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.

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.

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. 

Bradford is the ‘most improved’ place in the UK

Bradford City Park

By Dave Baldwin

A record reduction in unemployment and significant growth in skills have helped Bradford to claim the title of Britain’s most improved city in an influential annual report on economic wellbeing.

The nationwide study, Good Growth for Cities 2019 by think tank Demos and accountancy firm PwC, measures 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. 

For the fourth year running, Oxford and Reading have been named the top-performing cities, followed by Southampton in third place. But Bradford emerged as this year’s top improver, driven by jobs, work-life balance and skills among those aged 25 and over.

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.

Despite the standout jobs performance, challenges remain in Bradford. The report identified how incomes in general and skills among 16-24 year-olds fell over the period. But it pointed out that improvements in these two variables could see the city move further up the index in coming years.

Ben Glover, senior researcher at Demos, said: “Our research shows we have a positive story to tell about our cities: three-quarters have experienced an improvement in their index score this year. We are delighted to see the great city of Bradford crowned this year’s top improver, largely due to an impressive fall in its unemployment rate.

“But in Bradford and beyond, city leaders cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Our research finds declining scores for housing affordability, home ownership and health. Failure to tackle these issues will act as a real constraint on these cities in the future.

“This will require local policymakers to find new ways of putting local people at the heart of decision making, recognising they don’t have all the answers themselves. Only then will the power of our communities be harnessed, allowing our cities to reach their full potential.”

Every city in the UK faces challenges, wherever they are in their arc of development. In the study, higher performing places demonstrated declines in housing affordability and owner occupation – described as the “price of success” – while lower performing cities saw falls in health, work-life balance and transport scores.

Still, the Demos-PwC report made brilliant headlines for Bradford and provided further evidence for those outside the district we are bouncing back to the big league after some difficult years. Dr Zulficar Ali, of the Sweet Centre, told the BBC that while the textile mills have largely gone, a new breed of entrepreneur is now emerging in the city. (Indeed, there were 4,127 new start-ups in Bradford in 2018.)

“The changes have uplifted the city hugely. It’s a vibrant city, a cultural capital. It’s a great place to live and work and there’s such a great potential,” added Dr Ali, whose famous Manningham restaurant was founded by his family in 1964.

The Guardian pitched in with a guide of the best things to see and do in Bradford, including visits to the Prashad, Karachi and Waterside Bistro restaurants, Bradford Literature Festival, National Science and Media Museum, The Brick Box, Haworth, Saltaire, Salts Mill, North Parade, Common Wealth Theatre, The 1 In 12 Club, Fuse Art Galley, South Square and Kirkgate Centre.

Catherine Riley, manager of the Kirkgate Shopping Centre and a member of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce 2019 leadership group, told the BBC: “Our UK Capital of Culture bid in 2025 is coming and will improve the perception of the city. There’s a growing feel-good factor.”

There certainly is. We are delighted that the underlying social and economic progress has been highlighted in the Demos-PwC report. It follows big votes of confidence in our district from the likes of NEC, Channel 4 and PwC itself, which opened a new assurance centre in Bradford earlier this year. We want everybody in the city to have the chance to succeed, whatever their background. We don’t want anybody to be left behind as our district rises up the rankings.

Bradford businesses supporting the circular economy

Circular Yorkshire

By Dave Baldwin

She dreamed of being sailor as a young girl and saved her school lunch money to buy her first boat. Dame Ellen MacArthur made sailing history in 2005 when she set the solo speed record for circumnavigating the world. During the 71-day, 27,000-mile voyage, the yachtswoman experienced a powerful realisation, one that would change the course of her life.

In an interview with The Guardian, she recalled: “I remember quite poignantly writing in the log on the boat; ‘What I have got on the boat is everything’. It really struck me that you save everything, everything you have, because you know it’s finite, you know there isn’t any more. What you have on that boat is it, your entire world.”

Dame Ellen added: “The basis of my thinking was completely around resources. It was around the pure fact – stemming from what I had learned on the boat – that resources are finite. The more I learned, I just saw this as the greatest challenge I had ever come across. If we are using these resources in a very linear fashion we are going to use them up at some stage, and no one knows exactly when.”

With this acute awareness of the limitations of the widespread linear approach to resources, she launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to develop a sustainable alternative known as the circular economy, based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

The University of Bradford has worked closely with Dame Ellen since the launch of her foundation nearly a decade ago. The foundation helps businesses and organisations to accelerate the transition to a more regenerative economic model and has published a series of seminal studies on the business case for the circular economy, winning accolades from the World Economic Forum and helping to shape government policy.

