People of Wellington Place: Clifford Stead

Wellington Place is more than just bricks and mortar, it’s a thriving community powered by people. This series of interviews aims to highlight some of the people of Wellington Place, share their inspirational stories and find out why Wellington Place is much more than just a place to work…

Interview with Clifford Stead, Leeds Civic Trust Trustee and co-founder of Sketch Club Social

Born and bred in Leeds, Clifford is one of the city’s biggest advocates. Through his passion for art, photography, and history, he is on a mission to spread awareness of Leeds’ rich heritage. A font of knowledge, Clifford leads the fascinating Wellington Place history talks, heritage walks, and even the occasional lunchtime sketch club session for us all to enjoy!

Can you tell us about your background in art?

From a young age, I have always been passionate about art and knew I wanted to do something around it as a career, so I decided to study at the Jacob Cramer College of Art, now known as Leeds College of Art. After completing my course, I opened my own art gallery, ‘Clifford Stead Gallery’, in Chapel Allerton in 2000. My first London Art Show, ‘A Tribute to LS Lowry’, on Cork Street opened in 2004 and my first overseas exhibition took place in our American twin city of Louisville, Kentucky in 2007 – both of which I’m very proud of.

What have you been busy with over the last few years?

I’ve been an active member of Leeds Civic Trust since 1995 and have been a trustee on the board for the last six years. In 2009, I helped set up Leeds Owl Trail – a walking tour across the city that sees participants search for owls placed in historically significant locations. To date, we have distributed more than 100,000 Owl Trail Maps to residents and visitors.

I also currently co-run Sketch Club Social, which started back in 2021 following the Covid-19 pandemic. It was set up to combat artist isolation in Leeds. When we first launched, we held monthly sketch events in unique locations like Leeds Minster and The Glassbox in Leeds Docks. It was a huge success and has now mushroomed to also encompass wellbeing sessions and corporate work such as going into offices.

You have a lot of interests – from history to art – can you tell us more about those?

My interests are pretty varied. I’m an avid traveller and love exploring the world. Some of the places that I have visited most recently are New York, Vancouver, Auckland, Riga, Seattle, and Toronto. When travelling overseas, I always take my camera and a sketchbook and hunt for offbeat places that are away from the typical tourist trails.

Drawing is also something I have done all my life and I have a passion for architecture. I believe this is where my fascination for Leeds’ history came from, as I always want to know about the places I draw.

What’s your biggest achievement?

I’d say my biggest achievement is playing a part in changing the perceptions of Leeds! Through my art, tours, and photography, I’ve worked tirelessly over the last four decades to dispel the whole “Grim up North” misconception.

You’ve held a lot of events at Wellington Place. What’s been favourite?

My personal favourite event was a lecture I held on the history of Wellington Place last May to mark Local History Month. During the session, I shared the story behind Leeds Central railway station, which was located at the heart of Wellington Place over 50 years ago. I also talked about the station’s wagon lifting hoist, which is a Grade-II listed building and is still standing at the site, paying homage to the city’s rich industrial heritage.

What’s it like hosting events at Wellington Place?

Wellington Place is the perfect setting to host events, as it has a varied and dynamic community of occupiers, and the location and facilities are second to none. Thanks to its friendly and supportive events team, hosting is always an enjoyable experience. I also absolutely love how the architecture blends of the old and the new, and there’s a nice choice of places to eat and drink too.

Do you support Wellington Place in any other ways?

Last year myself and Leeds Owl Trail Founder Antonia Stowe completely overhauled and updated Wellington Place’s heritage archives, which include lots of information on the wagon lifting hoist. It was a very enjoyable project, plus we created a series of exhibition panels to educate people on the history of the site too.

This work is now on display at Wellington Place on hoardings around the lifting tower, so be sure to keep an eye out next time you’re on site!

What’s something exciting about you that most people might not know about you?

A project I worked on that a lot of people aren’t aware of is transforming the defunct Debenhams store at the White Rose Centre into a very colourful Clifford Stead Cityscape in vinyl. The project was my largest cityscape ever!

What three words sum up Wellington Place to you, and why?

Inspired: I love the contrast of the stone Victorian wagon hoist against the new golden, glass and steel structure of 11 & 12 Wellington Place.

Historical: Underneath your feet are two centuries of fascinating railway history. This was the Amazon Distribution Depot of 1860, so everything in Leeds needed to come through this site.

Social: While City Square was once the heart of the city, it now has a rival in Tower Square, which has become etched into the DNA of 21st century Leeds.

If you would like to tell your story, or wish to nominate someone to take part in the People of Wellington Place series please email info@wellingtonplace.co.uk