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Leeds arts organisations unite in pioneering initiative reaching out to community groups

Opera North's The Magic Flute at Grand Theatre, Leeds. Photo: Alastair Muir
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More than 60 arts organisations across Leeds have joined up to create a citywide scheme intended to widen engagement with hard-to-reach communities.

Led by Opera North, Arts Together Leeds is being billed as the first initiative of its kind in the country, and will connect more than 100 community groups in the area with free or easy-to-access cultural activities.

Theatre companies Slung Low and Red Ladder are among the arts partners on the project, as are Leeds Playhouse, Northern Ballet and Yorkshire Dance.

With £120,000 of funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Arts Together Leeds said it will work over the next three years to make it easier for community groups to become involved in theatre, music, opera and dance, as well as visual arts.

It will include an online listings service, but is encouraging the creation of new relationships between cultural and community organisations, which it is hoped will lead to increased participation through special events and outreach projects.

Arts Together Leeds will focus on reaching communities where arts engagement has been traditionally low and for whom there are increased social and cultural barriers.

The idea to create a full-time operation running across Leeds came from outreach work at Opera North, which has been running a programme with community groups in the city since 2013.

Madeleine Thorne, Opera North’s head of community partnerships, is leading Arts Together Leeds, and said participants had not only reported improvements to their well-being and confidence, but had become more open to taking a risk on trying other cultural activities that they would not ordinarily have attended.

“Austerity was hitting even more and groups were under-resourced, so they were saying they wanted to access more, but didn’t have the resources,” she said.

Arts Together Leeds officially launched last week, and Thorne said the new service would “make it simpler to quickly understand what is going on and what is accessible”.

She also said she hoped the project would encourage arts organisations to collaborate more and share ideas and best practice.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved, and it feels like it could be a project that lots of people [in other cities] might want to replicate,” she added.

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