to run more student exchanges.

Children from Rothwell Primary visited Lille’s forest school in May, where they learned about sustainable development and played alongside new friends from their Lille partner school.


Rothwell Primary students at Lille’s forest school


Rothwell and two other Leeds primaries were also involved in an EU funded project last year which looked at each city’s approaches to encouraging children and young people to influence decisions and make their voices heard.  The project looked at different ways to solve problems at school and Lille teachers, headteachers and playworkers were trained up on the Leeds approach to restorative practice.

Looking to the future, exchanges around cultural education are high on the agenda for the two cities, with a group of Leeds steelpans teachers having just returned from performing and teaching at a Kids Art Festival in Lille.  Lille held the title of European Capital of Culture in 2004, meaning that Leeds has a lot of learn from its partner city on how to get children and young people involved in cultural activities.

all Sparrows at Lille Friday.JPG

Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows playing at Lille’s Kids Art festival



Applying Nordic know-how in Leeds

In the last few months Leeds has been getting involved in the “Culture for cities and regions” project.  It is a project run by Eurocities and gives cities like ours the opportunity to learn about cultural practice in other cities across Europe. This is a guest blog from John Donegan who is Partnerships Co-ordinator from Leeds Museums and Galleries, who was part of recent a study visit to Denmark.

“One of the great things about international study visits is that they show you that things don’t have to be done the way you are used to.

I have just returned from a really useful study visit to Aarhus in Denmark. They will be European Capital of Culture in 2017, and Leeds is bidding to be the capital in 2023. We obviously have things to learn if we want to give Leeds a good chance at the title. I was particularly interested, since the city’s museums and galleries have been a major part of their successful bid.

There is a lot about Denmark that we wouldn’t be able to replicate or adapt here – most notably the level of funding made possible by a national tax system that incentivises private industry to invest in capital funding foundations that cultural institutions can tap into for major works.



Boy 1999 by Ron Mueck. Scary giant child at ARoS Aarhus Art Museum

There are also a lot of little things which I need time to think about. The Danes are really keen on the use of cultural buildings as public/social spaces and thoroughfares – pedestrian routes encourage people to walk through their art gallery and their public library on their way to work, or when they are having a night out in the city centre. Yoga classes or choir rehearsals in the library take place in the public areas, not in private rooms. They also really like mixing up cultural activities with business and other sectors, like in the Godsbanen – a super-sized hack space bringing together small for-hire workshops with supporting businesses, theatres and rehearsal rooms.


The newly built Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus.  They didn’t want to disturb the grounds of the estate it is built in, so they simply lifted up the ground and slipped the museum underneath

However, the big thing I’ve come back with is a very positive impression of the importance of the attitude with which they’ve approached European Capital of Culture and culture in general – their boldness, daring and vision. The Danes have an approach that if you aren’t prepared to fail, you won’t succeed.

It is this great attitude of boldness, vision and risk-taking, as well as the role that museums can play in the great culture of a great city that I hope to share with Leeds now I’m back.”


The European Dimension


You may have heard that Leeds has made the bold decision to throw its hat into the ring and bid for the title of European Capital of Culture for the year 2023.  This will be a competition between us and other UK cities, such as Milton Keynes and Dundee, and others yet to be announced.  There won’t just be a UK Capital in 2023, as during the same year a Hungarian town or city will hold the title too.

What this means for cities like Leeds is that we are currently working our way through a set of criteria, established by the European Commission, against which our bids will be judged.  We are trying to understand their meaning and how we could best meet them in our bid.  One of the most important criteria is the “European dimension”, which asks us to set out how Leeds will deliver a year long artistic programme of European significance, using culture to address key European issues and attracting a wide European audience to events involving partners from across Europe, and beyond.

As I begin to immerse myself in the European dimension as part of the Leeds2023 bid team, I find myself working alongside a group of incredible people from Leeds’ rich cultural sector, who already do amazing work in Europe.  Work which forms the foundations for a strong European dimension for the Leeds2023 bid.

Karen Watson is the co-founder and Director of East Street Arts and is currently working on a Creative Europe funded project with partners in Lille and Ghent which combines art and sport.

And Wieke Eringa is from Yorkshire Dance and has just come back from an exhilarating meeting of Aerowaves Spring Forward – a conference and showcase of contemporary dance.

I invite you to read their Leeds2023 blogs and to get a feel for the European dimension.

East Street Arts Championing the City’s Greatest [EX]Sports

Dancing Across Europe: An insight into Aerowaves



Discovering cultural education in Finland

Last month representatives from Leeds had the opportunity of joining a fully funded visit to Helsinki and neighbouring city of Espoo to look at their approach to cultural education.  We were joined by cultural education professionals from cities from all over Europe, all keen to learn the secret of success of the Finnish education system, number one in the Pisa education league tables.

We were given 3 reasons for Finland’s success – highly qualified teachers, the ability of education authorities and schools to adapt the national curriculum to their local circumstances and finally trust  in teachers to do their job well; trust between teachers and students, trust between teachers and parents and finally trust between teachers and the state – this really is the stuff of dream for participants from the UK!

The visit gave us a great insight into how two highly successful neighbouring Finnish cities ensure that their children are given a quality cultural education.  We were shown cultural centres,  museums, libraries and art galleries who offer a wide range of cultural activities for children and young people, not to mention the national opera and other cultural organisations.  We met inspirational cultural education coordinators from each city who have brought together all the opportunities for cultural activities into one place – a website and a catalogue – so that teachers know what is available and how to access it. And we debated how to increase the take-up of these cultural activities to ensure that culture remains an important part of young people’s education, alongside and complimentary to maths, science and languages.

We saw how the central library in Espoo was used as a tool for community cohesion, reaching out to the city’s refugee camp by offering books in relevant languages, building trust with the refugees and then eventually bringing them in to the city centre.  The central library was full of people from different communities and of all ages who were there to borrow books, learn the Finnish language, access computers and gain new skills in IT and design, using the fantastic maker space complete with 3D printers and sewing machines.

The opportunity to join the study visit came about through the “Culture for Cities and Regions” project led by the Eurocities network, in which Leeds plays an active role.