Talented Bradford writers producing outstanding theatre

By Dave Baldwin

Tech and media giants are piling billions of dollars into streaming services. Netflix is spending $15bn a year on new content. Apple is committing $6bn to catch up. Disney is joining the fray with its new streaming brand. The fate of all this investment will live or die by the quality of its output. That will be determined by the quality of input. Good writing, in other words.

Bradford offers an astonishingly rich seam of original content. The district is producing some very exciting new writers. BD Stories, presented by theatre company Freedom Studios, perfectly illustrates the point. The double bill of short short plays celebrates the stories and cultures of Bradford. The production is a triumph of emerging writing talent and points to a promising future.

BD Stories

The first play, Number 4, is set in a women’s basketball team and tells a powerful and universal story of friendship, identity, body image and sport. The playwright Asma Elbadawi was born in Sudan and moved to Bradford as a young child. She overcame dyslexia to become a poet, performance artist and writer. She is also a basketball player, coach and global brand ambassador for Adidas.

“Growing up with dyslexia means I had an issue with spelling,” Asma told the BBC. “I would just write the poems and not share them. As I got older, I got the urge to share my work a lot more… Anyone can do those amazing things they see other people do.”

Asma has performed at TEDx Bradford, Bradford Literature Festival, Liverpool Acoustic Festival, Women of the World Festival and London Word of Mouth. She won the 2015 Words First poetry competition in Leeds. Her poetry and interviews have featured on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Channel 4 and Buzzfeed. Number 4 is her first play.

The second play, Pashto Thriller, tells the story of a teenage British-Pakistani girl growing up in Bradford in the 1980s, struggling with having to wear a shalwar kameez at school and harbouring a secret love of Michael Jackson and dancing. When Bibi visits from Pakistan, grandmother and granddaughter find more in common than they thought. It is an exhilarating play; funny, sad and joyful.

It is Aina J Khan’s first play. She moved to Bradford aged 15 and based the story on her and her mother’s experiences. Aina is a journalist and has been published in the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Vogue, Financial Times and Vice. She told The Yorkshire Post: “Within Bradford, there is such a volcano of talent and creativity because there are so many people who are starving to tell their stories because they have been neglected for so long. They have not had the funding and focus that other cities like London have had.”

Both Aina and Asma were associate artists at Freedom Studios, a pioneering theatre company responsible for developing artistic and creative talent in Yorkshire. They were encouraged simply to write about what they wanted to write about. Audiences will agree the results are outstanding. “Significant, important and inspiring”, said writer, critic and BBC presenter Nick Ahad of their work.

Alex Chisolm, co-artistic director, said: “BD Stories came about to bring these two plays to a wider audience in Bradford, an audience that has wholeheartedly embraced both plays. Freedom Studios exists to nurture new talent and new stories and bring them to life with and for communities. Bradford has a richness of stories in all of the connections, and frictions, between its many communities. And it has a wealth of talent to tell those stories to a wider world.”

All this bodes well for our bid to host UK City of Culture in 2025. It shows why Channel 4 chose to set up its new national headquarters on our doorstep. A canny move. Studios looking for the next big streaming hit would do well to look beyond the usual sources for their inspiration. They will find plenty to write home about in Bradford.

Bradford businesses perform well on environmental actions

Circular Yorkshire

The results of the 2019 Leeds City Region (LCR) business survey have recently been published. Among the results, the survey shows that businesses in the Bradford District are performing above the regional average on a number of environmental actions.

More than half of Bradford District businesses said that they operate a recycling scheme and use environmentally friendly technologies or products.

LCR business survey environmental actions
Environmental actions by Bradford business compared with the regional average

A higher than average number of Bradford District businesses also:

  • operate an energy saving scheme
  • operate a water saving scheme
  • operate a waste minimisation scheme
  • use environmentally friendly technologies/products
  • have formal environmental accreditation
  • have taken action to green their supply chain

Across the LCR, businesses undertaking at least one of these environmental actions are more likely to report stronger performance, and growth in employment and turnover.

As an example of a local business improving environmental standards, Texfelt, a company who make carpet underlay from upcycled plastic bottles, have recently invested in a new manufacturing facility in Bradford.

Read the full results of the 2019 LCR business survey on the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership website.

Bradford’s UK City of Culture bid is a sign of increased optimism

Dancers at the Bradford 2025 launch event

By Dave Baldwin

Monty Python was right: always look on the bright side of life. A major US study of more than 70,000 people has confirmed that optimists live longer than those with a negative outlook. The researchers from Boston University also found that positive people were more likely to set themselves goals and believe they would achieve them.

