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  • Writer's pictureRachael Unsworth

Itchy feet

June already, and walking tours have still not resumed. What a waste of daylight. Ah well - delights still in store for those who would enjoy learning (more) about Leeds.

Mini-tours for East Leeds FM have helped to keep my brain in gear and my legs in working order. Doing these audio outings made me rethink tours to be very brief and effortlessly flowing. It’s harder to re-start a sentence that was heading for a brick wall. There’s no chance for spontaneous interaction with the listeners to take you into pleasingly random byways. And of course the really glaring disadvantage is that listeners can’t SEE what I’m referring to – either on the ground or on one of my precious collection of delectable maps, each of which is worth at least 1000 words. I’m trying to add more description than would be necessary if eyes were accompanying ears.

In the counterbalance, I can leap between sites as if I have a jetpack, instead of having to slog across inconvenient gaps between points of interest, including infuriating road crossings. (News flash: some pedestrian crossings altered to turn green for walkers within 5 seconds). Tours can be in an order that’s logical for the unfolding chronology. In the real life version, you can’t make hapless tourists zig-zag like junior sheepdogs on a spring day.

A whole other area of endeavour remains to be developed: virtual tours. One possibility is standardised video versions of my audio odysseys. There could also be bespoke virtual tours for those too far or too frail to join me for the real thing. Tech-enabled gallery guides lead on this idea. Their clients can direct the content: “Never mind the Constables; take me to see Nell Gwyn displaying her wares.” I could imagine a similar commission for the streets of Leeds: “Victorian nymphs in City Square are all very well, but show me your post-war brutalism”. As you like it.

For real tours, I think families might book quite soon – for birthdays, anniversaries or just because cultural events, big gatherings and holidays are on hold. Walking tours are at least relatively safe. Not long after will come companies wanting to reacquaint themselves with the city centre that they forsook in March.

How might Leeds change in the wake of this almighty shock? How will this ancient place adapt yet again to reflect and accommodate the latest swirling microbiological, social, economic and technological forces? We'll gaze into the future as well as considering the centuries behind us.

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