Opera North Richmond Hill Residency: New Initiative to Strengthen Community Through Culture

4th August 2022

Leading arts organisation Opera North has launched an innovative new residency in its home city of Leeds, which will see the company working with residents in Burmantofts and Richmond Hill Ward to explore how boosting participation in cultural activities can benefit people’s lives and help strengthen relations within communities.


Opera North is liaising with community leaders and other stakeholders to create a programme of activities and events which directly meet the needs, interests and aspirations of people living in the Ward. Placing members of the community at the heart of the programme means they will have the opportunity to influence and shape the creative process and programme of activity, which will culminate in a day of musical festivities in summer 2023 programmed and performed by the residents themselves. Through this initiative, Opera North hopes to boost mental health and wellbeing, while also increasing participation in music and creative activity.


Lisa Hillas from Leeds City Council, who lives locally and is a member of the steering group, said:


“Through the day provision services the LCC provides, we’re always looking for meaningful ways in which to support and connect the residents in this Ward. By working with Opera North and increasing engagement with the arts in a way which really works for everyone, we’re looking forward to using culture to build long-lasting confidence and feelings of wellbeing among the wider community.”


Events held so far to introduce the company’s musicians and their work have included participation in the local Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, performances of the pop-up opera A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice in both a school and community venue, and a special summer concert with the Chorus of Opera North. Future plans include Little ONes music and movement sessions for pre-schoolers, Sing ON for adults who would like to meet and sing with others, and a series of creative drop-in sessions for all ages. Additional funding for the residency programme has been secured to enable Opera North to deliver activity throughout the year, with a grant of £10,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund Awards for All.


Father Darren Percival BEM, Parish Priest of Saint Hilda’s Cross Green and Saint Saviours in Richmond Hill, said:


“This new project has the potential to bring hope through building confidence to a community that most definitely deserves and needs it. Community involvement through music, no matter what your age or background, involving professional musicians working alongside us – the most deprived Ward in Leeds – will enable us ordinary folk to actively embrace and become part of the tapestry of cultural change through music and diversity. We are thrilled that this can happen in the here and now of Richmond Hill and Cross Green.”


The company already has a presence in the area though its work at Richmond Hill Academy where the award-winning In Harmony Opera North programme has been running since 2018, giving every pupil the opportunity to learn to sing and to play an orchestral instrument. Earlier this year, Richmond Hill Elderly Action became one of the company’s 2022 Encore Plus Partners increasing access to opera and live performance for more senior members in the community. The Richmond Hill Residency seeks to build on these foundations by working with more community services and groups to create events, workshops and performances which place the residents at their heart.


Anna Mackenzie, Principal, Richmond Hill Academy, said:


“Ever since Richmond Hill Academy became an In Harmony Opera North school, music has brought everyone together. Our whole school community has benefited from the joy that music can bring. From our Year 3 string orchestra playing during the Great Get Together in front of hundreds of parents on our school field, to families singing Nessun Dorma together during an Opera North Whistle Stop Opera, music inspires and connects us. We are delighted therefore to know that Opera North has chosen this area for its residency in 2022/23.  


“Our community deserves this investment and I know will embrace the opportunities it presents for adults and children alike. Our recent Ofsted report described the respect that RHA children have for their peers and their community as “breath-taking” and yet this area does not always receive the positive affirmations and investments it deserves. We cannot wait to see how Opera North will bring the people of LS9 together and we believe that this project, together with the work of local organisations, has the potential to leave a lasting legacy for the children and their families.” 


Ongoing consultation and feedback will be built into the year to create a truly collaborative process, with the community working with the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North to stage their own celebratory performance in East End Park during Leeds 2023’s Year of Culture.


Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North said:


“We believe that music can be a unifying force which enables shared experience, fosters connection and can enhance relationships and mutual understanding. Our aim is to create something extraordinary especially for, and with, the community of Richmond Hill which will prove of lasting benefit.


“Through this sustained partnership, we aim to celebrate the diversity of the communities living in this ward, as well as giving people the tools and support to become their own artists and creators, telling the stories they want to tell about where and how they live. Opera North will be there to listen and facilitate, ensuring that everything truly reflects the community’s voice, aspirations and desires.”