That’s the point I want to make here. To be successful at anything, you must believe in yourself. Bradford’s bid to host the UK City of Culture in 2025 is a sure sign of growing self belief. If you doubt me, have a look at Jack King’s We Are All Bradford film, the first commission for the bid, and feel the sense of confidence and optimism in the way people of all ages and backgrounds are talking about our district.

“It’s a city of constant stimulation… it’s always challenging you and asking you questions… it’s a city of joy and a home away from home… a city of industrial innovation… of creative and artistic innovation… and a city of the world,” according to some of the voices in the film. See it for yourself and share it with your friends.

Winning host status is our goal and we are going all out to achieve it. Businesses have an important role to play. Suzanne Watson, President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said: “We support Bradford’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2025. Businesses know they will be more successful operating in a vibrant, aspirational place. Being UK City of Culture would help us to share more widely the assets and enthusiasm that we see locally.

“I think that the bid process itself will bring in different stakeholders to contribute positively to the campaign and this will highlight some of the very significant gains that Bradford can achieve by being accorded this designation. We already have lots to shout about but being UK City of Culture can help us make a step-change in this area. The bid will demonstrate Bradford’s global connectivity, its strong partnership working and its historical and continuing contributions to the arts, commerce, politics, sport and innovation… to name just a few areas.”

Sandy Needham, Chief Executive at West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, added: “It’s the arts, sport, the environment and people that define the culture of a city. Bradford’s museums, festivals, architecture, sport, international food and young population make it a welcoming place. For many visitors, it exceeds expectations. It’s a good place to start a business too – workspace costs are reasonable, for example, and there’s a growing population.

“Recruitment is a competitive market so being based in a city offering quality of life and cultural activities makes a difference to how attractive jobs are. Initiatives such as our own Bradford Manufacturing Weeks help raise awareness of local career opportunities while businesses in that particular sector are already exporting their products all over the world, and so promoting Bradford.”

Bradford does face extraordinary challenges. But it also presents extraordinary opportunities. I’m an optimist. I believe that if we all work together and get our noses pointing in the same direction, we can achieve great things: whether that’s adding £4bn to our district economy, getting 20,000 extra people into work, raising the skills levels of 48,000 more or winning the bid to host the UK City of Culture in 2025. If there is ever any doubt, give a whistle and remember: always look on the bright side of life.

Business leaders, by their nature, tend to be positive people. Given the constant cut and thrust of running a business, it is essential to see the glass as half full. They can make a big difference to our bid by showing their support. To find out more, I invite them to get in touch with the Bradford Chamber or visit the Bradford 2025 City of Culture website.

Bradford Chamber State of the District business breakfast

The next Bradford Chamber Property Forum and Professional’s Network business breakfast will be held on Wednesday 4 December 2019.

The focus of this ‘State of the District’ event will be:

  • How has Bradford changed in the last 12 months?
  • What improvements have the Bradford District seen in 2019?
  • What challenges and opportunities will we face in the next couple of years?
  • Hear the views of Bradford’s top civic leaders, and put your questions to them on what you’d like to see happen next year.

Who: Dave Baldwin, Chair, Bradford Economic Partnership; Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader, Bradford Council; a senior Bradford police officer (TBC); Roger Thompson, Chair, Bradford Professionals’ Network; Marianne McCallum, Chair, Bradford Property Forum

What: The State of the District – Progress and Potential

When: 8am to 9.45am, Wednesday 4 December 2019

Where: The Hockney Room, Margaret McMillan Tower, Princes Way, Bradford BD1 1NN (the former Central Library)

Cost: £15 Chamber members or £30 non-members (includes VAT)

How to Book: email events@wnychamber.co.uk or phone 01274 206660

Parking: Sharpe Street (behind the National Science & Media Museum), Hall Ings NCP or The Broadway

Education secretary Gavin Williamson backs “excellent” Bradford Manufacturing Weeks initiative

Bradford Manufacturing Weeks

Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson CBE has praised Bradford Manufacturing Weeks as an “excellent” initiative.

Commenting as organisers confirm that more than double the number of manufacturers and schools are involved since the inaugural event in 2018, Mr Williamson said:

“Following on from last year’s success, I know Bradford Manufacturing Weeks can go from strength to strength, with more businesses and young people involved. 

“In my speech to Conservative conference earlier this month, I said how apprenticeships and technical and vocational education are just as important and as valuable as going to university and are just as important to our economy. They can make sure Britain succeeds in the future.

