It’s that time of year again: Christmas lights are switching on in towns and cities up and down the country as thoughts turn festive. London’s Oxford Street display is always spectacular and Leeds’s lights have their charms, but a Bradford Christmas is always a bit special.
The Broadway was the place to be on Saturday. X-Factor star Rebecca Ferguson thrilled the crowds alongside fantastic school choirs and a brass band. It was inclusive and welcoming, and a huge cheer went up when the lights went on.
It was also a great start to ‘Sparkling Bradford’, a new campaign bringing together festive events across the region. Whatever your interests and wherever you live, you can find something at Sparkling Bradford: Alpaca treks in Bronte Country at Oxenhope, Saltaire’s Living Advent Calendar, Ilkley Christmas Teepees, Santa Specials at the Shipley Glen Cable Tramway and Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Christmas Specials.
Backed by the Broadway, Visit Bradford, Bradford Council, Made in Bradford and the University of Bradford, this campaign reflects growing confidence in our region and the need to put our best foot forward. We have so much to shout about: Sparkling Bradford lets us
say it in one loud Yorkshire voice.
We want more people in the region’s shops this Christmas. Shops are the lifeblood of the high street but too many are having a tough time: online shopping has transformed retailing, while intense competition, rising costs and slower spending are biting.
The British Retail Consortium said last week that the number of shops, pubs and restaurants in the UK which are empty rose by more than 4,400 in the first half of the year. Figures released last week suggest that as many as 85,000 retail jobs were lost in the first nine months of the year.
More support is needed. Fundamentally, we need to find a fairer way of taxing business by reforming an outdated system which places a disproportionate burden of tax on city centres and property-based retail.
The success of the Broadway should provide cheer for shops and restaurants. The centre said last month that over 1.5 million more people visited in 2018 than the year before. Sparkling Bradford should help to attract more shoppers – there are more than 15
events planned for the Broadway over the festive period.
Broadway’s success shows the importance of giving shoppers something extra. It’s all about the experience. People hitting the shops increasingly make it part of a longer trip out: they want an attractive environment to spend a few hours, with entertainment and events and maybe somewhere to eat and have a drink.
This is where the Bradford Business Improvement District (BID), which got the green light in October, will help. An additional £2.5m will be invested in Bradford city centre over the next five years to make it more vibrant and attractive to drive footfall. Streets will be improved and kept cleaner, and there will be more events and entertainment. The BID in Keighley is doing similar things: as much as £1.43m could be raised and spent in the town to increase footfall and drive visitor numbers.
Bradford Council is doing its bit – earlier in the year Airobounce, a family amusement centre; Remy International, a wine bar and bistro; and Noodle Sing, a Chinese restaurant; were supported to expand through the City Centre Growth Scheme, creating 30 jobs.
2019 promises to bring more reasons to visit the city. St George’s Hall in Bradford, one of the UK’s oldest listed concert halls, opens in the spring after an £8.5m makeover to restore it to its former glories. The Odeon is being redeveloped too into a world-class entertainment venue. Sparkling Bradford means that the momentum of fantastic events in the region during 2018 – including literature festivals in Bradford and Ilkley, the Dragonboat race at Saltaire and Bingley Music Live – will continue.
When the Christmas lights went on last weekend I was reminded – again – just how special and distinctive Bradford is. Our fantastic heritage buildings were bathed in a festive glow and there were smiles everywhere. It was a great start to a great season in a great city.
- Dave Baldwin is chairman of the Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club