People of Wellington Place: Joe Williams

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 Joe Williams, Founder and Director of Heritage Corner

Passionate about raising awareness and celebrating African history, Joe has been hosting Black History Walks across Leeds for the past 14 years. A frequent visitor to Wellington Place, Joe will join us once again to host a Black History Walk around the city on Tuesday 10th October, in recognition of Black History Month.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

With a passion for performance, I enrolled onto a theatre arts course at Intake High School, now known as Leeds West Academy, and then trained as an actor in London – Ross Kemp was even my class and house mate! It was then I started researching black British history in detail and sharing what I had found with others. Going back to my roots gave me a new sense of purpose and I now spend much of my time being involved in community projects and sharing this rich history with the wider public.

Can you tell us about Heritage Corner Leeds?

After hosting my Black History Walks in Leeds for half a decade, I decided to form Heritage Corner in 2014. It’s an education and community engagement project, with a focus on engaging more people in understanding African history and heritage and its connection to Yorkshire.

Heritage Corner combines seasonal public walks, private bookings such as talks with local schools and businesses, as well as art projects. We aim to bring to life black history in a variety of art forms. One example was our Unseen Histories Art Festival which we hosted in 2021. The month-long event, was curated by black artists in and around the city and included creative workshops, walking tours, and film screenings.

What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

My proudest accomplishment is how well the Leeds Black History Walk has been received. Delivering the first Black History Walk for Harewood House was a highlight and is only topped by receiving an Honorary Fellowship from Leeds Trinity University from my personal hero, Sir John Battle.

What type of events have you held at Wellington Place?

I have hosted my Black History Walk, a Black History Talk, and a special speaker appearance this June to mark Windrush 75. This event was a particular favourite for me, because both my parents were part of the Windrush generation. Being able to keep alive this very important and personal part of our shared history is very valuable to me and something that fills me with a great amount of pride.

What’s your favourite thing about hosting events at Wellington Place?

I always feel really welcome here at Wellington Place, and it’s fantastic to see how engaged everyone is and eager to learn and explore African history. It’s a very gratifying feeling to help employees from diverse backgrounds to learn more about the larger narrative of diversity in Leeds.

What can people expect from the Black History City Walk you’re hosting during Black History Month?

Those that join the Black History City Walk can expect to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the black community in Leeds. Walking through the heart of the city centre, I’ll take you back in time and share unique insights into the stories, struggles, and triumphs of the black community.

If you’d be interested in attending the free event and want to hear more about this overlooked part of Leeds’ history, then you can join us on 10th October between 12:30pm and 1:30pm. Find out how to get involved here.

What’s the most important thing that has happened to you?

Hands down, the most important thing that has happened to me is becoming a first-time dad at 59! Leilani Yara is nearly two now and is adorable.

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

People-first – Wellington Place invests in its people by sharing diversity and culture.

Inclusive – Wellington Place celebrates people from all backgrounds. This why I was honoured when they reached out to me directly to share my stories and knowledge around black history with the community there.

Friendly – Everyone I have met from Wellington Place has been incredibly friendly and supportive both towards myself and others taking part in my events.

Thanks to Joe for taking part in this interview. 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