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, Kerrie-Anne Warner speaks with Steven Foster, director of the White Rose shopping centre, about the impact of busking performances.

Busking is a practice that has been evidenced since the times of ancient Rome. For something that seems such a small part of daily life, it has been an incredibly important part of Leeds culture, forming a huge attraction for tourists. In an effort to learn more about the impact busking has made, I visited the White Rose shopping centre, where busking has been prevalent since 2017.

Since its introduction to the centre over five years ago, busking has become a huge part of the culture at White Rose. One passing local commented: “Being able to listen to buskers, especially at Christmas time, really makes you feel calm throughout all of the festive chaos.” However, despite the love for busking now, it wasn’t always an easy journey.

“Initially, we weren’t sure how to approach it.” Steven Foster, centre director for White Rose & Trinity shopping centres, commented on the initial struggles of introducing busking. He explains that in the beginning, buskers were placed in the middle space of the ground floor. It was found that “the acoustics were really poor” and the sound was disruptive to the surrounding stores. With the first launch being unsuccessful, the approach was changed completely, leaving us with the remarkable performances we get to see today.

Now, you can watch busking performances in the village area. “With Covid, we found that people were outside more, meaning busking in the village influenced shoppers to stay longer and watch,” Steven says. “The new placement has been found to work incredibly well, with the opportunity to grab a bite to eat nearby as you watch local musicians.”

Aside from the warming environment busking creates for customers, it has also had a significant impact on local creatives. The introduction of busking at such a busy shopping centre has, Steven says, “exposed local talent and provided them with a platform”. Many of the performers have been able to expand their careers through the opportunities provided by the centre, obtaining wedding bookings, selling CDs and even being able to go full-time as an artist.

It is clear that busking has been life-changing for many, uplifting the resident talent and helping to bring opportunities to what Steven describes as a “diverse range of performers”. He adds: “We have a range of ages from 16 all the way up to 80 as well as a variety of different sounds.” There is undoubtedly something for everyone to enjoy.

Steven further commented on the importance of it being local talent who gets to busk at White Rose. “Community is really important to us. Giving back is important.” To support this, the shopping centre has also partnered with local schools, giving opportunities to the nearby students.

The interaction with nearby schools is not limited to just uplifting opportunities, but also proves to be a huge attraction for the students too. “Walking through the centre and being able to watch the buskers brightens up your day. I feel more positive after watching the live performances,” commented one local student.

Unquestionably, busking has become an essential part of culture at White Rose. As Steven puts it: “Seeing someone singing as you first walk in puts a smile on your face.” Definitely don’t miss out on seeing the local voices the centre has brought! 

Hi! I am Kerrie, an 18-year-old aspiring law student living in the centre of Leeds. I have a passion for the alternative scene in Leeds and take deep pride in the culture we have here, exploring this in my work. Being part of Lift the Lid gave me the opportunity to share my pride and bring a light to overlooked parts of Leeds! Kerrie-Anne Warner, Lift the Lid: 23 Voices participant