Developing a cultural strategy through a co-production model at Leeds City Council

Leeds City Council’s new Culture Strategy was developed through a co-production model, involving extensive consultation with the cultural sector and local communities. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - regeneration and Value of culture - cultural planning and strategy sections of our online Culture Hub.

It places culture at the heart of all policy-making for Leeds – from highways to planning and community cohesion, with the aim of creating more prosperous, healthier, stronger and happier communities. It will act as a framework for policy change, enabling a more innovative, vibrant, cost-effective and collaborative approach to place making.

The co-production process began with more than 200 interviews with cultural sector representatives over six months. This was followed by a year of meetings, focus groups, presentations and workshops in the community, along with online and social media activity. This included migrant groups, people with learning disabilities, LGBT forums, black and minority ethnic communities, business clubs, health and wellbeing service providers, city council teams, faith leaders and the voluntary sector. More than 2,000 people took part.

Impact of the project

The new Culture Strategy will begin with a series of pilots from April 2017. Early work will include ensuring that neighbourhood plans have a stronger focus on cultural activity, and creating a new cultural infrastructure plan encompassing community-based venues (allotments, leisure facilities, community centres or parks) along with traditional venues.

As an example of how the strategy will work, Leeds has a target to create 70,000 new homes. Currently there is no local planning guidance to suggest that the existing culture of a place should be considered in new housing development. The Culture Strategy will ask all new developments to have a cultural statement detailing the existing culture of a place and how this will be reflected in the new development, before planning permission is granted.

The strategy has been backed by strong political and managerial support across Leeds City Council. Councillor Judith Blake, Leader and Executive Member for Economy and Culture, said:

Culture contributes to the economy, health and wellbeing, community cohesion and to service delivery across adult social care, children’s services and public health, yet until now it has not been recognised in policy across these areas.

Looking to the future 

Over the next 13 years a rolling programme of projects will bring together a range of council departments and other partners, pooling resources and working with communities to deliver new solutions to the city’s challenges. By starting with the culture of a place and building health, housing, the economy and education around it, the strategy will ensure that the unique character of each local area is maintained and celebrated.  

Leeds has been approached by other areas interested in this model. Leanne Buchan, Principal Officer for Culture and Sport, said: “Councils should be prepared for some resistance to the idea, which is essentially about inspiring a change. It takes time to gather support from large cultural sector organisations which are used to a different style of culture strategy, and from scrutiny groups and colleagues who may struggle to picture what it could look like or want to pre-empt the direction. Moving towards a co-produced model means letting go of old systems, processes and decision-making mechanisms, which takes time.”

Key learning points

  • Invest in the conversations up front in terms of time and effort: this will pay dividends in ensuring the strategy has a broad ownership.
  • It can be difficult to find the right people to gain access to community groups. If groups include vulnerable people it may take three or four meetings to build trust before you can talk about the strategy.
  • Ensure there are champions for the project at all levels of the council, councillors and officers.  

For further information contact Leanne Buchan, Principal Officer Culture & Sport, Leeds City Council:


This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England