The Friday Comment is a new section on BGL which gives people the space to talk about their lives in Leeds, posted at 2pm on Fridays; if you would like to have your say then please get in touch by emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re not hopeless hipsters, we’re celebrating Leeds for what it is
Leeds is the love of my life. I blame this city squarely for the fact that I am single and I am unashamed in doing so. So fabulous and forward-thinking is my home city that it is impossible for any man to compete with the life I lead in it, nor would I want one to.
Such is my love affair with Leeds that I started a new project this year that has changed my life. It was an idea I’d had kicking round in my head for 2 years. Then, living in the North of Leeds, I rarely ventured in to the city centre and it struck me that that was because I had no idea where to go or what was on. When I’d lived in Manchester there seemed to be a lot more online and in print about what was going on, who to see and where to eat/drink. One of my best friends currently lives in London and even commented ‘I never know what’s going on in Leeds, but I assumed that’s because there is nothing going on.’ Manchester considers itself ‘the capital of the North’ but as a Loiner who is deeply in love with their home city, I wanted to know why we weren’t at least trying to compete for the title too?
The decision to write about independent places only was an easy decision to make. Firstly, I can’t abide a lot of the commotion that goes on in certain areas of our city centre (they shall remain nameless here, but I’m sure several streets spring to your mind here, readers) and so I tend to avoid them completely. Secondly, hitting my late twenties I knew lots of people who were ‘branching out’ and starting up their own businesses so content from that angle wasn’t an issue.
Deeper than all of that though, why would we even want to promote the bigger brands in Leeds when every city and large town in the UK probably has something very similar? ‘Come to our shopping centres here, they have everything you have in your own hometown but you’ll be in LEEDS!’ just isn’t going to sell Leeds to visitors and tourists from outside the immediate area, especially when train fares are rising and people have less and less money to spend on luxuries like days out.
I’m not saying that we don’t have some fantastic mainstream and commercial businesses and events going on in Leeds – we have a Harvey Nicks for god’s sake! – but are they really what we want to celebrate about Leeds? Is that all we have to say about this city? Yes, our Victoria Quarter is beautiful. Yes, we are proud of our architecture and heritage. Yes, I hope people do take the opportunity to visit some of our exciting council-run facilities such as the Leeds Museum when they come and visit, but what about the rest of Leeds? What else do we have to offer?
I think what amazes me most about Leeds is its ability to retain and draw in its residents. One of my friends, Sam, grew up in Birmingham but is one of those Leeds Uni students that never ever left. He is also keen to sing the blue and yellow praises but even so he has commented to me about ‘hanging out and writing about hipster bars’. It seems to me that people are so quick to roll their eyes and scoff at the things that make Leeds unique and to me that’s not only unfair but potentially quite dangerous in terms of Leeds’ culture and individuality. If hipster is what Leeds is, then it’s ours and it should be celebrated.
One of my favourite quotes from interviewing Leeds business people comes from the 22 year old directors of Trash Threads, an independent clothing boutique that is Leeds-born but based in Manchester. They said they ‘get so much [fashion] inspiration from Briggate alone’ and that is so important in terms of celebrating Leeds, its culture and its uniqueness. Ok so I see young people walking round in thick framed glasses with plastic lenses in and feel like that’s a bit try-hard (as well as taking the mickey out of people like me who actually require those things to see!) but who’s to say what’s right or wrong? I’m proud that Leeds finally seems to be finding its way in the UK and promoting itself as a city of opportunity, of great fashion and of fabulous people and spirit.
That’s how my life was changed. By writing about independent businesses in Leeds it made me more aware of what’s going on in Leeds and what it has to offer. Once I started seeking these places out and meeting the people behind them, it was pretty addictive and pretty impossible to stop. My whole way of life has changed – where I shop, where I drink, the sights and scenes I enjoy in my spare time. Without doubt I have met some absolutely amazing people through writing about indie Leeds and that to me is priceless; seriously wonderful stuff.
So if drinking and eating in and writing about independent places in Leeds makes me a hipster, I don’t really care. There’s so much out there in Leeds that lies undiscovered and unsung and that’s real Leeds – and a pretty exciting prospect. Far more exciting than another Wetherspoons or Tesco could ever be.
Lola Wilson is editor of Leeds Love Affair (www.leedsloveaffair.blogspot.com), a blog that promotes independent places to eat, drink and go in Leeds. You can also follow Leeds Love Affair on Twitter @leedsloveaffair.