Artists in Leeds Are Pioneering a New Neighbourhood Planning Model

This summer a unique and creative summer school will bring generations of people together in a diverse and rapidly changing ward in Leeds.

The Neighbourhood Plan is all part of a project in Burmantofts, Lincoln Green and Mabgate to give communities a bigger say in the future of the places they live and work – and providing many people with a chance to have their voice heard in local decision-making for the first time.

It is the UK’s first arts-led neighbourhood plan, delivered by East Street Arts, local residents and businesses in these three areas of Leeds. The Yorkshire city pioneering new ways of thinking about place, space and community futures – a model that could be shared with other cities and local authorities around the country.

Part of the project, delivered by East Street Arts, sees community members hosting an August summer school for 10-12 year olds who live in these areas. Planned activities include gardening classes, AV workshops and photography:


They are using creativity and culture to give people a voice in a truly pioneering project. The activity will give people a say in the future of the places they live and work – including where new homes, shops, offices and public spaces can be built.

It’s all part of an ongoing project that feeds into the ward’s neighbourhood plan. This is a document that sets out planning policies for the neighbourhood area and is used to decide whether to approve planning applications and is written by the community and people embedded in the area rather than the Local Planning Authority.

And the creative activity is uniting people from across the generations too. Project leaders are working with the Burmantofts Senior Action throughout the activity, helping to bridge generational gaps. August’s summer school will build on this with community-led creative classes across gardening, crafting, language skills, multi-media workshops and more.

East Street Arts supported the community in forming a neighbourhood forum, which gave many people a voice – becoming a platform and conduit for different generations to share their views. Their work has involved the co-creation of a zine with community members and last summer saw the piloting of the much-loved East Leeds Gift Exchange – a unique way for people to give and receive a home-made gift with neighbours they’d not met before. All ideas building community and togetherness.

Burmantofts, Lincoln Green and Mabgate are extremely diverse parts of Leeds. More than 70 languages are spoken in the three places, with people moving to this part of West Yorkshire from all over the world. East Street Arts’ work is being delivered in partnership with local residents, businesses, schools, community groups and charities in the neighbourhood.

Helen Moore, Engagement Lead at East Street Arts, said: “There’s a special alchemy in this project – our Neighbourhood Plan activity has truly brought people together from all backgrounds. This work is so exciting and important because it is putting local people first. It’s rare that people and communities feel truly listened to, particularly if they’ve recently arrived in Leeds or are even new to life in the UK. That’s why our Neighbourhood Plan work has such huge potential, because if people can feel they are able to influence decisions in their local area – they feel more engaged with places, political decision-making and contribute to being part of a real community here.”

Helen explained the Neighbourhood Plan work was co-created with communities, which means artists and community members working together in unexpected ways to devise and deliver workshops. And this August’s summer school will be no different – deeply engaging community members with the future of their neighbourhood.

The ambition is for the Neighbourhood Forum to be handed over to the people of Burmantofts, Mabgate and Lincoln Green with a local chair and diverse community members ensuring true representation; ensuring they have a real say in what happens next.

Karen Watson, Artistic Director at East Street Arts, said: “This is new work for us, but we can already see the potential for delivering change and leaving a legacy of people caring for the future of their community. The Neighbourhood Plan is helping us to build closer connections to communities here, a lot of the people connecting with this work wouldn’t ordinarily come to arts events. So, by delivering people-focused grassroots creative ideas, we are delivering a deeper engagement with the Neighbourhood Plan – really listening to the voices of the public in new ways. The Summer School means children, young people, and those in later life can shape the future of this area. Seeing people who’ve lived here for generations working on creative projects with people who have recently arrived in the UK has been brilliant to see.” 

Pauline Alexis has lived in Burmantofts since 2006 and is part of the neighbourhood forum. She explained how East Leeds has become much more diverse since she moved here – her street now home to a diverse mix of people from many ethnic backgrounds. She said: “I’ve just loved the way this project has brought different people together – you don’t feel like an island when you meet other people who want the best for your neighbourhood. It’s really proven we can work together here – people young and old. It’s just started so there are many new ideas and conversations forming, I’m hoping young people here can continue to collaborate – this work has made me think a festival all about food and culture would be so popular here.” 

Pauline explained there were so many highlights from the activity: “Being involved in the planning and design of the Zine was brilliant, especially being able to contribute a few paragraphs to the section looking at the secrets to gardening success. I’ve met some talented people who live just around the corner, and I’ve learned so much about the people that live and work in my neighbourhood. We’re not strangers anymore. People here want to share their knowledge, and that’s something to be proud of.”

Abbie Miladinovic, Senior Planner at Leeds City Council, said: “Neighbourhood planning allows all communities to prepare a neighbourhood plan for their area and to help shape what new development should look like and where it should be located. As important as this is, areas like Mabgate, Burmantofts and Lincoln Green need much more than that in order to thrive and be successful. That’s why the Council has been working closely with East Street Arts, local residents and businesses to explore how the neighbourhood planning process can be used to connect in a different way, where a ‘sense of community’, personal wellbeing and local distinctiveness are just as important as bricks and mortar. Leeds is the leading city for inner-city neighbourhood planning and we hope that the creative and truly pioneering work that’s being done in Mabgate, Burmantofts and Lincoln Green will inspire other inner-city areas across the country. 

She added: “East Street Arts have been incredible in finding exciting and fresh ways to engage and inspire local people to become more connected to where they live, to care more and to ultimately help make changes. We will be helping local people to create an exciting vision for their area and we will be working with them to deliver it, this could include local solutions to climate change, Covid-19 recovery or anything else that’s important to the community. The summer school will bring all age groups and backgrounds together to generate ideas and is key to making all of this happen.” 

Other things!