A melting pot of creativity, dreams, and awakening initiatives – this is Leeds’ Year of Culture

Where do we begin? Leeds Year of Culture 2023 has been… epic. Awe-inspiring. Game-changing. Eye-opening. Awakening. Truly awakening. Exciting, playful, creative. Crucial

For 12 months, the city has put on a spectacular display of creative and cultural events, tapping into all that Leeds has to offer as a vibrant, artistic, and diverse destination. 

If you’ve ever wondered how a full 12 months’ worth of events like this is orchestrated – about the behind-the-scenes magic that makes such a vast and culturally important year take place – keep reading.

Below, we chat to Leeds 2023’s Ticketing Services Manager, Ollie Wheatley, who takes us on a deep dive into all there is to know about Leeds’ incredible Year of Culture. There’s so much good stuff here; whether you’re a budding event creator or have been in the business for many years, we’re sure you’ll find a huge amount of value in what Ollie has to say.

Let’s go 💫.

✅ Some key ticketing takeaways 

👏 Using Pay What You Decide ticket pricing can be a really effective way to make your events more accessible, and generate more interest around them.

🫶 Your ticketing platform can form an integral part of your overall customer experience – Ollie talks about how Leeds 2023 attendees have been very happy with tons of Ticket Tailor features from our seating plans, to the fact customers don’t need to login to book, and can quickly and easily get lost tickets resent to them.

🎟Ticketing events, even free ones, provides invaluable insights about your audience/s. For example, looking at things like postcodes, ticket types and marketing opt-ins helps you gain a much greater understanding of your attendees – so you can connect with them in a more impactful way.

Ticket Tailor: Let’s start with a bit of background – how would you best describe Leeds 2023?

Ollie: LEEDS 2023 is an independent, not-for-profit Year of Culture supporting hundreds of creative and cultural events across the city and beyond. We've been showing off Leeds to the world, putting it front and centre as an exciting and vibrant cultural destination.

LEEDS 2023 has been delivered in partnership with world-class creatives, homegrown talent, local communities and a wide range of cultural organisations.

There have been three parts to our Year of Culture. It all started in January, with The Awakening, a huge multi-performance event hosted at Headingley Stadium where people received a ticket in return for a piece of art they had made. Since then we moved into Playing, with the city as a playground, and then Dreaming, where we dared to dream of what could be. A three part epic act of storytelling for, in and with the city. Creating a unique programme of events designed to awaken all of us to the familiar and the surprising, the hidden and the unheralded, the playful and the profound. 

Ticket Tailor: Wow! Sounds truly incredible. Now that the year’s wrapped up – can you tell us about any standout moments?

Ollie: We’ve had some fantastic moments during LEEDS 2023, from smaller scale community projects, to large scale outdoor productions. Here’s a round-up of just some of the highlights:

The WOW Barn 

Following a spectacular 24 hour build by 300 women, girls and non-binary people, The WOW (Women of the World) Barn stood on Cinder Moor in Leeds for three weeks. Activities and gatherings were inspired by this dream of an equitable world; a world in which all women, girls and non-binary people have the space, time, support and permission to live their dreams. 

The programme consisted of a wide range of evening events including comedy acts, talks, and music events, alongside Schools Days for young people across West Yorkshire.

Saturday 13th May saw the very first day-long WOW Barn Festival, with a series of workshops led by women and non-binary people, and a Barn Dance in the evening. The Festival programme incorporated a Pay What You Decide pricing structure for entry to the site, something which generated greater interest and accessibility for the project, with paid-for workshops being an optional add-on from our Ticket Tailor Store. Ticket Tailor’s flexible features helped us to create a bespoke seating plan for audiences to choose their seats when attending the evening programme.

Nest

Nest was a large-scale theatre production that explored how we can combat the climate crisis and create a better world for future generations.

Set against the stunning backdrop of RSPB St Aidan's Nature Park, Nest followed the story of Skylar – a teenager in 2050 where climate change is shaking the natural world. Now that the bird watchers can no longer watch, Skylar’s home will never be the same again… 

Performed by over 100 young performers from across Leeds and the surrounding area, trained by National Youth Theatre, audiences gained exclusive access to St Aidan’s after hours to experience a theatre show that told an incredible story about migration and the future of our planet.

Using Ticket Tailor, all five performances sold out. We ran an Accessible Ticketing Policy with 10 Ticket Types designed to deliver an inclusive pricing range for our audiences.

Smeaton300

Celebrating the Leeds-born trailblazer of civil engineering, John Smeaton, Smeaton300 is a series of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths events and activities taking place across the city.

A major part of Smeaton300 is the touring observatory, Moon Palace. A gift from East Leeds to the world, Moon Palace is your ticket to the stars without leaving the city. Created by artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison, this new artwork and mobile observatory is inspired by the legacy of John Smeaton and the observatory he had in East Leeds.  Events have varied from open, drop-in daytime observation sessions, to smaller, ticketed after dark events where small groups took part in moon gazing sessions using on-board telescopes and knowledge passed on by local experts.

Our intimate star-gazing events have proven popular throughout the whole year, where we’ve used Ticket Tailor’s Waitlist functionality and then connected with Tixel to resell tickets.

Smeaton300 will continue with a range of events in 2024, celebrating 300 years since Smeaton’s birth. 

The Gifting

December saw us close our Year of Culture with a very special closing show, The Gifting. The directors that brought you our opening ceremony, The Awakening – Kully Thiarai and Alan Lane (Slung Low) – were joined by designer Keith Khan, with original music by Rash Dash, to create a spectacular and unique performance.

