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The Mabgate Project: A Culture-led Community

What is it?
One of the key challenges outlined in the Leeds Culture Strategy is the challenge of gentrification - managing the balance between a rapidly expanding and prosperous city centre and providing suitable accommodation, workspace and venues for culture which are often on the edges of development, blending with the cultures of the residential communities on the outskirts of the city centre. Mabgate could become a pilot project in which to explore how planning policies and approaches with culture at their heart could provide a sustainable solution to these challenges.

A difficult subject for cities the world over, gentrification means many things to many people and while it is often used by the arts sector to refer to the displacement when rent costs rise due to development and land values it is also a signal of where industry once served the communities around it and those industries no longer exist. The cultural sector has the hindsight and opportunity to grow new industry but to engage the existing communities within that development and find new ways to regenerate our neighbourhoods.

An area where this is of immediate concern is Mabgate, a historic area to the East of the city centre. It is bordered by the high-end redevelopment of Victoria Gate including the new John Lewis department store at one side and the community of Lincoln Green, home to one of the most diverse communities in the city speaking 54 languages in just one ward and experiencing high levels of social and economic deprivation to the other side. This area is also home to a range of independent arts organisations from dance studios to artists’ workshops and live art agencies, many of which are in temporary accommodation. Quarry Hill, home to the city's major cultural institutions also borders this area with new developments including the refurbishment of West Yorkshire Playhouse and a new campus for Leeds City College. It is also currently home to Patrick studios, the East Street Arts HQ and soon to be extended to offer an international art and tech hub in collaboration with Invisible Flock. The area is poised for change with many land-owners already submitting planning applications and acutely aware of the potential opportunity for regeneration. The question is, what form will that regeneration take? What will it prioritise? Will it create division or unity? What can and should this area contribute to the city?

The city is currently considering a policy response to this challenge, which could be applied to this and other areas to protect the cultural identity of those areas, providing sustainable accommodation and blending the distinct cultures at play creating new culture-led neighbourhoods. These responses could range from Neighbourhood Planning which would set an ambition and tone for the area but not have any legal obligation, to the designation of a Cultural Conservation Area and a supporting Supplementary Planning Document that could see these principles enshrined in planning policy and bind future development to protect what already exists.

The lead partner for the Mabgate project is East Street Arts, one of the independent arts organisations which has been based in the area for almost 25 years. The key way of working to make this project a success will be how we collectively develop in Mabgate, how we recognise what exists, develop sustainably and protect for the future. Integral to this will be working with key groups and organisations in the area such as MAP, Lady Beck Studios, Live Art Bistro as well as non-arts stakeholder groups such as Touchstone, Leeds Refugee Forum and local residents. This project is in its infancy with many options being explored. One of which is a neighbourhood plan, the process of which would be a key community led and democratic way for all those in the local area to have a say in the future development.

Which Leeds Culture Strategy Aims & Objectives will it deliver?

  • Ensure that culture is celebrated, runs through our DNA and is inextricably linked to who are we and what we do.
  • For the city to value and prioritise cultural activity, utilising it as a means of improving the quality of life experienced by every person and every community in Leeds.
  • For culture to build respect, cohesion and coexistence between and within communities and individuals.

Which Leeds Culture Strategy Area of Focus does it serve?

  • A Place of Many Destinations

Project Contacts
Leanne Buchan leanne.buchan@leeds.gov.uk
Sarah Priestley sarah.priestley@leeds.gov.uk

Partners & Contacts
Nicola Greenan, East Street Arts
Hannah Vallis, East Street Arts

Image: A snapshot of the creativity hidden within the forgotten, but historic buildings of Mabagte. Image courtesy of East Street Arts.