By Dave Baldwin
As royal visits go, this was near perfect. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, in their first official engagement of the year, came to Bradford and saw at first hand some fine examples of the work taking place across our district to support and promote community cohesion.
Cheered on by enthusiastic crowds, William and Kate visibly enjoyed themselves as they met entrepreneurs, apprentices, charity workers, faith leaders and volunteers dedicated to improving quality of life in one of Britain’s most diverse cities.
“The diversity of Bradford has always been very intriguing,” Prince William is reported to have said. “I think what you are all doing to help each other and bring the community together is very powerful. You can see that communities are trying to come together, trying to help each other, get to know each other and that is really crucial.”
In this respect, Bradford leads Britain. After some difficult decades, the city is bouncing back and last year won the ‘Most Improved’ title in an influential report on social and economic growth. The prince added: “If we can replicate that more across the country then it can only be for good – bringing everybody together, which is the reason why we want to get round the UK now and see as many places in the UK we may not have been very much to, and try to understand some of the more complex challenges.”
The visit began at City Hall where the royal couple met with young people who had been noted for their work in the city. Their discussion covered mental health, drug dealing, video games, apprenticeships and women in engineering. Bradford Council chief executive Kersten England CBE said: “What struck me most was the immediate and easy rapport between the Duke and Duchess and the young people. Their Royal Highnesses were clearly impressed by the talent, passion and ambition in the room. The discussion was thoughtful and engaged, it didn’t shirk difficult topics but was upbeat and optimistic.”
Afterwards, they met business and civic leaders including myself, representatives from Bradford Chamber of Commerce and Adeeba Malik CBE, the deputy chief executive of Bradford-based charity QED. She told the prince: “Your trip to Pakistan, please don’t underestimate the importance of it. It was phenomenal. It was so powerful.” The Duke and Duchess visited Pakistan in October to celebrate the nation’s historic ties with Britain. The five-day tour was the first royal visit to the country since 2006. “We loved it,” said William.
The next stop was My Lahore restaurant, named after the food capital of Pakistan, where the prince and princess met students from Bradford College taking part in an apprenticeship scheme and made mango and kulfi milkshakes in the kitchen. They spoke with boxer Amir Khan, a friend of the restaurant owners, about his boxing foundation and mental health in sport.
The royal couple also visited the Khidmat Centre, where they joined a Better Start Bradford workshop, which uses music and play to support children’s social, emotional and physical development while supporting adult self esteem. Bradford baker Siama Ali presented the Duke and Duchess with a beautifully designed cake, adorned with royal portraits and Union Jack flags.
The final visit was to a workshop run by Near Neighbours, an organisation that brings together people in diverse communities to create relationships of trust and to help people transform their neighbourhoods. It summed up the theme of the visit. The Bishop of Bradford, Toby Howarth, praised the Royal Family for “championing Christian-Muslim relationships well before it became fashionable”. He added: “The Royal Family have made it very clear all the way along that Britain is a nation for everyone, every religion, every culture. Her Majesty has done that, Prince Charles has done that and now we can see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will do that.”
A parting message came via social media from the official Kensington Palace account to an audience of 1.9m. It said simply, “Thank you Bradford!” and featured a video montage of their visit, which I think they enjoyed as much as we all did. Bradford succeeded in showing one of the most famous couples in the world a perfect example of a vibrant, confident and diverse modern place. We can consider this a royal stamp of approval for Britain’s most improved city.