By Dave Baldwin
Put simply, hosting the UK City of Culture in 2025 would be brilliant for Bradford. Our district is undergoing substantial regeneration. Business and civic leaders are working together for the greater good and making strong progress with our ambitious economic growth strategy. People are seeing Bradford in a different way.
Take Hull as an example. As UK City of Culture in 2017, the East Yorkshire port city staged more than 2,800 events, cultural activities, installations and exhibitions, winning a total audience of 5.3m people. Preliminary evaluation shows the East Yorkshire city generated £300m in tourism revenues and won nearly £220m in inward investment.
The feel-good factor can never be underestimated. Three in four Hull residents said they felt proud to live in the city. One in four local businesses added new staff and one in five extended opening hours. Hull attracted more than 20,000 items of national media coverage. The University of Hull, which carried out the evaluation, said the experience “left audiences with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the city”.
Bradford is twice the size of Hull (which has generously voiced its support for our bid). Imagine the impact that hosting the UK City of Culture could have on our district. We certainly have a strong case to make. We are home to the National Science and Media Museum. Our cultural heritage includes the Brontës, JB Priestley and David Hockney and we recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of being named the first UNESCO City of Film.
Bradford is brimming with new talent. Home-grown arts organisations including England’s largest learning disability theatre company, Mind the Gap, Bradford Literature Festival, female-led theatre collective Common Wealth, intercultural arts hub Kala Sangam, Bradford Community Broadcasting and an emerging new generation of cultural voices successfully engaging new audiences. This fact was not lost on Channel 4 which cited the city’s young, diverse and digitally-savvy communities as one of the reasons for moving its national HQ to West Yorkshire.
We have the infrastructure to stage an ambitious programme of international events. The city is home to some exceptional large-scale venues, notably the Grade II-listed St George’s Hall which recently underwent a £9.5m restoration project, and Bradford Live, the former 1930s Odeon which will reopen in 2020-21 as a world-class entertainment facility.
Our arts institutions are winning headlines for innovative and influential work. Theatre in the Mill, which has just been named as one of two national pilots for an Arts Council talent programme, is regarded as one of the most exciting companies in the North of England. Throw in Bradford’s wealth of public spaces, parks and heritage buildings and we can offer a truly spectacular canvas for events in 2025.
Reaction to Bradford’s intention to bid has been very encouraging. Jake Berry, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, tweeted: “I’m thrilled to see that @Bradford2025 has thrown their hat into the ring for UK City of Culture. It’s a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on the cultural heritage and bright future of #NorthernPowerhouse cities.”
Sabbiyah Pervez, the BBC journalist behind the We Are Bradford storytelling project, said: “Bradford is a vibrant, culturally diverse and young city with incredible potential. The talent here is inexhaustible so much so that you will find people creating opportunities for themselves in every corner despite their limited resources; it is for this reason Bradford was named best place in the UK to start a business.
“It’s a city of pioneers past and present, with a rich history of migration and social activism. This makes it a unique contender in this bid to become Capital of Culture.”
Amir Hussain, the founder of Yeme Architects, said: “The city’s rich architectural heritage profoundly reflects an illustrious past and sets the tone of aspiration. A ‘ring of culture’ surrounding the city has naturally evolved through a vibrant, young population that seeks to manifest its presence in the city.
“We believe the bid process and winning the title will vastly enhance this activity and will serve to create a more inclusive city as the inherent broad diversity can be better celebrated.”
Mary Dowson, director of BCB Radio and interim bid chair, said: “Our UK City of Culture bid presents a brilliant opportunity for us to showcase not only the incredible home-grown talent we have here in Bradford, but to create a legacy which improves opportunities for local people and promotes the city as a fantastic place to live, work and enjoy.
“Over the next few months we’ll be working hard to develop new partnerships and build a strong programme for the bid to include local, national and international events. We’re positive we can deliver a successful and spectacular year of culture in 2025, now we want the city to get behind us too.”
Final bids will be submitted in 2021 and the Government will anoint the winner later that year. It would be brilliant for Bradford.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club