2019: a brilliant year for the Bradford District

One City Park artist's impression

By Dave Baldwin

Looking back, it’s been a brilliant year for Bradford. To prove the point, this week’s column highlights some of the success stories that emerged from our diverse district during 2019. Taken together, they demonstrate our social, economic and cultural renaissance is gathering pace.

In January, new figures from the Centre for Entrepreneurs foundation showed that 4,127 businesses were born in Bradford in 2018, the equivalent of 15 new start-ups every working day. Who knows what wonders are being dreamed up on our doorsteps?

We have the entrepreneurs; we just need to back them with investment in infrastructure. In February, Transport for the North published its strategy for the next three decades. It singled out the impact that Northern Powerhouse Rail would have on Bradford, home to half a million people and the fifth largest economy in the North, currently worth £10.5bn. It says NPR is “central to unlocking opportunity and transformational growth in Bradford”. Too right.

March marked the first anniversary of the launch of our economic growth plan. We are making strong progress in attracting new investors, starting up and scaling up businesses, building new partnerships and bringing more people into the workforce. We have seen a private sector jobs boom of 6,500 new roles; we have broken through the 20,000 barrier in the number of BME women in employment, almost double the amount since 2010; and we have seen an inflation-busting seven per cent increase in average weekly workplace earnings.

Aside, I loved the headline in The Times, “Who needs London, Paris or Monte Carlo, when you’ve got Bradford?” Okay, it was only a Giles Coren restaurant review but we’ll take the glowing national coverage as an example of the positive momentum we’re gaining as a district.

PwC, the global accountancy giant, unveiled its new national assurance centre in Bradford in May. Speaking at the launch, Judith Cummins, MP for Bradford South, said: “This is a really exciting time in Bradford and the opening of this office means new jobs, new investment and a boost to Bradford’s profile right across the city and the country. I know that PwC’s decision is a recognition of the significant commercial opportunity that Bradford offers.”

Bradford Literature Festival returned in June with a stellar line-up featuring 500 writers and 400 events across 10 days. That Habib Ali al-Jifri, an internationally-renowned Islamic scholar, and Luke Goss, one half of 80s pop band Bros and now LA-based actor, were among the hottest tickets summed up the sheer excellence of our very own world-class festival.

We all know it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, especially when the odds are stacked against you. Lillian Armitage had plenty and more than a century after she was jailed for her part in the suffragette movement, a Bradford street was named after her in July. It’s great that our district is celebrating the contributions of women like Lillian through a new campaign called Pioneering Bradford Lasses.

England went cricket mad in the summer and homegrown heroes Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid became national heroes for their part in the miraculous Cricket World Cup victory. In August, I wrote about Adil’s visit to his local mosque in Bradford to meet overjoyed cricket supporters. He said: “They’re seeing someone from this area who has made something for themselves and achieved something massive. If I can be an inspiration to the youngsters – or anyone for that matter – then I have done my job.”

In September, we launched Bradford’s bid to host the UK City of Culture in 2025. Our district is undergoing substantial regeneration. Business and civic leaders are working together for the greater good. Bradford is brimming with new talent. We have the infrastructure to stage an ambitious programme of international events. People are seeing us in a different way. Being host city would be brilliant for Bradford.

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 in October as the UK’s University of the Year for Social Inclusion 2020. It’s a perfect illustration of the transformational work taking place across our district.

Bradford Manufacturing Weeks was a soaraway success. Delivered by Bradford Chamber of Commerce, this year’s initiative created an estimated 5,000 work experiences with 65 manufacturers involved, double the number of 2018’s inaugural programme. As well as helping boost apprenticeship numbers, the scheme gives young people a glimpse of the inspiring, innovative and rewarding enterprises creating wealth and prosperity across our district.

In November, Bradford was crowned Britain’s Most Improved City in an influential annual report on economic wellbeing following a record reduction in unemployment and significant growth in skills. The nationwide study, Good Growth for Cities 2019 by think tank Demos, measured the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities against a range of 10 priorities including jobs, health, income, skills, work-life balance, housing affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups. 

