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A group of young people smiling on the stage

Ten Years of Child Friendly Leeds

The Child Friendly Leeds Awards returns to City Varieties Music Hall as the organisation celebrates its tenth year.

We look back at how young people’s groups have been involved in planning the awards since 2014.

Written by Catherine Hayward.

Managed by the Children and Families directorate of Leeds City Council, Child Friendly Leeds (CFL) promotes our city as a place where children are valued, supported, enjoy living and can look forward to a bright future.

Leeds Heritage Theatres has been involved with CFL since its launch in 2012 (which involved a visit from HRH Queen Elizabeth II!). Soon after, we began working with a group of young people to present the very first CFL Awards at City Varieties in February 2014. The awards have since become an annual event.

From the outset, we wanted the awards to be something new and exciting that truly celebrated young people, our city, and the organisations and individuals that make Leeds the best place to grow up. Therefore, it was imperative that young people were at the heart of the planning process as these were their awards.

Two rows of people smiling at the camera

The 2014 Child Friendly Leeds Planning Group

A group of young people on the City Varieties stage

The 2016 Child Friendly Leeds Planning Group

A group of young people smiling at the camera on stage

The 2020 Child Friendly Leeds Planning Group

Something of this scale hadn’t been done before, with young people making decisions at every step of the process – from deciding the theme, to designing the invitations, programme, trophies and decorations.

Working with Lizi Patch (Writer, Director and Artistic Director Young People’s Theatre at Leeds Heritage Theatres) and our Learning team, the Young Planning Group develop their ideas (which are always wonderfully wacky as only young people’s ideas are!) and bring them to life on The Varieties stage for an invited audience of 450 people.

In the build up to the awards, the group decides on a theme – past themes have included Party Through The Decades, Space, Comic Book Superheroes, Night at the Movies, and Dress to Impress (everyone is encouraged to dress up!) – lead on the design and marketing of the event, feed into the guest-list and choice of presenters, design trophies and write blog posts. They also have a say in what acts perform, from dance groups (hip hop, Irish dancing, ballet) and singer-songwriters and bands, to magicians, a stand-up comedian and a gymnast.

On the night of the ceremony itself, the theatre staff hand over the reins, allowing the young people to take on the roles of House Manager and Attendants/Ushers front of house, whilst backstage taking on numerous technical roles, including Follow-Spot Lighting Operator, Stage Manager, Deputy Stage Manager (cueing the entire show from the side of stage), Stagehand, Runner and Props Supervisor.

Through their involvement with the Awards Planning Group, young people develop a much deeper understanding of the theatre and events industry, and learn teamwork, cooperation and organisation skills. Participants have continued to engage with our Leeds Heritage Theatres programme through involvement with our summer holiday activities, joining our Youth Theatre or participating in work experience programmes.

Young people on stage with a confetti canon

Child Friendly Leeds Awards 2020

Child Friendly Leeds Awards Highlights

One memorable year, the awards opened with one of the young presenters ‘teleporting’ from the circle level down onto stage. Of course, we couldn’t possibly break the magic of theatre by explaining how the illusion was created but let’s just say that the audience were certainly wowed by Jack and his identical twin brother, Tommy.

We’ve welcomed several celebrity guests over the years including Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Nadiya Hussain – one of the young people baked a cake for Nadiya with the Child Friendly Leeds orange thumb logo. Nadiya was thrilled as apparently no one ever bakes for her – she also said it tasted delicious.

A young magician’s act surprised us all by firing a pyrotechnic that hadn’t been included in the rehearsal. Our quick-thinking techie raced across the balcony to backstage to isolate the smoke detector, just in time to prevent the alarm sounding and the awards being stopped!

Another year, a young musical duo were held up in bad traffic in the centre of town and arrived with only minutes to spare before their performance slot. The young presenters handled it perfectly and the audience never suspected a thing.

Every year it’s an absolutely monumental effort that goes into producing the awards, bringing together Leeds City Council, the Child Friendly Leeds team, the Leeds Heritage Theatres Learning and wider team, the young performers and presenters, and the amazing organisations working hard to make Leeds a child-friendly city – all the while making sure that young people’s voices are at the heart of every single decision.

You can find out more about this year’s awards on the Child Friendly Leeds website.

Two orange thumbs up with Child Friendly Leeds and 10 written on them

The Child Friendly Leeds Awards 2020 were one of the most exciting and significant experiences of my life. From September to February, I met with a team of amazing young people every week to discuss and decide on every aspect of the awards. I developed pitching skills, confidence, friendships and much more. I learnt so much from the experience that will stay with me throughout everything I do. The night itself flew by but I made some memories to last a life time.”

Charlie, Young Planning Group member.