Bradford started August faced with bad news – we are seen as a ‘problem city’: we are a divided, segregated and leaderless city which has failed to overcome past economic downturns, never mind the current mire. We are in a state, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said, but no-one can agree how to solve our problems. After a week when we held our breath then patted ourselves on the back for not joining in the rioting that was seen in other English cities, I wondered if the criticism was fair.
JRF noted that one of Bradford’s major problems is its image. Life’s not great in Bradford, they say, but it’s much better than people think. The report said that Bradford was unfairly stereotyped as a divided and segregated city, that the real problems (shared by all colours and creeds) were poverty, deprivation and work, that focusing on Muslims since the 2001 riots had distracted people from these real issues, and that the only reason Bradford hadn’t felt the recession like other cities is because it hasn’t come out of the shadow of previous down turns. The biggest problem, though, is that the city’s leadership has done nothing – nothing – to change Bradford’s image of a broken city.
I love my city, and anything I say about Bradford will be biased in her favour… but I do live
here and work here and see and breathe the city every day. It has to be said, though, that we have problems, and the council are not dealing with it effectively. The thing that made me most angry about reading the news articles which covered the report’s publication was the council’s response; they should be ashamed! Most of all, Cllr Ian Greenwood, leader of the council, should hang his head in shame. He’d been told, with empirical evidence, that Bradford suffers from an awful image problem, and his response: the report is “unhelpful” (BBC Bradford Residents Feel ‘Let Down’ by Leaders). Well, thank you Mr Greenwood. In the Telegraph & Argus report (Reports Add to District’s Problems, says Council Leader), he went further: “I am sick to death of academics and the charities that support them coming to Bradford and effectively living off the past… We need to look forward and not back…” What an idiot! You have just been told that what has been done has not worked, that what you are doing is not working and that the outlook is bleak – of course you have to look back and analyse what’s gone on. It’s only by doing this that you can see, for sure, what’s working and what’s not, and it’s only when you know that that you can begin to devise and create schemes which will tackle the problems. Einstein said “Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” so Bradford’s leaders must be insane or, even worse, willfully ignorant if they don’t even know what’s been done and what has and hasn’t worked. However, it gave them the opportunity to do just what they’re best at: finger pointing. Labour blamed the Tories, the Tories blamed Labour, everyone ignored the Lib-Dems and no-one even thought to ask the Greens. The report was clear in its analysis and evaluation of Bradford’s leaders: they are not doing their jobs. It’s no wonder Mr Greenwood is so dismissive of the report; after all, they’ve just told him he’s crap… and the people of Bradford support the view. In this, I believe, the report is right and the city’s leaders are a major and central part of the problem, and have no clear idea of how to become part of the solution. Remember, these are the people who ‘gave’ us the City Park and Wastefiled, chose to demolish the Odeon and much of the city centre, and took us into the Leeds City Region and were shocked when Leeds City looked after its own.
But what do other people think of Bradford? As the report says, not much! At a wedding in Scarborough recently, we got chatting to another guest and, when I told her we come from Bradford, a stricken look of pity washed over her face: “Isn’t it rough over there?” she questioned before answering herself: “We get the same news as you and it looks really bad… and you’re outnumbered aren’t you?” presumably referring to our city’s multiculturalism, as opposed to Scarborough’s lack of culture. She talked and talked about how shit my city is whilst I grimaced and bit my tongue. What surprised me was not that she took a dim view of Bradford – if you rely on what the news says, you’ll have a dim view of everywhere – but that she felt it fine to say what she did. How many other places would illicit such an open, immediate and entirely negative view from a stranger? All cities have their problems but, upon meeting a resident of one, politeness dictates we share common positive knowledge and experience rather than going for the throat of its reputation. Why is Bradford not given the same treatment? Perhaps this is the report’s point: Bradford’s reputation is so dire, its publicity so universally negative, that outsiders who have never visited the city are unable to link its moniker with anything positive. Those of us who live, work, play and love in this city know its good bits (and its bad) and can point to the numerous great treasures we have, but those who don’t cannot, simply because Bradford’s never in the news, and when it is, it’s for all the wrong reasons.
What do we have? If you walk through the city centre, you can see how poorly our civic leaders have done: roads and pavements have been dug up months ago for the mystical City Park, and it’s still not completed, it’s over budget and the city centre looks shite; the Wastefield development has stuttered and ground to a halt so we’ve got some weedy grass in place of a shiny new job and wealth creating development; the Odeon building, which would be a jewel in most other cities, is left to rot and fester like fly-tipped binbag while the council, Yorkshire Forward and the government drag their heels and pray that some God-sent arsonist puts us, them and it out of our collective misery and shame. When Cllr Greenwood et al bleat that they are doing a great job regenerating the city, I want to drag them down from their faux-ivory tower and force them to see what they’ve done. Then I want to lock them in the Odeon to rot with the old girl.
So, what can we do? Well, I’ve been twice treated to talks by Emily Kecic, an artist who lives and breathes Bradford. Earlier this year, she lit up one of Bradford’s jewels by illuminating Undercliffe Cemetery – and what a fantastic, beautiful job she did. Her talks, at TEDx and Betta Kultcha, told us a little of her fabulous project but, moreover, they were a rallying cry to all Bradfordians to regain or rediscover pride in their city. She spoke of her anger, shared by me and many others, of seeing serial killers and riots dredged up every time Bradford’s in the news, no matter what the topic, and how this fuels others’ perceptions of Bradford [and just how many times did the media mention Bradford during the English riots when there was zero trouble here?]; she told us, in no uncertain terms, that it is our job, our duty, to tell people what Bradford’s really like, both the good and the bad. Her anger at people who choose to feed the stereotype of a broken city is raw and infectious, and railing against them whilst rallying us fired up all the Bradfordians in the audience. Hers is a simple yet effective message: tell people about the great many brilliant things we have across the district. Emily, I have and I do!
So, read the JRF report and the newspapers’ responses to it, but the message is clear: get rid of the council because they are ill-equipped to improve our city; and get out there and sell Bradford – tell them of art and music, theatre and scenery, parks and culinary delights. Tell them, tell them, tell them, and together we’ll make sure Bradford’s seen in its true light, and from there, together, we can build a future for our city.