tct international: leeds independent bikesBack
The visit of the Tour de France to Leeds was a chance for the city to show itself to the world; and Leeds didn’t let the chance slip, making an unforgettable impression on visitors, and on people worldwide viewing the Grand Départ on TV.
To Laura Wellington and James Abbott Donnelly, who ran the Leeds Independent Bikes project in the months leading up to the main event, it was also a chance for independent businesses in Leeds to move that little bit closer together and to support each other’s endeavours just a little bit more, in preparation for the world’s arrival in July – and in preparation for the city Le Tour leaves behind.
“The idea was to do something while the Tour de France was here that was creative, but not just for the sake of being creative,” says Laura. “Something that would actually benefit the independent business community in Leeds.
“We felt that the Tour de France was going to completely miss the independent sector, and it was a good way of doing something, while there were going to be all these visitors, to get something out there that promotes everyone.”
That something took the form of 120 vinyl bicycle stickers, designed by illustrator Tiger Tea and printed by Duke Studios, each bearing the name of and information about a local independent business. The bikes were displayed in windows of shops and offices across the city, a cross-promotional celebration of each other’s efforts.
The windows of The City Talking’s offices were decorated with bikes from Colours May Vary and East Street Arts, while we tracked our own bicycle down to the windows of Outlaws Yacht Club. That cross-promotional element, where businesses effectively gave up part of their window display to advertise another business, was vital to making the project work, even as it turned traditional separations upside down.
“I think that’s about being confident in your business,” says Laura. “It’s about being confident in what you do. And I do think it was quite brave of the people who did get involved – they did take a risk.”
The project as a whole had a high risk factor: with no funding forthcoming from offical bodies working to promote Le Tour, Laura and James pushed on anyway. The risks were worth taking, not just because it put more independent business identities in front of more people on the streets of Leeds, but because it also uncovered some of the city’s lesser known gems.
“Meeting all the people behind those businesses, and finding out about all their amazing stories – I couldn’t believe how much it changed my opinion on Leeds,” says Laura. “It made me realise just how much stuff is going on, and how many people are running really great businesses here. It made me fall in love with Leeds a little bit more.”
That is the success Laura is taking from the project, over and above promoting the independent sector to Grand Départ visitors.
“In the end it wasn’t really about the Tour de France. That was the reason and the catalyst for it, but I think the success was in what we did by bringing the independent sector closer together.
“People seeing their bikes in someone else’s window was a real conversation starter – it gave them a reason to go inside and just say hi. Everybody became part of this same thing, and so these new relationships were made – it made people feel like they’re in the same boat, with the same passion, the same enthusiasm, the same hard work.”
Future projects, now Le Tour has passed on, will concentrate on building upon that idea of organic, decentralised togetherness.
“The bikes will disappear,” says Laura. “That has been a project and it’s done. But we’ve had so many really good emails from people that have been involved and who want it to continue.
“I think the reason why it worked is that everybody felt good about getting together to do something. Now we want to try and continue that good feeling, to work out what we can create together that keeps that going. We’re not sure what that thing is – yet – but there are lots of ideas about things that could happen, things that people want to be part of, things that will just do good stuff.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 15