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'In the city, of the city': Leeds International Festival of Ideas

Last month, the Leeds International Festival of Ideas brought world-leading thinkers, creators and pioneers to share new ideas with audiences across different venues in the city. IPM Fellow, Joe Barratt visited the Festival to find out more and take in one of its many events.


Established by Leeds Business Improvement District in 2017, the Leeds International Festival of Ideas, or LIFI, brings a week long programme of culture, debate and new perspectives to venues across the city.

What is immediately clear from this year’s festival, which ran from 22nd to 25th September, is that LIFI brings a whos who of thinkers and influencers to Leeds. Kevin McCloud, David Olusoga, Aisling Bea, Yotam Ottolenghi, Mary Beard. This is a prestige, brilliantly programmed line up that would be a coup for any festival or venue in the UK, and it draws in paying audiences while showcasing Leeds as a cultural destination.

Launched with a performance from Grammy and Mercury Prize nominated artist, Jon Hopkins, in the Howard Assembly Room, this was followed by a lecture and conversation with designer and presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud.

The keynote presentation by Kevin McCloud, which lasted for over an hour and half with Q&A and covered wide-ranging remarks on the subject of the built environment, was followed with ten other speaker events in the city over an intense four-day period.

Speaking to launch the festival, Andrew Cooper, Leeds BID Chief Executive, said “Leeds International Festival of Ideas is a place-making project. It’s organised by the BID and its objective is to put Leeds on the map. We’re bringing the brightest minds to Leeds through a series of compelling talks covering themes such as climate activism, food culture, mental health, the metaverse and screenwriting. This is a festival of new ideas and innovation, where world-leading thinkers can discuss the world of tomorrow.”

There is a clever job of curation going on at LIFI. This is entertainment of the city, in the city. Almost every event on the programme having a relevance to place and how people connect to their surroundings, exemplified by Kevin McCloud's opening talk. The programme shows a BID that understands the issues that are shaping their environment and the wide range of tastes of visitors to Leeds and the resident Loiners.

Above: ' Is social media ruling the world' at Howard Assembly Room, featuring speakers like Sonia Sodha and Christopher Wylie

Past attendees have included Sir Lenny Henry CBE, retail expert Mary Portas, comedian Katherine Ryan and broadcaster and housing-campaigner George Clarke. (Find more information about Leeds International Festival of Ideas on the festival website:

Increasingly these type of showcase event programmes are helping to put cities on the map and see an impact across the UK and beyond, in shaping opinions of their host cities. LIFI is a great example and one which other placemakers can look to for inspiration.


Leeds BID Chief Executive, Andrew Cooper, is a member of the Institute of Place Management and Leeds Business Improvement District are a member of The BID Foundation.

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