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Leeds’ National Poetry Centre recruits first director

The team behind the forthcoming National Poetry Centre in Leeds have named its first director.

Nick Barley is an acclaimed literary leader, who’s recently completed a 14-year tenure as Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival – one of the world’s biggest literary festivals. He has also chaired the judges of the International Booker Prize.

His arrival is seen as a new exciting phase for the centre, which is the brainchild of the Yorkshire-based Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage.

“The NPC is my flagship Laureate initiative, a groundbreaking home and headquarters for one of our nation’s proudest, oldest and most democratic of art forms,” said Poet Laureate and NPC trustee Armitage.

“We want to share the benefits of poetry – which is language at its keenest – across all ages, social groups and cultures. With his keen understanding of the value of poetry and literature in all its forms, Nick Barley seems tailor-made for the role.”

The centre will become a national hub promoting poetry, literacy, oracy and learning for people from all cultures and backgrounds. It will be Barley’s responsibility to ensure that it is a “sustainable headquarters.” He will also be charged with coming up with a programme of events and activities that will reach right across the UK.

“I was born and raised in Yorkshire and I’m thrilled to be returning home to lead in the delivery of this genuinely ground-breaking project, which builds on four years of inspiring preparatory work by Simon and the trustees,” he explained.

“Leeds is one of the most vibrant and culturally ambitious cities in the UK right now: it’s the perfect location geographically for an HQ and Yorkshire already enjoys a vibrant poetry scene. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to work with writers and readers – to create a nationally significant building that Leeds will be proud of, and to bring poetry alive for people across the UK.”

The National Poetry Society is supported by Arts Council England, the University of Leeds, Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. The government is contributing £5m towards the building – the currently disused Trinity St David’s Church on Woodhouse Lane, which is owned by the University of Leeds.

Its transformation into a new public space is expected to be completed by early 2028. This will include a 250 seat auditorium; cafes, a bookshop & social spaces; workshops & performance spaces; writing rooms & quiet areas; a broadcasting studio; exhibitions; collections & archives; shared working for poetry & literature organisations. 

“We are thrilled that Nick will be joining us to turn Simon’s incredible vision into reality,” said NPC chair Ruth Pitt.

“All over the country millions of people write poetry at some point in their lives, countless thousands enjoy poetry groups and classes and many more study and publish poetry at all levels. Yet despite the huge contribution that poetry makes to our nation’s heritage and culture, it’s never had a dedicated national headquarters of its own. We’re going to change that – and Nick is the perfect person for the job.”

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