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Photography by Larissa Craig and MJ Smith

Sir Richard Leese was elected to Manchester City Council in 1984 and became leader in 1996. He was also the appointed Deputy Mayor, leading on business and economy issues. He was responsible for overseeing the regeneration of the Manchester following the IRA bomb in 1996 and has a reputation for ‘getting things done'.

Born in 1951, he was brought up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. After graduating in Mathematics at the University of Warwick, he worked as a maths teacher in Coventry – with a spell as an exchange teacher in the USA – before then moving to Manchester to take up a post as a youth worker. He was employed in various roles including youth work, community work, and education research between 1979 – 1988.

Richard was elected as a Labour councillor to Manchester City Council in 1984 and was its deputy leader from 1990, before becoming leader in 1996.

Sir Richard speaking in the council chamber (Photo by Joel Goodman)


Openness, tolerance and a ‘can do’ attitude sums up the Mancunian spirit.


My future vision for the city is a model for what 21st century living should be like for everybody.

Early in his leadership, Richard oversaw the major 10-year programme of regeneration of Manchester City Centre following the IRA bomb in 1996 – being awarded a CBE in 2001 and then a knighthood for “services to local government” in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

In the wake of the transformation of the city centre, He was heavily involved in the successful bid to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games, helping to drive the wide-scale regeneration of east Manchester.

Often cited as one of the most powerful Labour politicians in the country, Richard was influential in informing the national debate on devolution and is a passionate supporter of the High Speed Rail (HS2) scheme and the electrification of the Trans Pennine rail routes as a key driver for economic growth in the North.

Richard stood down from his role as Leader of Manchester City Council in December 2021. He had been mulling over the move for several years, considering a range of factors, not least the intensity of the job and a wish to spend more time with his young grandchildren.


THE SHOOT: St Peter's Square, Manchester

The civic spaces adjacent to the town hall


Student reflection: Larissa Craig


“The prospect of photographing Sir Richard Leese seemed a daunting challenge. I assumed a man with such an important job might be quite serious and in a bit of a rush – the experience was quite the opposite. Richard was very accommodating, relaxed and happy to be directed. He was very interested in the project and asked about my future ambitions in photography. The front of Manchester Town Hall was the most obvious starting point for the photography, but Albert Square was being used as part of the Manchester International Festival (MIF) so we opted to re-locate to St Peter’s Square for the shoot. The sunny weather meant we had to position Richard carefully to avoid harsh shadows and high contrast, this I think we did successfully. My favourite character study is the image I took of Richard smiling naturally looking off camera as a Piccadilly bound tram moves through the shot. The whole experience of working with Richard, while having to think on my feet was invaluable”.


Larissa, Richard & MJ

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