“And it is excellent projects like this that can show young people some of the exciting and valuable opportunities there and give them the belief that with the right help and support they can achieve anything they want.” 

Bradford Manufacturing Weeks is a West and North Yorkshire Chamber initiative, delivered by Bradford Chamber of Commerce. In the second week of its second year, the project is now on track for creating 6,000 work experiences with 65 manufacturers involved, which is double the number of 2018. Forty five secondary schools are also participating in this year’s scheme.

Local employers including Solenis, Acorn Stairlifts, Produmax, Keighley Laboratories and Melrose Interiors are facilitating work placements, school talks and site tours for 14-18-year-old school pupils. Backed by the Bradford Economic Partnership, the initiative is introducing the district’s manufacturers to young people to help boost apprenticeship numbers by creating more inspired, informed and ‘work ready’ applicants into the sector.

The calendar of school and manufacturer events which includes the district’s very first ‘Bradford Apprentices Live’ event and a ‘Driver Awareness Day’ in partnership with West Yorkshire Fire Service and West Yorkshire Police to encourage safe driving among young apprentices, is sponsored by Barclays, Naylor Wintersgill, Gordons LLP, Mitton Group, Dale Carnegie UK, E3 Recruitment, the University of Bradford and Leeds Bradford Airport.

Initiative founder and managing director of Bradford-based laundry detergent manufacturer Christeyns, Nick Garthwaite, said: “It’s fantastic to receive support from the Government which further demonstrates that we are on absolutely the right track with our Bradford Manufacturing Weeks initiative. We have created a model that is working and most importantly, a model which gives young people an insight into the wonderful world of manufacturing and in many cases, it is proving a game changer in their career decision making process.”

Nick added: “That said, businesses, education providers and the Government have a lot more work to do to promote the apprenticeship programmes to make them become an even more attractive option. This is why Bradford Manufacturing Weeks is such an important part of our district’s business calendar and why we intend to grow the participants, the experiences and the momentum in years to come.”

Students and businesses celebrate the start of Bradford Manufacturing Weeks

Bradford Manufacturing Weeks

More than 50 local students, businesses and dignitaries gathered in Bradford for a tour of a 38-acre manufacturing facility to kickstart a fortnight of events for Bradford Manufacturing Weeks 2019.

Attendees at water solutions and chemical manufacturer, Solenis, included 12 students from three schools – Dixons Allerton Academy, Parkside School and Appleton Academy – alongside MP Judith Cummins and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership Chair, Roger Marsh, OBE.

Organisers believe Bradford Manufacturing Weeks is set to provide almost 6,000 manufacturing experiences to pupils of 45 Bradford secondary schools and colleges in the district. More than 65 local manufacturers will facilitate work placements, school talks and site tours for 14-18-year-old school pupils. The initiative, led by Bradford Chamber and backed by the Bradford Economic Partnership, is introducing the district’s manufacturers to young people to help boost apprenticeship numbers by creating more inspired, informed and ‘work ready’ applicants into the sector.

During the launch event, attendees heard about the initiative from founder, Nick Garthwaite, as well as hearing about the Leeds City Region’s support for the district and Bradford Manufacturing Weeks from Roger Marsh.

Addressing the attendees, Roger Marsh said that Bradford Manufacturing Weeks is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the might of manufacturing in the district. He said: “Bradford has a lot to be proud of – we must be positive about what we have to offer. Through engaging young people manufacturers are thinking not only of their employees of today, but also considering their employees of tomorrow.”

Experiencing the vast manufacturing site for themselves, Parkside School student, Albert Lawler said: “I didn’t know what to expect and I have really enjoyed exploring Solenis. This experience has changed my outlook on manufacturing massively in a positive way.”

Dave Calder, site manager at Solenis, said: “We were delighted to host the launch of Bradford Manufacturing Weeks 2019. Having been involved last year, we recognise the importance of showcasing the opportunities available within manufacturing. Over the next two weeks we are offering work experience opportunities and site tours to schools. It’s an amazing initiative that brings together our manufacturing community to help potential future employees realise that there is a vast range of careers available.”

The calendar of school and manufacturer events is a West & North Yorkshire chamber initiative and is sponsored by Barclays, Naylor Wintersgill, Gordons LLP, Mitton Group, Dale Carnegie UK, E3 Recruitment, the University of Bradford and Leeds Bradford Airport.

