If you’re looking to freelance somewhere exciting, affordable and up-and-coming, Leeds could be the city for you. Located in the heart of verdant Yorkshire, the third most populous city in the UK is an important business centre. It’s easily accessible from anywhere in the UK, but only a stone’s throw from the stunning Yorkshire Dales too. And, according to peopleperhour.com, this is the fourth most popular city for freelancers.
How to get there
Leeds has great rail connections to most parts of the UK. There are very frequent services to Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and the other big northern cities, and trains at least once an hour to London and Edinburgh; journey times are around two and a half and three and a half hours, respectively.
Many people think HS3, the planned rail route linking Leeds with nearby Manchester, has the potential to provide big economic benefits for the city by dramatically reducing journey times. The Chancellor has also given the green light for an 18-mile sub-Pennines road tunnel to connect Manchester and Sheffield, easing traffic on the busy M62 around Leeds. Analysis from the Treasury suggests the Northern Powerhouse plan will deliver £1,600 in real terms to every individual in the north.
Leeds Bradford airport isn’t far from the city either. It offers several flights per day to major European travel hubs including London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.
Where to stay
If you’re only freelancing in Leeds for a week or two, there are dozens of good hotels scattered in and around city. Ibis, Holiday Inn and Premier Inn all cater for more budget-conscious travellers, but if you’re prepared to spend a little more there are countless options. If space is the top priority then check out Roomzzz, an affordable city centre hotel providing guests with small apartments. Boutique hotel Malmaison, meanwhile, charges top dollar but offers unparalleled luxury to match; guests receive champagne, super-powered showers, super-fast broadband and 4K TVs.
If you are considering staying for the long term, buying property in Leeds can leave you with more change than in many other parts of the country. Stephen Berson is Franchise Director of Hunters estate agent and whose remit covers Leeds city centre. “A one-bedroom apartment in the city can cost from £90,000 in the less sought-after areas to £160,000 in the very desirable parts like Granary Wharf,” he says. “Roundhay in north Leeds is a very up-and-coming area to raise a family and Roundhay Park is one of the biggest city parks in Europe. You can buy a three-bedroom semi from around £250,000 – and that’s a quality 1930s semi. Or, at the top end of the scale, if you’re ready to spend a million pounds-plus you’ve got Alwoodley and Scarcroft, the rural outposts on the edge of the city.”
More and more co-working spaces are popping up all around the country and Leeds is no exception. James Donnelly co-founded Duke Studios, an all-inclusive work-hub aimed specifically at creative freelancers. “Leeds is a great city to freelance in; it’s big enough to provide everything you need but small enough for even the smallest of companies to make an impact,” he says.
“At Duke Studios we cater for all kinds of individuals and small companies in the creative industries. For a monthly charge, freelancers can rent temporary co-working space, a permanent desk or an entire studio. There’s also a whole range of creative services, including laser cutting, vinyl cutting, and design and build services – plus meeting rooms and a photography studio.
“We’re specifically a creative workspace, so we have a really nice, diverse range of businesses from across the sector and the freelancers’ age range is quite broad. We look after 64 businesses in total.”
Zoe East, one of the Aspire category finalists in IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year Awards 2016, runs her business from Duke Studios. She says: “There’s a really strong network in Duke with people working across a wide variety of sectors. It makes it really easy to make connections and tap into other industries as and when you need to. Being able to work together so easily ultimately improves the quality of everyone's work involved.”
Leeds also forms an important part of the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse agenda. It’s the biggest centre outside of London for financial and business services, and a hotbed for education and healthcare professionals.
Emily Lord co-founded Gypsy Carrot Productions with partner Sam Fittock, an independent events company with a focus on creative arts. “Freelancing’s gaining popularity throughout the UK and Leeds is definitely a hub for businesses,” she says. “I usually work in cafes around the city – it’s full of lovely little independent places. There are also specific events for freelancers like Freelance Wednesday at Left Bank Leeds, where you can go and work in a stunning Grade II-listed church every Wednesday throughout summer.
“Leeds is a real up and coming city with a thriving culture and nightlife scene,” Emily continues. “Yet it’s much more intimate than cities like Manchester, and has a really strong support network for independent businesses and freelancers. The networking and business opportunities in Leeds have been amazing; there’s so much activity taking place and the students make a huge difference”.
Things to do
Leeds’ high population of students makes for one of the most vibrant music scenes in the North. There’s a diverse array of bars and clubs with live music to suit every taste – highlights being the HiFi Club for jazz, funk, soul (and comedy nights too), Brudenell Social Club for indie and rock bands, and Belgrave Music Hall for everything in between.
Leeds is home to the Royal Armouries museum, a vast collection of fairly terrifying weapons dating back hundreds of years. Or in nearby Bradford, you’ll find the National Media Museum and three million items of cultural significance. Both are well worth a visit. If you’re taking the kids, Eureka! The National Children’s Museum is also close by in Halifax and they’ll remember it for years to come.
Should I freelance here?
Its location and a modest cost of living makes Leeds an attractive option for running a business, and its flourishing financial services market and buzzing creative scene means there’s a high demand for skilled independent professionals. The Northern Powerhouse plan puts the city in a great position for future growth and house prices are on the up. If you’re considering moving here, now’s the time to make it happen.