Leeds: A weekend of indie, art, and craft

This month’s visitors’ guide is brought to us by Rowan Grant, volunteer coordinator for Capital of Culture 2023 and local resident in West Yorkshire.  Rowan loves calling God’s own county her home, and can’t wait to introduce you to the cool side of a county that’s usually known for its flat caps, whippets and strong but friendly dialect.

Yorkshire is England’s largest county with a population bigger than Scotland, and more people are visiting Yorkshire than ever before.  But while the majority of tourists are heading to one of our national parks or to olde worlde York, contemporary art and craft lovers are missing a trick if they’re not heading to Leeds.

The Yorkshireman’s Motto is: “Ear all, see all, say nowt; Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;  And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt – Allus do it fer thissen.” For out-of-towners, this roughly translates to: “Hear all, see all, say nothing; Eat all, drink all, pay nothing; And if ever you do anything for nothing – always do it for yourself.”  So these are my tips for getting the best food, drink, and things to do on a budget, on your own – Yorkshire-style.

Ear all, see all, say nowt; Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;  And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt – Allus do it fer thissen

STAY

The perfect base for an arty getaway has to be Art Hostel. It’s a spin-off from the charitable Leeds-based East Street Arts. Downstairs, there is a project space where visiting artists create new work, and it’s located a stone’s throw from the main city centre in the heart of the independent district.

Art Hostel (0113 345 3363, arthostel.org.uk, twin rooms £55 B&B).

DO

Head for a day out at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an open-air gallery and international centre for modern and contemporary art, set in stunning countryside.  Exhibits often include those by local artists Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, plus short term loans, gifts and site-specific commissions. There’s always around 80 exhibits to explore in the grounds of this country estate.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park (01924 832631, ysp.org.uk, free entry, open daily 10am-5pm).

If the weather isn’t on form for a day outside, head to The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery within the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds. The gallery holds regular and free workshops led by experts, along with examples of European and British painting, drawings and prints, dating from the 17th century up to the present day.

The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery (0113 343 2778, library.leeds.ac.uk/art-gallery, free entry, Mondays 1pm-5pm, Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm).

No art-lover visiting Leeds should leave without visiting the Henry Moore Institute. Henry Moore is one of the most respected sculptors of our time, and he was born and bred in Yorkshire and studied his art in the city.
As a long-standing advocate for accessible public art, founded the Institute more than 30 years ago as a centre for the celebration and appreciation of visual arts.  Today, they host a year-round changing programme of historical, modern and contemporary exhibitions presenting sculpture from across the world.

The Henry Moore Institute (0113 246 7467, henry-moore.org, free entry, open daily).

The best of the rest include:
The Gallery at 164, an independent gallery, exhibition and event space in Leeds exhibiting artists, illustrators, photographers, designers and makers working in all types of media, that opened in 2011 with a fully licensed café (0113 243 3266, leedsgallery.com, free entry daily).
The Tetley, a centre for contemporary art and learning located in the stunning art deco headquarters of the former Tetley Brewery (0113 320 2323, free entry daily, 10am–5pm).

SHOP

The Craft Centre and Design Gallery located next door to the Henry Moore Institute is an underrated shop in the city selling contemporary crafts made by UK designer-makers.  It also runs an annual exhibition programme of four front-of-house exhibitions, and two print shows.

The Craft Centre and Design Gallery (0113 378 7241, Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm).

Craft lovers will know all about Fred Aldous, the contemporary craft supplies store that started out in Manchester.  Fred opened their second store almost 130 years later in Leeds, with over 25,000 art, craft and design products, alongside contemporary stationery, design-led gifts and homeware.  There’s also a vintage analogue black and white photo booth to capture the moment!

Fred Aldous (0113 243 3531, Monday- Saturday 9pm-5.30, Sunday 11:00-5:00).

Leeds now hosts (in my opinion) one of the hippest contemporary craft fairs in the UK: Northern Craft.  It’s held twice a year at Northern Monk Brewery and features over 30 high-quality makers and pulls in more than 1000 visitors each time.  The organisers have started to run spin off events, like Northern Print printers fair and Pin Drop, an exclusive pin collection.

Northern Craft (visit northerncraft.co.uk for event schedule).

DRINK & EAT

Start the day at Laynes Espresso.  Recently refurbished and extended, this independent coffee house has been delighting coffee snobs since it opened six years ago.  They’re now serving incredible brunch dishes from sweetcorn fritters to buckwheat pancakes. It’s also right by the train station, so perfect for days when you’re heading out of the city.

Laynes Espresso (07828 823189, laynesespresso.co.uk, £2.20-£8, no reservations).

Check out the lunch spots at Kirkgate Market, named Britain’s Favourite Market for a second year in 2016.  The historic building where Marks and Spencer founded in 1884 recently had a refurb and now houses 10 street food vendors: from fresh seafood sandwiches from Mr Mackrel to Bánh & Mee Vietnamese cuisine, you can find most dishes for under a fiver and sit sociably in the communal seating area.

Kirkgate Market (0113 378 1950, dishes ~£5, Monday-Saturday, 8am-5.30pm).

The best of the rest include:
Bundobust, a collaboration between Bradford’s craft beer bar The Sparrow and Indian restaurant Prashad (finalist of Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant). Bundobust serve up small dishes of vegetarian and vegan Indian street food, alongside carefully curated craft beers. They’ve also been featured in Time Out’s top 10 UK Indian Restaurants and been included in The Sunday Times’ Top 25 Vegetarian Restaurants (0113 243 1248, bundobust.com, £3.50-£5).
My Thai, who won Best Restaurant in Leeds at the British Restaurant Awards.  Their affordable and authentic steaming bowls of noodles have customers queuing outside the doors (0113 222 1283, http://mythairestaurant.co.uk/leeds-merrion-centre, ~£6).

If this isn’t enough to whet your appetite for an arts-steeped trip to Leeds, perhaps our bid to be European Capital of Culture 2023 is. Leeds started preparing the bid in 2014, and 2023 is just a small part of a bigger journey to transform the city and the quality of life experienced by everyone who lives, works and plays here.

Leeds hopes to see you shopping indie or in a gallery here soon.

This article was written in November 2017. My target media style was Mollie Makes magazine. I never got to volunteer for European Capital of Culture because of Brexit dashing my dreams.