In partnership with the foundation and businesses including B&Q, BT, Cisco, Renault and National Grid, the university introduced the world’s first circular economy MBA in 2011, equipping students and their sponsoring bodies with the skills to use resources and energy more effectively, reuse products and materials and deliver increased profits. The foundation recognised Bradford’s world-leading expertise in the field with Pioneer University status, a big deal for the institution and our region.

November is Circular Yorkshire month, a new campaign to increase understanding of circular economy principles and business benefits. With Bradford’s extensive knowledge and experience of this new economic model, we are proud to support the initiative. Find out more by searching for #CircularYorkshire online.

Our business community leads the way in many areas of environmental performance, according to the latest Leeds City Region Business Survey. The survey of 2,000-plus companies across the region revealed that Bradford businesses are more likely to operate schemes to save energy, water and waste. They will tend to use environmentally friendly technologies and have formal environmental accreditations. And they will probably have taken action to clean up their supply chains. Economists say businesses undertaking at least one of these actions are more likely to report stronger growth in turnover and employment. A win-win, in other words.

Given the strength of the advanced manufacturing sector in Bradford, I am not surprised at our strong showing in this survey. Manufacturers are resourceful by nature and typically have a global outlook. They also have a business imperative; a growing number of their OEM customers have mandated environmentally friendly practices in supply chains, largely driven by regulatory and consumer demands. 

One of Bradford’s largest private employers, Yorkshire Water, sees Bradford as ideal for its circular economy developments. Liz Barber, Yorkshire Water CEO, said: “The masterplan for our 32-acre site at Esholt should see it become a real beacon for sustainable development. It will retain the existing treatment works which already generates much of its own power and other developments will bring in sustainable housing and new industries which can also make use of the heat and grey water generated from the works.” This column turns full circle and returns to Dame Ellen for the close. This inspirational woman has strong links with Bradford. Her mother and grandmother were born in the city, which virtually makes her one of our own. We are enormously proud of the work she is doing and urge businesses to embrace the principles of the circular economy if they have not already done so. The circular economy supports economic growth, builds community resilience and addresses climate change, three of the most important challenges of our time.

Bradford businesses giving opportunities to young people

Bradford Manufacturing Week

By Dave Baldwin

Lenworth George Henry didn’t seem destined for greatness. One of seven children from a Jamaican family in Dudley, he failed his 11-plus exam, went to the local secondary school and left at 16 with no qualifications. But he did have a science teacher, Mr Brookes, who encouraged his comedy ambitions by letting him use a reel-to-reel recorder to rehearse funny voices.

Now 61, Sir Lenny Henry is a much-loved comedian, actor, writer and bona fide national treasure. This month he visited Bradford as part of his book tour, Who Am I, Again? His show at the newly refurbished St George’s Hall promised funny and sad stories from growing up in the Black Country, covering school, friendship, family secrets and unashamed racism.

But without the encouragement of that kindly teacher, who knows how his life would have turned out. It is so important that children get the chance to follow their interests and discover their talents. In every classroom I believe there is potential greatness, just waiting to be unlocked.

It’s not just teachers and parents who hold the key. The old proverb reminds us it takes a whole village to raise a child, meaning that an entire community of people must interact with children for them to grow into well-adjusted adults. In Bradford, we are lucky to have a strong business community with a powerful sense of social responsibility.

This comes to the fore in the Bradford Manufacturing Weeks, delivered by Bradford Chamber of Commerce and backed by the Bradford Economic Partnership. This year’s initiative is on track to create 6,000 work experiences with 65 manufacturers involved, double the number of 2018’s inaugural programme.

Employers including Solenis, Acorn Stairlifts, Produmax, Keighley Laboratories and Melrose Interiors are organising work placements, school talks and site tours for 14-18-year-old school pupils. As well as helping boost apprenticeship numbers, these can also give young people a glimpse of the inspiring, innovative and rewarding enterprises creating wealth and prosperity across our district.

An estimated 45 secondary schools took part in this year’s scheme, which has won national praise. Secretary of State for Education Gavin 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 Party conference, 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.”

Mr Williamson, a social sciences graduate of Bradford University, knows the importance of the state education system; he is the product of a Scarborough comprehensive school and is married to a former primary teacher.

Nick Garthwaite, managing director of Bradford-based laundry detergent manufacturer Christeyns, is the founder of Bradford Manufacturing Weeks. He said: “It’s fantastic to receive support from the Government which further demonstrates that we are on absolutely the right track with our 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.”

Mr Garthwaite 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.”

Every pupil should be able to have meaningful encounters with employers in Bradford. We know this will dramatically increase their chances of success in the workplace. At a deeper level, simply encouraging young people to follow their interests and discover their talents can be incredibly powerful. As Sir Lenny says, “we all bloom towards the sunlight”.

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’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.

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.