As I write, Bradford Council has announced Muse as its development partner for One City Park, a new state-of-the-art office building at the city centre’s award-winning City Park and the next step in the ongoing growth and regeneration of the entire district. All in all, I am delighted but not surprised at Bradford’s successes over the last year. It shows what can happen when you get everyone’s noses pointing in the same direction. See you in 2020.

New state-of-the-art office building planned for Bradford

One City Park artist's impression

One City Park, a new state-of-the-art office building in Bradford city centre’s award-winning City Park, will be developed in partnership with Muse Developments as one of a raft of new regeneration projects announced by Bradford Council.

Looking out across City Park and its popular Mirror Pool to the iconic City Hall, the innovative development will combine 9,100 sq m of commercial space with 5,240 sq m of Grade A office accommodation. The building will be BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rated, ensuring it is environmentally sustainable and makes it a great place for people to work.

Bradford Council Leader Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe said: “One City Park is the next step in the growth and regeneration of the whole district – it’s a game-changing city centre development, both for the local economy and environmentally.

“It will transform the commercial office market to meet the aspirations of existing and new businesses. And the sustainable design specifications are absolutely in line with the Council’s commitment in January 2019 to doing its utmost to tackle the global climate emergency.

“The appointment of award-winning developer Muse to design and build One City Park is yet another firm indicator that Bradford – city and district – is on the way up. Building on the success of City Park and the progress of Bradford Live, it’s a further indication that the UK’s youngest city, with its entrepreneurial spirit, is recognised by the wider business community as a place where they want to, and can, do business and that we are a council which supports them to do that.”

David Wells, regional director for Yorkshire and the North East at Muse Developments, said: “We’re delighted to have been selected by Bradford Council to deliver this exciting and innovative scheme, and we look forward to working closely with both the Council and the wider community in the coming months.

“This development will form an important part of the Council’s city centre masterplan and we will be delivering a best-in-class destination that attracts new occupiers to Bradford and reinforces the city centre as a fantastic location for business.”

Subject to planning, work will begin on site in 2021 with expected completion in 2023.

In recent years the success of City Park as a city centre focal point for residents and visitors, particularly in summer, and the opening of the Broadway shopping centre have been a springboard for significant public and private sector investment in the district. They have helped to raise the bar and change perceptions about the city centre, which supports the aspirations of the Bradford District Economic Strategy.

PwC have opened a new office in the city and NEC will run the 4,000 capacity Bradford Live music and entertainment venue once the former Odeon has been redeveloped. Meanwhile, New College Bradford is open, bringing more young people into the city centre; St George’s Hall has been superbly refurbished; and the Council’s district growth schemes are supporting smaller enterprises to start up and expand, while townscape heritage schemes and rail station improvements are making the district’s town centres more attractive and accessible.

Not for nothing has the district been named as best place to start a business by Barclays, the most improved city to live and work in the PwC/Demos Good Growth Index and, most recently, was in the top five places to run a business.

Cllr Hinchcliffe added: “In addition to today’s brilliant One City Park announcement we have a host of other project milestones to look forward to in 2020. Work on Bradford Live in the former Odeon will start in the summer, as will demolition of the buildings on Darley Street that will make way for our £21m new market project. Projects in partnership with West Yorkshire Combined Authority such as improvements to both city centre rail stations, the current phase of housing on site at New Bolton Woods urban village and transport schemes for Hard Ings Road and Harrogate Road/New Line at Greengates are also coming to fruition.

“We have put in an £80m bid to the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund to improve transport links across the city, including a new Park and Ride at the top of the M606, modernisation of Bradford Interchange and a cycleway connecting the city centre with Thornton. At the same time we are developing plans to make the most of Stronger Towns funding for Keighley and Shipley.

“We are also determined to progress our City Village plans to develop Bradford city centre as an exemplar residential community, and we are supporting culture in the district, including a City of Culture 2025 bid, as an area in the local economy where we want to encourage growth.

“All these projects reflect the commitment we and our partners have to deliver better growth and increased prosperity that everyone in the district can share in – truly inclusive growth. The budget proposals and capital programme we are also announcing today reflect this commitment by providing investment to support growth while, at the same time, addressing the climate emergency and safeguarding the future wellbeing of our most vulnerable residents.”

