By Rob Greenland
I’ve lived in Leeds for 25 years. On the face of it Leeds seems to have done pretty well over that time. I’m not much of a shopper so the 90s Knightsbridge of the North thing didn’t do much for me, but I suppose it was representative of a city that was getting its act together in a post-industrial age – doing a pretty good job developing an economy increasingly around services – with plenty of high-end shopping thrown in at the weekend.
I’ve done OK over those 25 years – I’ve never been out of work – although I’ve never had anything more than a 12 month contract – and I’ve spent much of that time employing myself. But I’ve done pretty well. Yet I’ve worked a lot in parts of Leeds where it’s clear that many of my fellow citizens aren’t enjoying many of the benefits of our city’s relative prosperity.
I currently work in Cross Green, a 20-minute walk from the centre of Leeds. But the vibrant Leeds that you see in the brochures feels a million miles away. The one bus into the city centre is a circular that takes you away from the city centre, before eventually dropping you in town half an hour later. And whilst the area is definitely improving (largely because of tireless community activists like Mary Brennan – it can feel a bit forgotten – and certainly a long-way from a northern Knightsbridge.
I’m interested in what more we can do as a city so that things improve for more of the people who live here. I think there’s plenty to be positive about – for example the council has made it clear that this is an issue they care about a lot – with its Strong Economy, Compassionate City narrative. And there have been various bits of work exploring a range of issues around inclusive economies, better jobs and the like.
A couple of things in particular interest me. The first is that I’d like us to value more the activities that help to make a ‘good’ economy, or a more inclusive economy.
Take for example the issue I’m currently involved with through Leeds Community Homes – creating more community-led housing. With a bit of luck we’ll be involved in creating 1000 of the 66,000 homes that Leeds needs over the next ten years. Great work – but relatively niche, if you just look at it in terms of delivery of units.
But a community-led approach to building homes could bring all sorts of other benefits – both economic benefits (around local supply chains etc) and broader social benefits (such as a stronger focus on the environmental impact of housing, and a long term commitment to homes playing a part in building a strong community). We need to value those things too – as they will help us to build the kind of economy we need.
Secondly, I’d like us to think more broadly about the foundations of a good, inclusive economy. For me, transport is the obvious one. Leeds really needs to get its act together to make it easier for people to get around. And we need to be clearer about how the current situation – poor public transport and high car dependency – holds back our economy while also having a particularly high impact on the one in three Leeds households that don’t have access to a car. We need to make the case that strategic, long-term investment in decent transport infrastructure is a key part of creating a good economy, and making Leeds a good place to live – for all of our citizens.
So I very much welcome the increased focus on what a good Leeds economy might look like. We face some really big challenges – but I think some of the thinking behind inclusive economies can help us to meet those challenges – if we act upon what we talk about.
- Rob Greenland is co-director of Social Business Brokers CIC, a social enterprise that explores creative ways to tackle complex social problems. They are best known for Empty Homes Doctor. He is also a founder member of Leeds Community Homes.
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine