New Leeds Design Institute sparks angry row – before it’s even announced

"It says MOVING FORWARD Leeds WILL establish a design institute..."

I had a bit of an argument with my wife Liza over breakfast yesterday morning. About the Leeds Design Institute. Of all things!

It went something like this:

(Me) “Did you know they’re going to set up a design institute in Holbeck Urban Village like the ones in Barcelona and Stockholm?”

(Her) “I did actually. It was the only thing in that document that caught my eye – apart from the Medical Park.”

(Me) “Did you read it too? We must be the only truly sad couple in the city. Well, don’t you think it’s a bit odd that it was buried in a document that nobody apart from us two have read, and then nothing more has been said about it, like why they’ve decided to do it?”

(Her) “Do what, dear?”

(Me) “Set up a design institute.”

(Her) “No. Not at all. I think it’s great that they’re doing something concrete to help the creative economy.”

(Me) “It may turn out to be the salvation of us all, but don’t you think it’s a bit odd that they haven’t bothered to say why it’s being set up, how much public money’s going into it, who’s going to be involved, how it’s going to be run, why Barcelona, what it’s going to do…”

(Her) “That is SO you and SO negative. Someone comes up with a great idea that they think could work and all you can do is pick holes! It’s obviously one of the things on their wish-list to make Leeds the best city. They’ll sort out the details later.”

(Me) “Sorry. It’s not just on a wish-list.  They say that moving forward – MOVING FORWARD! – they WILL set it up. But how do they know it’s a good idea if they haven’t done the paperwork?”

(Her) “What paperwork, dear?”

"They call it Transparency!"

(Me) “All that stuff that goes into the council making any decision. There’s always a six page report that gives you the aims, the background and the issues, and then says how it all fits in with council policy. You know. On Consultation and Engagement. Equality and Diversity. Resources and Value for Money. And then, when all the boxes are ticked, it might end up budgeted for in the Four-Year-Plan. They call it Transparency!”

(Her) “Well it’s all probably up on their website. You just haven’t looked properly, dear.”

(Me) “I have. It isn’t. There’s nothing. Anywhere. Just those 19 words in that strategy thing. So, come on, tell me. Who made the decision? And based on what?”

(Her) “Don’t be silly. Why should I know or care? I’m going to have a look at it … (goes to laptop, finds document) … See? It says it’s all a statement of intent…

(Me) “…that they’re going to do it?”

(Her) “No. That they’d LIKE to do it.”

"I'm with Gilbert O'Sullivan. We will is we will!"

(Me) “Sorry. I’m with Gilbert O’Sullivan. We will is we will. And it says moving forward we will. And even if it were just something they’d only like to do – which it clearly isn’t – what’s that based on?

(Her) “What’s what based on?”

(Me) “Their intention to set up a design institute. Where’s the evidence that it’s a good thing?”

(Her) “They’ll have the evidence in a folder somewhere, dear. They’ll publish it when they’re good and ready. They’re probably waiting to put it out to public consultation. You know. On the Citizens’ Panel…”

(Me) “…Having already decided to go ahead and do it on a whim…”

(Her) “Don’t be ridiculous. They don’t make serious decisions like that on a whim. Look. It says why they’re doing it here … (Reads) … Areas such as Holbeck Urban Village on the city centre fringe have become creative hubs, with flagship bases such as the Round Foundry. There is much to build on. The task is to help the sector do this without suppressing the creative and independent philosophy that helps it thrive. There!”

(Me) “That’s sweet, but it’s hardly evidence.  And anyway, why aren’t private investors building on these creative hubs or flagship bases?… Still, that bit in the Institute Board’s terms of reference sounds like it’ll be cool – the bit where they set the criteria for the council’s non-suppression of the creative and independent vibe of the Holbeck Urban Village hub massive …”

(Her) “For God’s sake! That’s so childish! This could be a really big deal! It could be so totally brilliant for Leeds!”(leaves room)

"Why hasn't there been an announcement? Tell me that!"

(Me, shouting after) “If it’s so brilliant and such a big deal moving forward, why hasn’t the Council said anything about it? Why hasn’t there been an announcement? Why? Tell me that!”

(Her, stomping back in to the room) “There has! It’s in the document! … (sits at laptop) … Here! (reads) … Moving forward…Leeds will…Establish a design institute similar to Barcelona and Stockholm and based around our existing areas of Holbeck Urban Village.”

(Me) “But there’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…”

That’s where we left it. But strangely enough, it didn’t end there. Yesterday afternoon I meandered quite by chance onto the website of a Leeds “creative agency” called Hebemedia…

Which turned out to be a very spooky coincidence. And led to another row last night before bedtime. But that will have to keep for a later post…

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