Bradford Council is also supporting other new regeneration projects including:

  • a bid for the Transforming Cities Fund
  • improvements to Bradford’s train stations
  • Bradford Live, a world-class entertainment facility
  • transformation of Bradford’s markets
  • a vibrant new urban village
  • refurbishment of historic properties and public spaces
  • business growth schemes
  • development of a former woollen mill into 109 high quality apartments

Introducing the new Bradford 2025 director

Bradford Bid director

By Dave Baldwin

If I’m asked why Bradford is bidding to host the UK City of Culture in 2025, my answer is simple. There is no better candidate. Winning this status would accelerate the regeneration of our district and bring major social and economic benefits to our people. Even the process of putting together the bid over the next two years will help bring the city together as part of our longer-term cultural strategy.

Here are some facts and figures in support of our story. Bradford is the sixth largest city in the UK. It is a city of great architecture – you can call it ‘good bone structure’ – and rich cultural heritage. We have a powerful and dynamic business community with some truly innovative companies. But 60 per cent of our population live in the poorest 20 per cent of wards in England and Wales. And nearly one third – 32 per cent – of our children live in poverty.

We have to turn this around for the sake of the generations to follow. We are making excellent progress in our economic strategy, as evidenced by being named Britain’s Most Improved City in a recent report from think tank Demos and accountancy giant PwC, which emphasised our strong growth in jobs and skills. We know that significant challenges remain, not least that Bradford is often misunderstood as a city and stereotyped by the media. We need to change these perceptions and rekindle the pride of our people.

Our ambition to host the UK City of Culture is part of this wider strategy and has marked an important milestone with the appointment of a full-time director to lead the campaign. Richard Shaw is a highly experienced arts and media professional with a strong track record in public engagement, broadcasting, management and marketing. He has held senior marketing, development and production roles at world-class organisations including the British Film Institute, the National Theatre, English National Ballet and Lion Television.

We are delighted to welcome him to Bradford and I know he will be inspired by the awesome potential of our district. Richard, who was born in Yorkshire and attended Hull University, said: “The bid for the UK City of Culture title is a huge opportunity for Bradford to shout proudly about its extraordinary cultural heritage and to celebrate the new generation of artists, musicians, writers, performers, producers, entrepreneurs and businesses that bring this great city to life today.

“I’m enormously excited to be coming back to live in Yorkshire and to help work on a bold, distinctive and genuinely inclusive bid. We need to capture as many voices as we have across the district to find themes and stories about Bradford, its people and its place in the UK to make a compelling case to the judges. And as Europe’s youngest city, Bradford’s young voices will be instrumental in helping shape our vision.”

With more than 140 languages spoken in our district and a rich diversity of ethnic backgrounds, Bradford’s stories can resonate with audiences across the world. Led by Richard, I am sure the bid team will put together a knockout package for the 2021 deadline. The size of overall prize is worth highlighting: the most recent UK City of Culture, Hull, counted £676m worth of new public and private investment as the economic legacy of its host status in 2017. With a population nearly twice the size of Hull, Bradford could become the first City of Culture to generate a billion pound dividend for its people.

We have to be ambitious. There is so much talent bursting out of our district. Harnessing that potential and putting it under a spotlight will reap incredible rewards and inspire countless young people to go for it. We have some great role models. People like AA Dhand, the crime writer who has just announced his first short film, ‘No Ordinary Life’, which will be premiered at next year’s Bradford Literature Festival, or Sonya Whitworth, managing director of Shipley-based assessment technology provider BTL Group, who has just beaten representatives of some of the biggest global brands to take home silver at the prestigious Stevie business awards in New York. As I said at the outset, there is no better candidate to host the UK City of Culture in 2025.

Bradford is one of the best places to run a business

Design Exchange building in Bradford

By Dave Baldwin

Bradford is one of the best places in Britain to run a business, according to new research into the key factors for economic success. The district makes fourth place in a national ranking, behind only London, Kirklees and Leeds, based on evidence from a variety of metrics linked to setting up and running businesses.

