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, Ciára Simms writes about Leeds' growing creative scene.

Meandering through the back streets and alleys of Leeds city centre, on a nippy November afternoon I struggled to keep my eyes focused on my phone screen as Google Maps directed me to my location. The struggle wasn’t due to the blistering winter gales growing as I drew closer to the canal; but rather my growing fascination with how fast Leeds has developed since my time as a student here.  

The patchwork blend of redbrick listed offices, architecturally modern apartment blocks woven into the glass and marble of prestigious official judicial buildings, make way to a curving spiral of a bridge linking the bottom of Leeds over one of its many canals.  

Using the bridge to both physically and metaphorically link the past and present into the future of Leeds culture allowed me to view Leeds from David Oluwale’s eyes; see what beauty and new opportunity Leeds represented for him as a young immigrant from Nigeria, looking to plant the seed of his new life and see it grow. A fate we know, tragically, did not come to fruition.  

Remembering the mission at hand, kept my eyes peeled as I crossed the summit of “David’s” bridge, the visage of reds, yellows, blues and greens cast a vivid landmark nestled comfortably amongst the old and new structures of Swinegate and Crown Point (a bustling and developing area of Leeds). Brand new yet perfectly at home all at the same time.  

My eyes drawn to this mirage of creativity, I marvelled at its imperfect dimensions, the Nigerian batik patterns on each petal and stem; a steel flower rooted into the foundation of a new world. Being that David’s story seems to resonate with so many people from various walks of life, it is fitting that Hibiscus Rising’s artist Yinka Shonibare chose the plant as it represented an innocence and sweetness of childhood.  

Immortalising this plant (and therefore David’s memory) in a tangible sculpture, removes any concept of the past being some ephemeral spectre unable to be understood in a conventional sense. Here we see the past, is the present and can/will be influential to the future. David’s story and Yinka’s interpretation of his experience 
serves as a reminder of this.  

As I walked around the structure, I found myself stuck in loop of time; wherein I could see Leeds in the 50s-60s , bustling and industrious but so concerned with the precocious nature of its city’s growing textile and engineering industry to not empathise with their fellow man. A bittersweet tale of hope, opportunity and one man’s heartfelt journey cut short in a time where difference was rejected, not celebrated.

Despite David’s ending, his life, the hibiscus and its symbolism serves as a reminder that hope can never die, the past is our future; no matter how long ago or how forgotten it may seem.