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.