Of supporting the weeks, Judith Cummins MP said: “I am proud to continue to support this initiative. Bradford Manufacturing Weeks has gone from strength to strength; now involving over 40 Bradford secondary schools and providing over 4000 manufacturing experiences for students. I know how much hard work has gone into organising these two weeks, and I want to congratulate the businesses, schools and students involved.”

Nick Garthwaite, founder of Bradford Manufacturing Weeks and managing director of international chemicals and detergents manufacturer Christeyns said: “It was fantastic to kick start the weeks at one of Bradford’s many magnificent manufacturing sites. It is thanks to employers like Solenis that we are on target to hit 6,000 experiences for young people this year, which is more than double what we achieved last year.”

He added: “I can’t wait to hear about the experiences and outcomes of the next two weeks – I hope Bradford’s manufacturers are ready for an influx of apprenticeship applications!”

Bradford Manufacturing Weeks 2019 runs from the 7–18 October. For more information and to register for key events see the Bradford Manufacturing Weeks website and for regular updates follow @Bradfordmfg on Twitter.

University of Bradford leads the way on social inclusion

University of Bradford

By Dave Baldwin

Strong cities need strong institutions and when a leading example is singled out for its excellence, it strengthens the standing of the city overall. Step forward University of Bradford, named by The Sunday Times as the UK’s University of the Year for Social Inclusion 2020.

The national award recognises the anchor institution’s outstanding impact on social inclusion that ensures all students, irrespective of their personal circumstances, are supported to achieve their potential and go on to achieve success. It’s a perfect illustration of the transformational work taking place in our district.

Alastair McCall, editor of The Sunday Times Good University Guide, said: “Bradford is a university for its city and the wider region and it offers lessons to the rest of British higher education on how to effectively embrace social diversity on campus.

“By recruiting very heavily from its immediate environs, Bradford has one of the largest proportions of students from ethnic minorities of any British university, but its social diversity extends wider and makes the new vice-chancellor’s stated desire to put the University of Bradford at the heart of the region’s social and economic regeneration no hollow ambition.

“The university provides opportunities for a higher education that are denied to so many elsewhere: two-thirds of the intake come from families where parents did not attend university; 40 per cent are mature students taking degrees many years after leaving school; and more than half are recruited from the four poorest socio-economic groups.

“These statistics show that social inclusiveness in the student body is ingrained in Bradford’s DNA. And it is all achieved with high levels of professional employment and excellent degree outcomes for students from all backgrounds – a remarkable achievement and one well deserving the award of University of the Year for Social Inclusion.”

Professor Shirley Congdon, who took over as vice chancellor in August after serving as deputy since 2015, is rightly delighted with this richly deserved reward. She is a great role model for young people in our district and has spoken of how she wants to use her position to promote equality and diversity and challenge the structural issues in society that hold people back.

Shirley started out working as a nurse and went into academia as a lecturer practitioner. She focused on health and social care studies and progressed into senior management posts in higher education. Shirley said: “Along the way, I came across people who questioned the value of my route into the university sector or brought attention to my County Durham accent.

“The University of Bradford can contribute significantly more to improving social mobility in society and will take a solid and consistent approach to this mission. We need more diverse people in more senior roles across the board.”

The university is central to developing Bradford’s future success stories. You don’t have to look far to find inspiring examples of social mobility in action. Take Maria Battul, who is studying International Relations and Security Studies and was Women’s and Campaign Officer for the students’ union last year.

Maria said: “I’ve been brought up in a single parent family so I’ve seen the struggles of my own mother and I’ve also seen other experiences of the women around me. I’m pushing for women to actually enter leadership roles. This is by the formation of a committee that I’ve created this year. It’s for women to lead and do activities and other events that they’d like to do. It’s all based around female students participating in leadership roles and empowering themselves.”

Xander Ford was the first person in his family to study at university. He graduated from Bradford in July with a first-class honours degree in Graphics for Games. He said: “I guess I could be described as a storyteller, artist, I don’t know. I enjoy just talking about things. I like making games and stories and telling those stories. I think it’s really cool.” Perfect skills for the UK City of Culture 2025.

There will be many thousands more like Maria and Xander out there. It’s our job to encourage them to realise their potential. Their achievements show their families, friends and communities what is possible when you set yourself a goal and work towards it.

Shirley and her team are building a powerful alliance with partners in schools, colleges, businesses, the local authority and health and care providers to support inclusion and reduce inequality. Winning this award is a great recognition of the progress already made and the foundations that have been put in place in Bradford to help people succeed in life, whatever their background.