At Amplify Leeds we often describe our work in the city as a developing conversation between us and the communities and neighbourhoods of Leeds. We see ourselves as establishing a new platform for dialogue, allowing Leeds people to connect, debate and collaborate around the themes in our research.
What do these concepts actually mean, and how does the work we have been doing over the last couple of weekends in Kirkstall, Cottingley and Harehills fit into this overarching sense of what we are up to?
For us, the terms ‘developing conversation’ and ‘dialogue’ mean that it is the connection itself – between people, places and themes – as much as what the connection is about which is important. A conversation in development means that the relationship between the parties develops over time, as well as the content itself. Dialogue means two parties hearing and understanding each other better. Neither concept need necessarily result in bet-your-life certainty; both move people towards one another.
In Cottingley, Harehills and Kirkstall over the last two weekends in September, we have been applying the concepts of conversation and dialogue in reflecting back to Leeds people what we think we have found during the past five months when we have been interviewing, focus grouping, datadiving and participatory videoing our way to a better understanding of inequality, underpinning values and aspirations in Leeds.
The wonderful and rich information which we have gathered through these methods has led us towards the themes of ‘sharing’, ‘nurturing’ and ‘connecting’ which seem to us to be at the heart of how people in Leeds have experienced and addressed the challenges they face.
We have used visual means – films and posters – to reflect these back to Leeds people at ‘Imagination Garden’ events – events which we feel themselves encapsulate both the value which Leeds people place on the greenness of their city (whether or not they feel they can fully benefit from it) and the interconnectedness of Leeds people and places.
At these events, we showed the posters and, via the sweaty magic of pedal power, the wonderful films made by Leeds people, and invited those who joined us to comment, reflect, share their experiences, and generally tell us whether the trees up which we are barking are the right ones or the wrong ones – a deepening conversation, and extension to the dialogue.
We know that we are on the right track with some parts of our thinking – people have told us this. We also know that we have to revisit our materials, adjust our thinking, reframe our themes as part of our next contribution to the conversation.
This means that beautiful though the posters are (in our opinion!), and impressive though the films are, they cannot be seen as a definitive conclusion, a settlement of debate, or a point at which to stop. Instead we want to see people across Leeds engaging with the concepts they show by doing what people in Cottingley, Harehills and Kirkstall did with us – scribbling notes on them, marking up their agreement and disagreement, telling us where we should look next.
This is why, despite the progress we know we have made, we remain in conversation with Leeds people about inequality and aspiration, and why we need you all to tell us what you think about our work!