These “magic ingredients” include commercial property rental values, parking spaces, government finance and support schemes, broadband speed, 4G coverage, unemployment rates, quality of life, population aged between 18-34, annual gross pay, number of arts, entertainment and recreation services and professional, scientific and technical businesses per 1,000 18-34 year-olds. Bradford fares strongly on all fronts.

The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which carried out the research, singled out the low price of rent (£15 per sq ft) and parking for businesses (£3.34 per day) in Bradford, providing significant cost advantages for businesses. The study also highlighted the number of government funding schemes available for businesses. Bradford has six.

Notably, the district ranked highly for quality of life, based on official statistics for areas such as health, relationships, education and skills, what we do, where we live, our finances and the environment. Bradford was fourth in the table in the ONS measure of wellbeing.

Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the LEP, said: “This research confirms what we always knew to be true, Bradford is a great place to run a business. There is a lot of bespoke support and funding available through the LEP for Bradford businesses owners, and I encourage them to get in touch.”

The LEP research adds to Bradford’s growing reputation as a city bouncing back after some difficult years. Last month, Bradford was named Britain’s most improved city in a nationwide study by think tank Demos and accountancy giant PwC. The Good Growth for Cities index measured the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities against a range of 10 priorities including jobs, health, income, skills, work-life balance, housing affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups.

The Demos-PwC report singled out Bradford for the largest improvement in the jobs score of any city in the UK between 2015 and 2018 with unemployment falling from 10 per cent to 4.1 per cent over the period. It also showed how more than 43 per cent of adults held at least an NVQ level 3 qualification in 2018, compared to 39 per cent in 2015.

Both studies carry echoes of the Barclays report from late 2017 which identified Bradford as the best place in Britain to start a business on the basis of SME growth factors including business rate relief, infrastructure, broadband speed and labour productivity.

The changing narrative is attracting attention and not just in the national media. (Recent Guardian headline: ‘Beautiful Bradford: 15 great reasons to visit the UK’s most-improved city’.) New investors are buying into our growth story. PwC opened its new national assurance centre in the city centre earlier this year, describing Bradford as “the obvious choice”. NEC Group has taken over the Bradford Odeon and is transforming it into a 4,000 capacity venue to open in 2020-21 under the name Bradford Live. Channel 4 is opening its new national headquarters on our doorstep in a nod to the young and diverse talent in our district. And new businesses are starting up all over the place. Last year, Bradford had more than 4,100 new company registrations.

We know that challenges remain. Success does not come overnight. But we have a clear economic growth strategy, which aims to add £4bn to the district economy, generate 20,000 new jobs and improve the skills of nearly 50,000 residents by 2030. We have been making good progress against these targets and we acknowledge important external validation along the way. We know Bradford is a great place to start and grow a company. Our businesses get a bang for their buck. And it’s catching on.

Shipley managing director wins silver at the Stevie Awards in New York

Salts Mill

The Managing Director of Shipley’s BTL Group Ltd., Sonya Whitworth, beat representatives of some of the biggest global brands on the international stage to take home silver at the world’s premier business awards in New York.

Sonya was the only UK finalist in the ‘Female Executive of the Year – Business Products – 11-2,500 Employees’ category at the 2019 International Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

This well-deserved achievement is in recognition of Sonya’s fantastic leadership at BTL, and the inspiration and encouragement she provides to her colleagues. It is also further recognition of BTL’s progress on the international scene.

On returning from the awards ceremony, Sonya gave her thanks to family and colleagues, commenting:

“It was fantastic to be part of such a great event, and I was honoured to be amongst so many successful businesswomen. This kind of achievement doesn’t happen without the support of some amazing people. My husband and children have always been highly supportive of my work. My fellow board members are a true inspiration and I continue to learn so much from all of them. Most importantly, is the support of the BTL team. They are such a talented and committed set of people, and without them I would not have achieved such international recognition.”

Company Chair Bob Gomersall said:

“BTL has grown dramatically since Sonya became Managing Director. This is largely due to her style of leadership, a respected personality and her enthusiasm for the business. The Stevie Awards are the world’s premier business awards and this provides international recognition for a Yorkshire-based leader and also for the company that she leads. We hope this provides an inspiration for the region.”

