As Chief Officer for Economic Development at Leeds City Council, Eve Roodhouse has had a lot of involvement in the City’s digital sector. With the Council sponsoring the Leeds Digital Festival, we set out to talk to her about what the organisation is doing for tech in the City and how she’s seen the sector change over the years.
One of the first ever sponsors of the Leeds Digital Festival was Leeds City Council. Given that the event is one of the largest of its kind around the world, this was no small decision, but it’s one that Leeds City Council was prepared to take.
“Back in about 2015, we had a digital summit,” she said. “We brought together stakeholders from across the City, and the Digital Festival was an idea that emerged from some people who were involved. And Leeds City Council felt very strongly that it wanted to support that.
We have a really strong relationship with the Festival, because we believe it’s important to nurture the digital businesses that are based in Leeds.”
The Council has certainly done that over the years, and with their help the tech scene in Leeds has gone from strength to strength. In fact, growing the digital side of the City has been a major part of the organisation’s vision for some time, and is a big aspect of its plans for the future.
Eve said: “Part of our inclusive growth strategy is a commitment to Leeds as a digital city, so we’re really committed to ensuring that everybody in the City benefits from digital. By that, I mean we are very committed to initiatives that provide skills to people in the City to be able to move into digital jobs, skills that allow people to make sure that they can feel included in the digital economy.”
Given that Eve is heavily involved with the Leeds tech scene, it’s no surprise that she’s been working on a number of aspects of the Digital Festival. “This year we’ve been heavily involved in shaping the health component of the event, working with mHabitat,” she said, “and our Chief Executive will be speaking at an event on the 1st of May around mental health, teens and social media.”
Eve is also personally supporting the Women in Leeds Digital event planned for the Festival. She said: “That will be the first time that some of the fantastic women across the City have come together in one event.
We’ve got lots of initiatives like She Does Digital and Empowering Women With Tech, which are all fantastic, but it’s brilliant to see all of the efforts of those different leaders in the City coming together for one day around a great theme. I think that will be a fantastic day.”
The Council has also specifically sponsored some events within the Festival. Eve said: “We have sponsored #GIRLTECHLCR, which Ahead Partnership are delivering. We’re passionate at the Council about making sure that we see access to digital jobs and the digital sector for everybody. We’ve specifically chosen to sponsor that event to support young girls getting access to that.”
So, what does the Council think the future holds for Leeds’ digital sector? Eve certainly thinks it is on a strong trajectory, in part because of the Festival. She said: “Since the Digital Festival started, there has absolutely been ongoing growth in terms of the digital economy in Leeds.”
Of course, there are plenty of large tech firms in the City that have also helped the sector thrive. “Sky have their tech hub based here, Asda have a major centre here, and DLA Piper have a major IT centre here as well,” Eve said. “NHS Digital have a big presence, as do DWP Digital. …and when HMRC move into their building on Wellington place they will also have a big digital presence in the City.”
However, the City’s strength is in the diversity of the tech businesses that have made it their home. “There are lots of smaller, exciting digital businesses that have emerged over the last few years in the City,” said Eve.
“We have a great creative digital sector as well, in terms of creative agencies. So we have a really wide range of digital businesses, both public and private sector, small businesses and startups, right through to large businesses, and it’s great to see them thriving right across that spectrum.”
In the coming years, Eve can only see this area of the City growing stronger. “I think the future for the digital sector in Leeds is really bright,” she said. One big thing the tech industry here has to look forward to is the arrival of Channel 4, something Eve’s team is supporting. But the council has also been working on other ways to help this sector thrive.
“We are involved as the Council with the University in a programme with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP),” she said. “As part of that, we’re doing some work to interview innovation-driven entrepreneurs and to understand where the gaps are in the ecosystem in Leeds, so that we can back those entrepreneurs to really accelerate their growth.”
It’s clear that both Eve and the Council as a whole are thoroughly invested in helping the digital sector in Leeds grow, supporting everything from major tech firms to one-person businesses. With their help, the future of the City is looking more positive each day.
Details of all Leeds Digital Festival events can be found here.