A growing band of local enthusiasts is planning to create a Speakers’ Corner in the heart of Leeds and hopes to have established a permanent space during the course of 2013. The initiative is being led by post-graduate law student Andrew Raof who first approached SCT for advice in August 2012 and spent the winter months gathering support.The initiative is being led by post-graduate law student Andrew Raof who first approached SCT for advice in August 2012 and spent the winter months gathering support and stimulating considerable media interest which led to interviews on BBC Radio Leeds, features on the Guardian Northerner and the Leeds Online blogs and an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post at the end of February 2013.
Now Andrew and John Wilson, senior partner in a local firm of solicitors who is also involved in the Bradford project, are planning the first in a series of taster events, starting on 9 March.
Andrew is very clear about his objectives, telling the Yorkshire Evening Post, “It’s about tackling indifference and apathy and getting people involved, rather than hoping someone else will do it for them” and The Guardian “people tend to engage with each other on twitter and social media, but I think this is part of the problem in society these days. There’s nothing quite like an intelligent face to face debate. It’s one thing to use your keyboard and 140 characters for soundbites, it’s another to use your mouth to speak and debate at length – I believe we don’t use our mouths enough. I hope a Speakers’ Corner in Leeds will spark an interest in more free speech and an active citizenship and make the city we live in a better and more connected place where we can exchange ideas and have open debates and communicate with each other”.
Andrew is hoping to be able to establish the Speakers’ Corner at Victoria Gardens on the Headrow, outside Leeds Art Gallery, a space already widely regarded as the city’s unofficial Speakers’ Corner and the focus for rallies and demonstrations at least since the time of the Suffragettes.
As Andrew told Leeds Online, “I did some initial research on a Speakers’ Corner in Leeds. Patchy information led me to conclude that Victoria Gardens is the unofficial venue. However, it is always empty and never used as a platform for public speaking unless there is a protest of some sort. Bradford is on its way to having a Speakers’ Corner become a permanent fixture, as is Sheffield, so I thought ‘why not Leeds?’”Andrew and John are looking for volunteers and partners, so if you want to get involved you can contact them either by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @leedsspeakers.