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Work hard and play hard in Leeds

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Roger St Pierre reviews how much this great city has to offer
Compact and heart-warmingly friendly enough to be a town but boasting the sophistication and amenities of a major city, Leeds is a powerhouse of England’s resurgent north country.
Though its manufacturing and industrial sectors have been of key importance – and currently employ close to 400,000 people across some 1,800 registered companies – it is trade and commerce, retail and wholesale, that have long provided the pulsing lifeblood.


The welcome mats are out here. This ever-busy city is above all in the people business. The vibe is work hard, play hard – making it an award-winning locale for meetings and incentives Locals proudly claim that their eternally bustling Kirkgate is Europe’s oldest covered market. And remember that it was a market stall in Leeds that laid the foundations of the Marks & Spencer empire.

Recent massive redevelopments have seen Leeds firmly established as a shop-till-you-drop destination to vie with any UK provincial city.

It’s eminently walkable, so it makes sense to dump the car as soon as possible – the one-way system is such a bewildering maze it took us an hour and a half from entering the suburbs to finding our city centre accommodation at the plush, contemporary Park Plaza Hotel.

If you do want to drive while in Leeds, sat/nav is a must. For our part we loaned a motorised disability scooter through the pro-active Leeds Hotel Association. For the information of wheelchair-bound delegates, it’s worth mentioning that while Leeds matches other major UK centres in terms of accessibility, many of the lifts in even the city’s brand new state-of-the-art shopping centres are barely big enough to take a double baby buggy, let alone a scooter. From a distance they might look like traffic wardens but the friendly Yorkshire lasses of the Leeds Welcome Ambassador organisation are there to make visitor groups’ lives easier not harder, leading pre-bookable guided walks and enriching their encyclopaedic knowledge and love of their home town and its attractions, big and small, with a wealth of quirky information and amusing stories. It’s a service now enjoyed by more than 150,000 visitors a year. Meanwhile, the City Rangers help to keep the place spick and span, annually removing a staggering 400,000 pieces of chewing gum from Briggate alone! The city’s statistics are impressive. This ever busy Yorkshire metropolis claims to have the most diverse economy of all the UK’s main employment centres and, according to Wikipedia, it is currently enjoying the fastest rate of private sector jobs growth of any UK city and has the highest ratio of public to private sector jobs of all the country’s core cities.

According to the Leeds BID organisation, Leeds has the nation’s fourth largest economy and the third largest jobs total, with a working population of more than half a million and growing. It is served by four universities and has the fourth largest student population in the country.

They take work seriously in these parts A location just under 200 miles at the other end of the M1 motorway from the capital (that’s four hours by road, two and a quarter hours by train from London King’s Cross) makes the city very desirable for events that gather delegates from far and wide. Leeds Bradford International Airport links with more than 65 destinations daily.

Leeds is the second largest legal and financial centre in the UK and its financial and insurance services industry is worth well over £2bn, with more than 30 national and international banks having offices in the city.

Leeds is also the UK's third largest manufacturing centre, with around 1,800 firms and 39,000 employees. Tourism is an increasingly important sector. Having successfully hosted the 2014 Grand Depart of the Tour de France – the world’s largest annual sporting event, with 190 riders, more than a million roadside spectators and a 3.5bn global TV audience – Leeds now has its own Tour de Yorkshire as a high point in a calendar crammed with major sporting, arts and cultural events.

Christmas, for example, featured the 10th annual staging of the Christmas market in Millennium Square, the Magical Light Festival in the 700-acre Roundhay Park and the inception of the city’s intriguing arts and lights trail.

Proclaiming itself ‘A City Less Grey’, Leeds offers such diversions as the Royal Armouries’ northern outpost, the Crucible-West Yorkshire Theatre, the long-running Palace of Varieties old-fashioned music hall (in business since 1865), the romantic riverside ruins of Kirkstall Abbey, the Tudor/Jacobean stately home at Temple Newsham, the Thackray Medical Museum, the music and arts events at Leeds Town Hall and the wondrous Leeds Art Gallery, while the Yorkshire Dales are but a few miles distant.

The upscale shopping experience now includes the Trinity Leeds and Victoria Gate shopping malls, a massive new John Lewis branch and a Harvey Nichols store, as well as delightful Victorian shopping malls and the long-established Corn Exchange, home to a cornucopia of independent shops.

Visitors are also spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out at every level. The star of our show was the majestic former banking hall on East Parade that now houses the expensive (but well worth it) Iberica, with its authentic Spanish take on haute cuisine.

Available for exclusive group bookings of up to 100, this prestigious city centre venue is sure to impress, if not overawe your delegates.

Our lodging was close by at the thoroughly contemporary Park Plaza Hotel – one of 10 properties trading under this major international brand In the UK. Key facilities here include 187 guest rooms and 11 meeting rooms, the largest accommodating up to 200 attendees, theatre style.

Other hotel chains with a presence in Leeds include Novotel, Doubletree by Hilton, Jury’s Inn, Marriott, Radisson Blu, Ibis, Holiday Inn, Malmaison, Crowne Plaza and Mercure. The grand dame of them all is the stately The Queens, located directly adjacent to the railway station.

At The Queens, Q Hotels offer a range of corporate event packages, including the Total Meetings Package, which has no hidden costs, enabling bookers to stay fully in control of their budgets while enjoying a stress-free conference experience. From its imposing Portland stone façade to its 215 art-deco-styled guest rooms and16 dedicated meeting spaces, The Queens oozes 1930s opulence.

The spectacular 513sqm Queens Ballroom can host up to 500 delegates, so anything from a small executive board meeting for six in the Wharfedale Suite to a grand dinner dance or an annual conference can be comfortably accommodated.

“Well met, well fed, well rested” is the promise at Beckett University Campus, which affords a range of venues and amenities. Launching this summer will be the lavishly refurbished Cloth Hall Court, offering 10 meeting rooms in Victorian splendour.

Low-cost accommodation is available in simple but comfortable new-build premises on the campus. For a truly dramatic venue, take a look at the riverside Royal Armouries facility. Easily accessible on the ground floor of this very modern purpose built museum, the rentable hall offers a choice of theatre or cabaret style seating and the advantage of being able to divide into three sections. The 24.6m x 36m main hall can cater for 500 theatre-style.

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