Lift the Lid: 23 Voices was a 10-week podcasting and journalism course co-hosted by LEEDS 2023 and Creative Lives, providing participants with the skills and confidence to create their own media about the culture that matters to them. In this article, Amy Cashman writes about 'Northern Dreaming', a book gifted to babies in Leeds in 2023 as part of the year of culture.

We all have dreams for our newborns. Whether we envision them donning the jersey of Leeds United or flying to the moon, it can be difficult to give our children the autonomy to choose their own paths in life. To encourage them to dream big, babies born in Leeds in 2023 are being gifted the Northern Dreaming book.

The book is part of the Year of Culture’s final stage and, has been created through LEEDS 2023’s collaboration with the British Library. In her foreword, LEEDS 2023 Creative Director and CEO Kully Thiarai explains Northern Dreaming’s inspiration. Raised by illiterate parents in a bookless house, Thiarai reminisces about the first book she was gifted by an electrician at 14, viewing it as a valuable object that she continues to treasure.

Thiarai’s story is not an isolated one. In 2022, the National Literacy Trust found that 1 in 15 children between the ages of 8 and 18 did not own a book, equating to around two children in an average classroom. Northern Dreaming seeks to change this narrative by gifting each one of the approximately 10,000 newborns in Leeds something precious to read that is their own. This ensures that owning a book is not a luxury, but an equaliser available to every child.

The anthology of 18 short stories and poems split into three age categories has been designed to travel with Leeds children from the cradle. Themes of love, loss, discovery, and inclusion take readers on a journey of self-discovery.

The cover of Northern DreamingNorthern Dreaming fearlessly tackles complex issues, encouraging children to access a world greater than that presented to them. Among the captivating pieces, a poem by newly qualified doctor Safia Khan called ‘Family Tree’ explores the journey of a refugee through a child's eyes. Fleeing a warzone, the child leaves her father behind and grapples with living in a new, unfamiliar place.

The collaboration of both established writers and emerging creatives ensures its stories resonate with Leeds’ diverse experience. Northern Dreaming’s portfolio includes the likes of BAFTA-nominated writer Lemn Sissay MBE, British Indian punk poet Jay Mitra, and BBC Young Writer’s Award winner Elena Barham. In her first published piece, illustrator Milly Chapple embellishes each page with images that complement the written work.

Many contributors are Leeds-based, meaning the book is filled with homages to their city. In Tom Palmer’s ‘Writers don’t come from Leeds’ he speaks of his struggle with reading as a child, and how he didn’t begin reading fluently until he was jobless in his late teens. Now an award-winning author, Palmer’s story serves as an inspiring testament to personal ambition, demonstrating to the young people of Leeds that their dreams can be achieved regardless of their age or origin.

The book’s power extends beyond the young people it has been gifted to. Northern Dreaming positively impacts the entire family by allowing parents to connect with their child through literature. The National Literacy Trust believes co-reading is imperative to a child's development by helping them to build self-esteem and encouraging reading for pleasure. Thiarai describes Northern Dreaming as akin to "a compass bearing for the years ahead" with their child.

The Northern Dreaming book is a legacy piece that will elongate the impact of LEEDS 2023's Year of Culture by encouraging young people to carry their sense of home with them wherever their dreams lead them. Leeds culture is created by the individuals that comprise it. Northern Dreaming creates a firm identity for the children of Leeds by allowing them to take pride in who they are and where they have come from.

The Northern Dreaming book not only fulfils Thiarai’s ambition of providing the children of Leeds with something precious to read that is their own, but, also offers a gift that transcends any place or time; the power to dream.

Hey, I’m Amy, and I’m working with Lift the Lid as part of LEEDS 2023 to create content inspired by creativity in Leeds. Having only recently moved to the city to study at the University of Leeds, the project has allowed me to delve into the wealth of culture Leeds has to offer. This has given me the opportunity to enhance the journalism skills I acquired while working as the editor of my school newspaper while also teaching new skills, including podcast-making. More recently, I have hosted a radio show in conjunction with Leeds Student Radio called Saturday Brunch, which I hope to continue throughout my university experience! I look forward to continuing my exploration of Leeds and seeing more of LEEDS 2023’s incredible events! Amy Cashman, Lift the Lid: 23 Voices participant