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“i lose sleep about how we’re going to make this happen” — laura wellington

“i lose sleep about how we’re going to make this happen” — laura wellington


“It gives me goosebumps!”

Laura Wellington is talking about the reaction to the Leeds Indie Bikes project.

“I met a scientist who works at Leeds University and she said, ‘Ah! You did the Indie Bikes? That was the best thing that happened to me all year.’

“She said she’d walked past Outlaws Yacht Club before, but because it’s such a big space it was only when we put the bikes in the window that she realised it was an independent business. She started going to all these indie places, and telling her students to go out and find these bikes and support these places in the city. And I was like… that’s amazing.”

From the moment the first Tiger Tea- designed bike vinyls were applied to the windows of the first indie business in Leeds, it was clear that it was not going to be a project that Laura, James Abbott- Donnelly and the team would be able to end neatly and move on from. Laura told us back in July that discovering all the indie businesses that signed up to take part “Made me fall in love with Leeds a little bit more,” and something still has to be done with that love.

“I can’t leave it,” says Laura. “I feel like I can’t leave it because it needs to happen for the city.

“I’ve always been passionate about indies in Leeds. Sometimes I go back and re-read an article I wrote for Culture Vulture four years ago when we were starting Duke Studios, about all the great independent talent that was in the city. It’s always been there, but this year has pushed it, rocketed it up to another level, where I’m losing sleep at night.

“I don’t lose sleep about Duke, because I have such a strong team there that works together. I lose sleep about how we’re going to make Leeds Indie happen. Which I do think is weird. But that’s how strongly I feel about it now. The whole project has changed me personally, and changed the way I look at lots of different things, and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about it – because it has changed a lot of things in me.”

Duke Studios, Sheaf Street, Leeds • by Shang-Ting Peng

Duke Studios, Sheaf Street, Leeds • by Shang-Ting Peng

In some ways the problem for Laura is not how to make Leeds Indie happen, but how to keep up with it. Leeds Indie Food Festival has already been through a successful Kickstarter campaign and a launch, getting ready for the two week event itself in May next year, running off ahead of Leeds Indie itself. Which is exactly how it should be.

“When the Leeds Indie Food guys explained the festival to us I said definitely, this is what it’s all about. We had the branding, the iconography and the Leeds Indie prefix all designed and ready for them to use, and now the festival has become massive. It’s turned into a huge thing so quickly.

“That’s what Leeds Indie is about. It’s about people putting on high quality, creative projects that will do great things across the city and provide a platform for independent businesses.”

Leeds Indie will manifest itself first not through the work it does itself, but through the support it offers to others who want to be part of it. The flexible of the Leeds Indie… Anything name, and brand – where an owl gives way to a knife and fork for a food festival – is designed for anyone to access.

“You can have that Leeds Indie stamp on a project, and that means it’s part of something and has some support. We’ve got the brand and the mechanisms, we’ve learned lessons and we can teach you those lessons. It’s strength as a few rather than as one.

“I wish there were ten of me because there are so many possibilities, and I’m such an excitable person who thinks we could do this, and then we could do this, and then we could do this; and I’m also not very patient, so I want to do all those things now. But the beauty of Leeds Indie is that it’s not about us doing stuff, it’s about empowering other people to do stuff as well.

“For example I had a chat with Luke from Awesome Merchandise, and he suggested we could do a Leeds Indie Google Hangout and that would be amazing – we could get independent businesses to chat over a topic and do something. So I said to him, brilliant, so next year I will come back to you and say, Luke from Awesome Merch is running a Leeds Indie Google Hangout now. That’s what I want – other people to take these ideas on.”

Taking ideas on and moving the city forward is what Leeds Indie is all about. You won’t be able to buy a listing on the forthcoming Leeds Indie website; to be part of the website you have to be part of a project.

“Getting involved shows that you’re willing to take part in the city and you’re willing to get on board with other people, and that’s really the most important thing. It’s about contributing. We really want companies to be involved that go over and above with what they do on a day-to-day basis for the city, that want to work with other people and make the city better.

“I think there is a core group of people who are doers in this city. When we announced both Leeds Indie and the Leeds Indie Food Festival there were a few grumbles that it was always the same people doing these things, calling it a clique. But you know what? It’s not a clique. It’s people that just get on with stuff and do. And the sooner people stop the negativity of talking about cliques, and start getting on board and doing, the better.

“We’ve not been given a golden key, we’ve not been given a pot of money. We’re just a group of super-passionate people who want to do good stuff. It’s not about making money, it’s all to make the city we live in better. I’m not even from Leeds – I’m from Swansea – but the passion comes from the people you see who are working so hard to make things happen.”

The core ideal of making Leeds better will be reflected in the website’s events section, which will focus not on things to do that will pass the time but on things that will make that time productive: “Things to learn and expand your mind. For example the laser course at Duke, or screen-printing, or pizza making – experiences that make your everyday life a little bit nicer”; and it will be visible in the part of Leeds Indie that will most obviously bear the character of Leeds Indie Bikes.

“We want to make sure that we keep doing those cool interventions across the city,” says Laura. “In my other life I’m a product designer. I went down to the Design Festival in London this year and it’s funny, because it has changed everything.

“I was stood in this Design Festival and I was thinking, there’s so much stuff here. So much consumer stuff. Why do we need all this? And why am I designing more?

“I want to design things that make a difference in people’s lives, to do big interventions and design-led projects; maybe a big campaign that shouts about independent businesses, or a specific thing where we see an issue or a problem and think about how we can solve it in a design-led way, using all the creative and independent businesses in Leeds.”

Design is critical to Leeds Indie, and to how it can be an entity that moves projects from dreaming to done, and takes the city with it.

“Using design is not necessarily about jazzing everything up to the maximum, but about looking at things cleverly, thinking about how people react. The basic Indie Bikes idea was a half-hour idea, a really simple idea that everybody reacted to.

“Great design and creativity can highlight how amazing Leeds is. It can attract national and international attention so the world’s eyes turn to Leeds and people say, bloody hell, Leeds looks like a great city.”

After big infrastructure interventions in Leeds like Trinity, the Arena and the forthcoming Victoria Gate and John Lewis, what Leeds needs now is less tangible, but no less vital.

“It’s hard to define it,” says Laura. “But for example, me and James use Airbnb to travel a lot, and when we go to places like Berlin and Barcelona there are the most incredible places to stay.

“But when I look on Airbnb for Leeds there’s nothing really exciting, and I think it gives quite a bad view of the city. Perhaps it is quite an out-there thought that it matters if Leeds doesn’t look good on Airbnb, but I think it’s a real thought. I genuinely feel that it’s not a good perception of the city.

“So with May looking like a massive time – the food festival, and Leeds Indie Food Festival, Slam Dunk, Live at Leeds; then the Rugby World Cup in September; and the British Art Show in October, which brought 350,000 people to Plymouth four years ago… well, it might have been after a couple of hours in the pub when I said this, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do something about Leeds Indie Hotels. If we could get that going…?”

The inspiration part has become easy again in Leeds – the city that gave the world fizzy drinks and moving pictures is once again a city of ideas. But now the perspiration part that actually makes those ideas reality is catching up with the enthusiasm and passion of people like Laura.

“I feel that there’s a real strength in the independent community that is making things happen, and it feels like this year everything has been growing. Next year it’s going to be much bigger, and the year after that will just be bigger again, and it’s brilliant. Leeds, in the next five years, is going to be the most unbelievable place.”


Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 19