By Naz Shah, Member of Parliament for Bradford West
Bradford City Council recently bid to be the 2025 UK City of Culture.
If successful, it would mean the city receiving millions of pounds in UK investment, an investment that provided previous title holders with a platform to social, cultural and economic benefits for their local areas. With Bradford competing against several cities such as Southampton, Lancashire, and Luton, we have to ask ourselves what it is that distinguishes Bradford from the rest?
Whilst the title will bring much needed investment to Bradford, the cultural experience that Bradford will share with rest of the UK, cannot be found anywhere else. The eclectic nature of the cultural and creative offering of the city is second to none.
St George’s Hall has recently reopened following a multimillion-pound refurbishment which will be further complimented when the Odeon will reopen with a capacity of 4000 for concerts and events in 2021. This is in addition to the existing offerings by Kala Sangam Arts Centre, our very own ‘inter-cultural arts hub’, Mind the Gap and the Alhambra Theatre.
Led by Theatre in the Mill, an organisation that boasts talent being celebrated as far away as New York, a consortia of organisations has just secured around £2 million from the Arts Council to become the only producer hub in the country which will develop new creative talent in arts and culture.
A city that is rich in heritage, globally diverse, and home to unparalleled landscapes, the City of Bradford can only be described as a beacon of culture. It may seem like I am describing a holiday destination, but rather it is the introduction to 2025 City of Culture.
The sixth largest city in the UK, home to both the youngest population in Europe, and to amazing historical sites that date back as far as the 14th century, Bradford has something for everybody.
After unfortunately falling short of the title of the 2008 European Capital of Culture, and with Bradford’s original bid being made nearly 20 years ago, the determination and diligence of Bradford’s people over the years has been clear to see.
Bradford is an international pioneer and the first UNESCO City of Film, a title that was challenged by Venice, Cannes, and Los Angeles. It is also the birthplace of the first ever independent Asian commercial radio stations on FM in the world, Sunrise radio celebrates its 30th birthday this year. Bradford is also the Curry Capital of Britain, a title it has proudly held for 8 out of the last 9 years. All of this wouldn’t have been possible if it were not for the vast diversity and multiculturalism that makes Bradford the city that it is today. It is this touch of spice that I believe edge’s us to win this bid.
The heritage of Bradford in the field of arts and culture is not just one of the contributor but one that paved the way in this area. One of Bradford’s proudest sons, international award-winning David Hockney, is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, there is little doubt that David has stamped his legacy and Bradford’s into the cultural history for the world. In similar fashion born in Thornton, and later associated to the Howarth area of Bradford, the Bronte Family’s contribution to the world of art and literary story telling is a contribution to field of culture that passed around the globe. Bradford’s history is cemented in art and culture.
This legacy is further visible in the Bradford Literature Festival, the largest council-funded arts festival in the UK. A project that in their own words was created to celebrate ‘cultural and literary extravaganza’. Despite only recently being formed in 2014, Bradford Literature Festival ambitiously plans to host over 500 events in 2020, with world-renowned authors, poets, musicians and artists sharing their work and passion over the 10-day event.
The event prides itself on its inclusivity, providing free tickets to anyone on benefits, living in social housing, is a refugee or asylum seeker, or for anyone that is caring for a disabled member of the audience. It is a festival which boasts 55% BAME participation, something which is unheard of anywhere across Europe. This very approach of not leaving anyone behind, is inbuilt into the DNA of Bradfordians.
The city of Bradford is home to a plethora of cultural hotspots, both new and old. From the newly refurbished National Science and Media Museum to our own 4 museums which include the art gallery at Cartwright Hall. Our museums tell the magnificent stories of our cultural and social history, Bolling Hall being one of the oldest buildings in the district and the Industrial Museum being first council funded industrial heritage museum.
They tell the story of the Bradford’s significant role within the industrial revolution which is of international significance. One of the legendary stories told about Bradford includes a champagne merchant who survived on providing Bradford champagne in its days of world glory. Indeed, the velvet from Bradford adorned not only King George V’s coronation, but also curtained the windows of the White House.
The influence of Bradford’s industrialists went further than global trade, much of what we see now in terms of working conditions, workers’ rights , education and welfare reforms were also heavily influenced, indeed the Labour Party itself was born out of these very struggles, here in my own constituency of Bradford West following the Manningham Mills Strike.
Our city is as rich in history, as it is eager to develop itself even further in the future to add to the above list which is not exhaustive. Acknowledging this, and knowing that being awarded the title of the City of Culture will benefit everyone in our marvellous city, as the representative for the constituency of Bradford West, I will do everything I can to see this through, not only for my constituents, but for the city of Bradford as a whole.