The Digital Scene - Leeds
Imagine a map of the world. On the map are two colours of pins. There are green pins for areas that are leading the digital technology industry and red pins for those who are following at a slower pace. Now stand back and examine the pins.
At first glance, your eyes would probably be drawn to the blob of green pins in northern California or Silicon Valley, which is home to eBay, Facebook and Google and quickly being nicknamed the tech capital of the world. Then you would probably move your eyes to the second blob of green pins in the east, which would include Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong where most mobile technology is dreamed up. You would probably even see green pins in New York and Stockholm but what about the UK? Where do they fit in this green/red pin scenario? Five years ago I would have said the UK was definitely full of red pins but now, cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool are raising awareness of the local digital talent. However, the city that made headlines in 2011, both locally and nationally, is Leeds. Some of the most innovative and successful digital agencies are based in Leeds and it is obvious with the fresh and unique talent showcased all over the city. However, in the last two years agencies in Leeds that are in high demand and ahead of the digital curve are rebranding and revising their strategy to include more than just the basic digital marketing offering. By adding innovative designers and marketers, agencies are able to utilise the local talent and offer world-class services for their clients. Keith Wakefield, Leader of Leeds City Council, said he agrees and is devoted to making Leeds one of the best cities in the UK with a thriving digital sector to match. ''We are a hugely ambitious city. To remain competitive our businesses have to be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities enhanced digital connectivity provides.'' One opportunity for businesses to do this: the Leeds Digital Festival, which will be held for the fifth year in 2012. Thousands from Leeds celebrate the digital technology scene in November with events, seminars and social events that not only showcase the true spirit of 'digital' in Leeds but also its uniqueness. While the last three years have seen a great representation of support, it was last year's festival that really made an impression on other agencies and digital enthusiasts across the UK and world. From digital lunches to digital photography projects, the 2011 Leeds Digital Festival definitely got the attention it deserved. ''There is no doubt we have the talent," said Councillor Wakefield. ''The Leeds Digital festival provides a great example of the creativity and dynamism that exists within our digital sector.'' Leanne Buchan, who headed the festival last year, said that while cities like Manchester may have a stronger reputation and legacy of being 'digital', the scene in Leeds is newer which is much more exciting. ''The thing I loved most about the Leeds Digital Festival was that it was about Leeds. It’s important to look at other cities and keep up to date with what’s happening but the digital festival was the first time we collectively created events and a platform that was purely about what was happening in or of interest to the Leeds digital scene. It was also the first time this event became relevant to a national audience as it was simply about great digital work, or issues relevant to that sector and less about trying to pitch us against another city.'' So why does Leeds have such a thriving digital scene? The honest answer: while I don't think it necessarily earns the accolade 'digital city' of the north, Leeds has indeed earned the right to be a front runner for other cities who deem themselves the main contenders. The one thing Leeds continues to play on is its ability to be unique. Rather than the inclination to compare, I think Leeds is in a league of its own. ''Digital is so prevalent and such a growth sector that even London doesn’t have the stronghold it once had anymore,'' said Leanne.' 'As technology continues to grow and push boundaries, the focus becomes less about who’s top dog and more about the quality of the work, the ethos of the community and ability to stay competitive in a tough market.'' While the recession may have blown a strong wind over the UK economy, leaving cities like London out in the cold, Leeds's digital scene is safe and sound, stuck in tight with its green pin. If you have been to the Leeds Digital Festival, what did you think? Share your experiences and comments below.