Drawing from the magic of the darker winter nights and the dawning of a new year. The Gifting was a story-telling ceremony in which the past collides with the present and welcomes in the future. Audiences gathered outside Leeds' very own film studios, Versa Studios in Holbeck in our own Christmas market with fire pits, food and drink. The performance was delivered via headphones, transporting audiences into a surprising world to experience 12 stories inspired by the Year of Culture. It was a final event that promised beauty, joy and hope in equal measure. 

Ticket Tailor: That all sounds truly amazing. It must have been no mean feat to achieve all of this! Tell us about the logistics of organising events and projects on such a huge scale:

Ollie: The success of LEEDS 2023 has been the result of a huge team effort of hundreds, if not thousands of people; from creatives, producers, event production, experience design, marketing, volunteers, finance and operations, and of course, ticketing. Projects and events had been in the planning phase for many years before actually being put into reality. 

A lot of LEEDS 2023’s events have been pop-ups, in locations that aren’t naturally set up to accommodate large scale productions and audiences. Thankfully, our producing and production teams put in a phenomenal amount of work to create the infrastructure to allow professional performances to take place. 

There’s been a big emphasis on making our events as sustainable as possible, and we have partnered with SAIL (Sustainable Arts In Leeds) who advised on the best forms of event production such as power, lighting and waste management. We also had a dedicated visitor experience team who were tasked with creating a welcoming atmosphere, in terms of accessibility, food and drink offering, transport links to and from events, the list goes on! These efforts have meant that we have been able to host events in new places such as St Aidan’s RSPB Nature Reserve, Cinder Moor, to name a few.

Ticket Tailor: Now moving onto ticketing, we’d love to know – why choose Ticket Tailor as your ticketing partner? 😀 

Ollie: As an organisation offering a range of events, from small scale stakeholder events, to larger scale productions, we needed a ticketing provider that offered flexibility and helpful features. Our Experience Design team worked with a web developer to create the LEEDS 2023 website, and the integration with a ticketing system was crucial in creating a seamless and informative online journey for our audiences. Ticket Tailor’s customer journey is exceptionally easy, and has helped contribute to a successful website with very few customer issues when booking tickets. Our customers have been happy with quite a few of the features we’ve been able to deliver this year, such as: seating plan booking, no login required to book tickets, embedded booking widget on our website, broadcasts from our Ticket Tailor account, waitlist options, the ability to resend lost tickets, and the ability to easily transfer tickets to an alternative date. Ticket Tailor has been part of our User Experience and Customer Service delivery throughout the year.

Ticket Tailor: That’s so great to hear. Have there been any ticketing features that you’ve found particularly useful for your type of events?

Ollie: Ticket Tailor’s free check-in app has meant that we have saved money on higher market ticket scanners, instead using mobile devices that can then be used for other tasks across the team. The app has simplified ticket check-ins at events, making sure that queues move quickly and crowd control is kept manageable. With our wide range of events, we’ve had different people helping us at each event. The app’s simplicity has made it possible for volunteers, placements, freelancers, LEEDS 2023 staff members and external organisations’ staff to use whilst we’ve been helping them ticket events.

The API has meant that we can integrate easily with other digital platforms. We have created a live reporting dashboard on Retool, so that all internal teams can monitor sales for upcoming events. As part of our ongoing evaluation for funders, we have also been able to plug live ticketing data into a reporting dashboard, so we can effectively show our positive impact across 2023. 

Ticket Tailor: What about challenges? Did you encounter any ticketing problems throughout LEEDS 2023? 

Ollie: One of our largest challenges has been delivering bespoke ticketing solutions to each of our large events this year. They’ve been produced to bring culture to new audiences, and inspire current audiences. Our aim has been to remove barriers to culture, which has required a personalised ticketing design for our events dependent on audiences, locations, and accessibility. This has included Accessible Viewing Platforms, Pay What You Decide pricing, seating plans, transport options and a whole other host of requirements. 

Ticket Tailor: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to put on their own cultural events – either on a smaller or a similar scale?

Ollie: Ticketing events, even free ones, can bring you a larger understanding of your audiences, from postcodes to ticket types to marketing opt-ins. Collecting postcode data has been vital for our evaluation and has meant we’ve been closely connecting with our audiences along our journey.

Finding a cost effective ticketing solution is also an important step, understanding your needs and pricing costs is integral for finding the appropriate system for you. We knew that our needs were going to be complex, filled with some free, some paid for events, and that the option of a seating plan was integral to us. The fact Ticket Tailor is totally free to use for free events has helped with this.

Ticket Tailor: Awesome! Finally – we’re sure other event creators would be interested to know how you went about marketing Leeds 2023?

Ollie: We’ve used a wide range of marketing techniques, all based on insight derived from our audience segmentation study. This looked at the cultural behaviours of people in the city and surrounding area pre-LEEDS 2023, and the opportunity to increase cultural engagement. We have been present in outdoor, radio/audio advertising and we’ve also had a large digital presence across SEO, PPC and social media organic and paid content. 

We’ve worked with a dedicated PR agency, too, called AMA Associates, which has really helped us gain local coverage but also with wider positioning of the city as a cultural destination on a national and international stage. We’ve also worked with more traditional methods, such as print materials in local libraries, community centres and at cultural venues across the city, to ensure we’re reaching as many people from all backgrounds as possible.

Ticket Tailor: We’re sure our readers will find that really helpful! What a great interview – thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Ollie!

Find out more about the incredible achievements of Leeds 2023 >

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