News article created on 30 March 2022

Unsung heros of Leeds celebrated in art

Unsung heroes of Leeds and their families gathered at Leeds Waterfront this spring to officially unveil the latest additions to a large-scale art installation.

Supported by us and Leeds City Council, the project’s community consultation and artwork has been led by Artworks Creative Communities.

Meet the Heroes

‘Leeds Heroes’ celebrates people from Leeds who have made a positive impact and whose accomplishments deserve to be acknowledged.  The installation overlooks the River Aire and Fearns Island, near Crown Point Bridge on a well-used thoroughfare past Leeds Dock and is part of Leeds Waterfront Art Trail.

The first iteration of the artwork launched as part of Leeds Waterfront Festival in June 2019, with three new heroes now joining the original line-up (as marked with asterix*).

Leeds Heroes:

  1. Adam Smith: Enterprise - founder of ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ *
  2. Kathy Williams: Community - Olympic gymnast and co-founder of RJC Dance *
  3. Diana Phillip (1927-2011): Equality – Leeds’ first black magistrate *
  4. Leonora Cohen (1873-1978): Social Activism – British Suffragette and Trade Unionist
  5. John Smeaton (1724-1792): Waterways – Civil Engineer, designed bridges and canals
  6. Gertrude Paul (1934-1992): Education – First black headteacher in Leeds & co-founder of Leeds West Indian Carnival
  7. Charles Turner Thackrah (1795-1833): Health – Leeds surgeon, co-founded Leeds School of Medicine
  8. Yona Knight-Wisdom: Sport – Leeds Olympic diver, represented Jamaica
  9. John Barran (1821-1905): Environment – fundamental to public ownership of Roundhay Park in Leeds
  10. Ivy Benson (1913-1993): The Arts – Saxophonist and bandleader, pioneered for equal pay and recognition for female musicians
  11. Joseph Aspdin (1778-1855): Innovation – Inventor of Portland Cement, fundamental to the progress of construction industry


Each artwork within the installation focuses on a different theme and linked hero. The themes are health, social activism, waterways, education, nature, creativity, innovation, sport, enterprise, community and equality. 

Drawing upon heraldic symbolism, each of the monochromatic, laser-cut steel portraits is similar in appearance to a coat of arms, linking the work visually and conceptually to the Royal Armouries.

Hearing from the heroes

Kathy Williams, OLY - Director at RJC Dance said: "I am thrilled and totally honoured to have been nominated and recognised as a Hero of Leeds (Community). The power of visibility is immeasurable. Through my work at RJC Dance I will continue to champion the legacy of diverse communities and to nurture, develop and inspire children, young people, adults and elders."

Woman posing sideways infront of artwork Kathy Williams, Leeds Heroes

Ged Walker, a Menston-based street artist and director of Artworks Creative Communities, has led the creative project. He said: “Leeds has produced many great people. There have been innovators who have shaped our way of life, sporting heroes who have made us proud and stars of stage and screen who have entertained the whole nation. But there have also been many unsung heroes.

“It’s been great to be able to realise this project, which has been supported by Leeds City Council and the Canal & River Trust and help to put a spotlight on more people who may not been given the credit or attention they deserve.”

We look after 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, including the Aire and Calder Navigation (that flows into the River Aire) where the art installation has been placed.  The Trust has been working across the region to install artworks along its 316 miles of canals and rivers in Yorkshire & North East.

Enriching the visual and educational experience

Becca Dent, our strategic programmes manager, is overseeing the programme in Yorkshire. She explained: “Art can enrich the visual and educational experience of those using our canals and rivers to take time out to unwind and relax, making a powerful impact.

“Towpath counters show an average of 4,500 visits to the Leeds Dock area into Brewery Wharf on a typical day, with people walking, running or cycling along the waterfront. It’s amazing to think just how many people will get to know these unsung heroes. 

“Our research shows that spending time by water helps make us feel happier and healthier and, with canals and rivers on our network flowing through some of the most heavily populated communities in England and Wales, we are helping to provide accessible green and blue space where it’s needed the most. By working in exciting partnerships like this one we can make even more of these wonderful waterways.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Leeds has been the proud home to some truly extraordinary people who have achieved so much in everything from science and sport to culture and academia. I’m sure this stunning installation will serve as both a fitting tribute to their accomplishments and an inspiration to others as they appreciate this beautiful part of the city.”