Following the success of Christmas in Leeds last year, the LeedsBID (Leeds Business Improvement District) team have kicked off their calendar of #ChristmasInLeeds events for 2017, with the theme of ‘Winter Moments’.
The aim for this year is to guide visitors and locals alike to parts of the city centre they may not have explored, showcasing the talent of local creatives and boosting Christmas spending.
Focused on the six elements of wonder, magic, surprise, escape and beauty, there will be lanterns in Park Plaza, an Arctic Bazaar complete with marketplace, hot chocolate bars and sweet bites, white lights draped on the Queens Hotel and the performance of ‘Illuminate Us’ on the Platform Building above Leeds Station.
This year the art installation of ‘Spirit’ will return but this year in the new home of the Victoria Quarter and the tree lights will adorn Park Square once more.
Light projections will also be shown on the lifting tower in Wellington Place.
Andrew Cooper, chief executive of LeedsBID, emphasised that it was key to work will local businesses from different areas of the city to bring ‘new animation’ to the Christmas experience in Leeds.
“It is vital we create special moments for those people who come to Leeds over the festive season – to stay, shop, explore and enjoy the city.”
Given the #ChristmasInLeeds campaign lays such an emphasis on encouraging people to spend more time across the whole of the city during the festive period, it seems odd that there has been no mention of how Leeds’ student population will be targeted for involvement.
Apart from a collaboration with the city’s smallest university, Leeds Arts University, for purely aesthetic purposes, the Christmas period will see no direct involvement from Leeds’ universities.
The city’s four universities boast the UK’s fourth largest student population with a combined population of 65,000, excluding the numerous other further education institutions.
Students keep Leeds’ economy healthy during term time, provide custom for local and national businesses who provide services inside and outside the city centre, and are one of the largest and most inclusive communities in Leeds.
Whilst the campaign claims to spread visitors across the whole city, the #ChristmasInLeeds attractions do not spread further than the Merrion Centre.
Even one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the Parkinson Building, with its spacious and echo-y court (often used to host exhibitions), is ignored in favour of more central and commercial locations.
The Yorkshire Evening Post has been reporting since 2012 that focusing student business in the city centre leads to smaller organisations in Hyde Park and Headingley, both of which are prominent student hubs, seeing their custom drop to just 50% from students.
When students leave the city at the end of term, business suffers. All businesses within the university close from the Friday before Christmas until after the New Year but this is an issue that spreads beyond the university’s walls.
Taxi drivers rely on the regular trips of students to and from nights out, to and from the train and bus station with luggage and home from the library late at night.
Similarly, the pubs and bars in Hyde Park and Headingley lose customers during these periods.
Yet, when campaigns like #LeedsInChristmas arise, there is no sign of targeted advertising or incentive for students to stay over the period.
This problem is not simply seasonal. Christmas is a celebration of comfort, family and home and it is this sense of belonging that encourages students to stay in Leeds both during their holidays and after graduation.
Leeds suffers from a ‘brain drain’. In 2011, it was reported that the net outflow from Leeds of 22 to 30 year olds was predominantly degree holders. An imbalance of 67% of degree holders in this category leaving, compared with 59% moving into the city.
Of these leaving graduates, 20% were attracted to the bright lights of London, abundant with retail, culture and an economy with which Leeds cannot compete.
If encouraged and welcomed as part of the Leeds community by groups such as LeedsBID, students would perhaps be more inclined to stay, boosting Leeds’ economy all year round and far into the future – making it a competitor on the national stage.
Such inclusion will aid in cementing students as a permanent part of the Leeds community and truly encourage the festive spirit of inclusion and coming together. Until next year, however, students will have to migrate away from the university and its local businesses to the city centre.
You can pick up maps detailing all the installations from locations around the city centre, including hotels and the Visitor Information Centre.
The events will run at staggered times from November through to early 2018.
If you would like to know more, you can visit: christmas.welcometoleeds.co.uk.
Rose Crees and Jonny Chard
Image Credit: LeedBID