Established in 1985, BTL Group Ltd. has grown into a renowned global provider of assessment technology and services trusted by some of the world’s highest profile providers of high-stakes summative assessments. It serves the Surpass Community from offices in the UK (trading as BTL) and in the United States (trading as BTL Surpass Inc.)

Since 2007, BTL’s core focus has been the development of its award-winning Assessment Platform, Surpass. Surpass is considered to be one of the best solutions available and is used internationally to create, deliver and mark over 3 million computer-based tests every year.

Civic leaders putting Bradford’s name up in lights

City Park illuminated at dusk

By Dave Baldwin

Feel the fear and do it anyway. That was the motto followed by Suzanne Watson when she left a secure job in journalism to go solo as a freelancer. Everything had changed with motherhood. Suzanne still wanted a fulfilling career but also wanted flexibility so she could be there as a parent. She decided that being her own boss was the best way to take control and create the balance she needed. “It was the scariest leap,” said Suzanne as she set out in business in her own. And so Approach PR was born.

Suzanne recalled her formative years as a public relations entrepreneur in her president’s speech at the Bradford Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner and highlighted the vital importance of companies like hers in generating real wealth and prosperity in communities up and down the country.

“In 18 years, Approach has worked with UK and international businesses and brands, survived one credit crunch, had six different offices and won 26 industry awards. Today, 100 per cent of our clients are Yorkshire-based and 54 per cent of these are based in Bradford,” she told the packed hall at the Midland Hotel.

“Micro businesses like Approach make up 88 per cent of Bradford’s business community. And while micro businesses aren’t considered ‘high growth’, we have turned over £3.5m and provided employment for 30 local people over the last 18 years. Not record breaking, but difference making. Because if local businesses succeed, we all succeed through employment, inward investment, transport improvements and confidence.”

Suzanne added that confidence, alongside community, friendship, trust and camaraderie, are the qualities that help company directors navigate the complexities of life in business, paying tribute to the steadfast character of the chamber in politically uncertain times. Through the membership organisation, Bradford is fighting to keep Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 on track and trying to unpick the devolution deadlock and free up funding and controls for the region.

Challenges aside, we are making great progress as a district, demonstrated by confident initiatives such as the Bradford Literature Festival, the bid for UK City of Culture 2025 and Bradford Manufacturing Weeks (plural). The recent Demos-PwC report which identified Bradford as Britain’s Most Improved City delivered great external validation for our strengthening economy, based on a record reduction in unemployment and significant growth in skills.

As we welcome a new civic leader in Suzanne, we also express our gratitude to another individual who has served our district with distinction. A decade ago, Bradford trumped Los Angeles, Cannes and Venice to be named the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. This was in recognition of our long history with the industry dating back to the birth of cinema, inspirational locations and many celebrations of the moving image. For the last 10 years, Bradford City of Film has been chaired by Steve Abbott, who led the successful bid for the international designation.

As well as providing locations, crew and support to film and TV productions including Peaky Blinders, The ABC Murders and Victoria, the organisation has been a global beacon of best practice for using culture to drive social and economic development. Bradford is widely respected for its knowledge and expertise in this area and shares its experiences through its membership of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, a group of 246 locations which place creativity and the creative economy at the core of urban development plans to make cities safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable.

Bradford City of Film has forged close links with Qingdao, a growing movie production hub, and helped it become China’s first City of Film in 2017. The University of Bradford has launched an animation degree course in partnership with Qingdao University of Science and Technology which started teaching this year. Bradford has strong connections with Bollywood too. The film Gold was shot in the city last year with Indian megastar Akshay Kumar who tweeted to his 32m followers about his “great time” and “wonderful experience” in Bradford.

Many of these successes can be traced back to Steve Abbott and his team. Steve, who grew up in Barkerend, attended Bradford Grammar School and went on to produce films including A Fish Called Wanda and Brassed Off and Michael Palin’s much-loved TV travel shows, is standing down as chairman to make way for “younger and more diverse blood”. We should pay tribute to men and women like Steve and Suzanne for their stellar commitment to the district. They are putting Bradford’s name up in lights.