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Stevie J Kilgour looks at a scheme to make Leeds city centre more fun

Feature: Playful Leeds

Already a thriving hub for music, TV and sporting excellence within these fair isles, our wonderful city is again looking to lead the way in interactive art, creative play and inspiring the imagination of every man, woman and child in Leeds.

The Leeds-based community development consultancy Cultivate are looking to inspire minds and bring out the playful side of the city, through a new project called Playful Leeds. It works on the idea that childhood is not the only time in our life when we should take a moment to push our imagination, let out a burst of energy and bring out the inner child in all of us. “It’s about the simple things which brought a smile to our faces and when something as basic a series of beautiful colours would capture our attention over far more important things,” says Cultivate’s Emma Bearman. Play is something which isn’t encouraged in modern society, in times of recession, mass unemployment and high crime. Playful Leeds asks us to simply take a step back and lose ourselves for a moment.

Cultivate outline their overall aim as building a Playful Leeds; ‘to create a happier, friendlier a more creative city for us all to enjoy’. In doing this they have given the residents of this city the opportunity to be part of something new and to look at things in a more playful way. Just like some of our famous sons said; ‘Everything is brilliant in Leeds’.

Cultivate held its successful first Playful Leeds event at Leeds City Museum in January. ‘A Big Conversation – A Playful City’ looked to gauge public opinion and to ask whether Leeds is playful enough, and whether it has enough playful spaces. Cultivate work on the idea that “playful experiences and environments have an amazing effect on people’s mentality. No matter what your age is, the impact ‘play time’ can have is very positive."

The backing shown to this first event was impressive, with support from the Leeds Architecture Awards and The Leeds Initiative. A follow up event is due for the spring.

Cultivate have a whole host of events planned for the upcoming year and each one will look to push creativity in people and to bring some of the empty urban spaces to life with vibrant colour and spectacle. Many UK cities have already brought in small creative spaces and even some small towns have looked at creating playful shopping/retail environments, especially as many of our smaller high streets are struggling. How wonderful would it be to see town and city squares full of families interacting and enjoying their own hometowns, instead of seeing empty retail units and boarded up windows?!

The concept already exists in Europe; Amsterdam and Barcelona are fine examples. The idea has yet to really lift of in the UK, but it is around us. The town of Bedford has keyboards built into pavements, kids and adults line up to have a turn at playing a tune by stamping on the oversized keys, think Tom Hanks in BIG.

Even at our very own Headingley Stadium, Yorkshire County Cricket Club has painted in Hopscotch and various other games on the concrete concourses for kids to enjoy during those long test matches. You’ll even see adults having a go during those dark nights when the Twenty20 cricket is on. This shows Leeds’ playful nature, every week at Leeds United’s Elland Road and again at Headingley Stadium during Leeds Rhinos and Carnegie games you’ll see fathers kicking or throwing a ball around with their children.

Bearman explains: “We want to hear from everyone who has a love for Leeds and who want to see a more interactive city centre. To tell us about the areas they already enjoy and to think about how we can make the best playful ideas come to life”.

The Playful Leeds Facebook page (www.facebook.com/playfulleeds) has come alive with ideas since its launch, and has built up a fantastic gallery of inspiring pictures; a common idea at the moment is the decoration of staircases, painting them to look like a giant keyboard or a city skyline, a different Leeds icon on every step. The areas of Leeds people have been looking to brighten up have been based around the Railway station and Corn Exchange, or even the steps of our stunning City Museum. “This shows the imagination and love people have for the city,” says Bearman. The feedback shown on Facebook is replicated on Twitter (@PlayfulLeeds) with ideas constantly flowing in. One inspirational Tweet reading; “We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing”.

Posted on Tuesday 7th February 2012

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