International relations

We have a vibrant history of partnerships with cities across the world. 

For over 50 years we have built close relationships, learned from each other and promoted international understanding and friendship. These activities have been diverse and developed Leeds’ position as an international city.

Our international activity includes:

  • exchanges with Leeds’ partner cities
  • projects with other international partners
  • involvement in European and international networks of local governments

To learn more, select one of our partner cities below to read a summary of our history and activities.

Lille, France

Leeds and Lille became partner cities in 1968 as part of post-war efforts to nurture peace between the nations of Europe. With regular exchanges between young people, academics and businesses, the partnership with Lille is now one of Leeds’ most active city twinnings.       

The two cities are, for example, continually working together on youth and education projects to address common challenges faced by modern European cities. One of them was the CIVIC project (Citizen¬ship In action through the Voice and Influence of Children) which explored and developed the engagement and support of children’s citizenship with three primary schools in Leeds and three in Lille.       

Other than that, Lille and Leeds have increasingly been working together in the field of culture over the last years as Lille shared its knowledge about the European Capital of Culture competition with Leeds. Although the UK cities can no longer bid for the title, the commitment to transform Leeds through an international year of culture in 2023 is standing strong. While a lot of the learning is shared mainly between the local governments of the two cities, there are also creative projects and artists residencies happening as part of the Leeds-Lille partnership. Maybe you have come across one of Les Rencontres’ illuminations at Light Night Leeds already?       


Dortmund, Germany

After World War II, cities all over Europe, particularly in Germany, France and the UK, started twinnings to nurture international understanding on a people to people level and to build peace between the nations of Europe. The partnership between Leeds and Dortmund, dating back to 1969, has been driven by the same motivation and to this day it continues to focus on the themes of peace, tolerance, democracy and citizenship.       

In the field of football, for example, Leeds United helped the BVB Borussia Dortmund to develop a community hub for children and young people to learn about the dangers of radicalism and excluding others. Dortmund’s heart beats for football and being a BVB supporter is more than just being the fan of a club, so their community hub and its youth development work are now vital to shaping the future of their club.       

Outside the world of football, there are also regular exchanges between Leeds and Dortmund that revisit the core themes of the city twinning. The City of Dortmund has, for instance, repeatedly invited young people from all its partner cities to join a week long exchange, the Democracy Days, that runs parallel to DortBUNT!, a festival of diversity and tolerance, to explore citizenship and the voice and influence of young people.       


Siegen, Germany

In 1966, Siegen and the former county borough of Morley signed a twinning agreement as part of post-war efforts to grow international understanding and peace in Europe. When Morley became part of Leeds in 1974, Leeds honoured this partnership and committed to continuing the exchange.       

The partnership with Siegen is strongly community-led, especially by the Morley Circle in Siegen and the Siegen Circle in Morley, voluntary groups which pro¬mote grass root links between the cities.       

A particularly successful exchange is that with Haus Herbstzeitlos, a centre for senior citizens in Siegen. In 2001, a group of elderly residents from Morley first visited Haus Herbstzeitlos, initiating regular exchange visits. However, it took a few years before the first group of Germans came to Leeds because they wanted to learn English first. When language lessons were advertised at Haus Herbstzeitlos, 120 older people turned up and, continuing to this day, the students of these English lessons form the core of the Siegen group involved in the exchange with Morley. Any remaining lack of a common language is being overcome with smiles, gestures and goodwill!       


Hangzhou, China

The partnership between Leeds and Hangzhou dates back to 1988-89 when city twinnings with China were encouraged by the British government in an effort to strengthen ties with this emerging nation.       

Relationships, contacts and networks (Chinese: guangxi) are an important factor in influencing decisions in China, both in government and business circles. For this reason, Leeds’ serious attitude to building relationships with China over a number of years has been a critical factor in the Chinese Olympic Committee’s decision to use Leeds as their pre-Olympic training camp for the London 2012 Olympics.       

In China, Hangzhou is known as the “City of Heaven” for its rich cultural heritage and the scenic beauty of the West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. The city also hosts the National Silk Museum and the National Tea Museum, both of great significance for all of China.       

Besides its rich heritage, Hangzhou is also looking ahead and leading in the following:       

  • e-commerce
  • the Internet of Things and smart city development
  • IT products
  • biomedicine
  • advanced manufacturing

Thanks to these industries, Hangzhou has been experiencing accelerated economic growth and business links between Leeds and Hangzhou have been developing alongside the rapid transformation of the city.       


Brno, Czech Republic

​Leeds and Brno have been partner cities since 1991. While there are exchanges between cultural organisations and the universities of both cities, the partnership with Brno is strongly focused on the exchange of best practice between the local governments. Over the years, Leeds and Brno have shared their knowledge and practices in a number of areas including:       

  • finance
  • scrutiny
  • education
  • communication
  • waste management
  • fair trade
  • human resources

Today, Leeds City Council Children’s Services are strongly involved in this city partnership, because both cities are keen to learn from each other about issues that concern children and young people and their families. Brno, for example, was keen to learn how Leeds is working restoratively with families and children in care. Besides, the cities have worked together on several projects around the integration of ethnic minorities and Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities in Brno and Leeds.       

The partnership with Brno, however, is not limited to inter-government exchanges. In the past, many Leeds organisations have worked with Brno, especially on the following:       

  • cultural and artistic projects such as street theatre
  • comic art
  • film festivals and cinema
  • university research around Modernist architecture and conservation

Durban, South Africa

Leeds and Durban became partner cities in 1998 making the twinning a strong expression of solidarity with South Africa during its liberation following decades of anti-apartheid struggles. Against this backdrop, the exchange with Durban has often focused on:       

  • citizenship
  • democracy
  • the voice and influence of children
  • cultural diversity
  • empowerment

Over the years, Leeds and Durban have worked on a great number of diverse projects including:       

  • community safety projects
  • gardening workshops to support food security
  • youth exchanges in sports and music
  • school partnerships and teacher exchanges promoting cultural diversity
  • university exchanges sharing best practice on curricula and bursaries

In the early 2000s, Leeds City Council’s Sport Development Unit and the Faculty of Sport of what was Leeds Metropolitan University shared their work with Sports Development Officers from Durban. Together they developed a scheme for university students to volunteer with eThekwini Municipality, the local authority of Durban. To this day, sports students from Leeds Beckett University have the opportunity to join this annual programme for a first hand experience of our partner city Durban.