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Although an open competition that saw 20 bids as geographically agnostic as Southampton and Armagh, Bradford’s northern location will be a fillip for the UK Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. The accolade usually draws tens of millions of pounds in investment.
Coventry, which hands the baton to Bradford, benefitted to the tune of £172 million. This funded a wide range of music and other arts projects and greatly improved the transport network for local people to attend events.
Bradford has one of the most diverse and youngest populations of any UK city. 25 percent of people are Muslims, there is a huge Asian community and a quarter are under 18 years old. The city has fought hard to respond the decline of the cloth trade on which it was built, with arts centres and venues now occupying some of the Victorian mills that dominate the industrial landscape.
The judges are said to have been swayed by the city’s ideas for celebrating that diversity with the emphasis on cross-community collaboration and shared local pride. It is also the first time that neighbouring towns have been allowed to share in the bid, offering advantage to the towns and villages on the Yorkshire moors and neighbouring Leeds. In 2025 alone, this means the 540,000 local people and millions of visitors will witness over 1000 performances, 365 arts commissions and numerous collaborations with other cities and nations.
The Bradford Cultural Strategy website, www.cultureisourplan.co.uk, focusses in part on creating a cultural career path for young people. Through cooperation between ‘families, schools, career services, universities and college partners we will create a critical mass of coordinated training and employment pathways for young people,’ it says. ‘We will champion and evidence the viability of creative careers to mobilise a whole generation of young, talented, digitally native people and ensure they take the lead in shaping the future success of the district.’
The bid was led by Shanaz Gulzar, chair of Bradford 2025, who expressed the group’s elation at winning, saying, ‘This fantastic result is down to the ambition, belief and hard work of thousands of people across the district who were behind our bid. Bradford has been overlooked and underestimated for so long and it’s now our time to shine.’ Her campaign team have estimated that the award will attract as much as £700 million over the coming decade and create 3000 new jobs.
This is a bold statement considering the website admits that ‘There is patchy provision of creative education across the district’s schools. This leads to a poor understanding from a very early age of the cultural sector and routes to employment.’
This, it says, knocks on into a very low level of university applications for cultural and creative courses. So, the City of Culture project sets out to unite the many small creative organisations in the areas to boost apprenticeships and training programmes.
Bradford’s City Council Leader, Susan Hinchcliffe is determined to address these issues with the uplift in funding and confidence that comes from the win. ‘Being UK City of Culture brings with it so many opportunities for people not only in terms of creativity and culture, but also for employment, attracting inward investment, boosting the local economy and opening up opportunities for young people to enhance their skills,’ she said.
The UK City of Culture is chosen every four years by a committee currently led by the television writer and producer Sir Phil Redmond. He said Bradford was chosen for a bid that demonstrated the potential to have a big but deliverable impact, and that he looked forward to seeing how the city could ‘raise the cultural bar.’
Nadine Dorries called Bradford a ‘worthy winner,’ though agreed that ‘there was stiff competition and I thank County Durham, Southampton and Wrexham County Borough for their excellent bids.’ Each of the runners up will receive £125,000 to invest in some of the ideas suggested in their bids.