Bradford – A Rudderless Ship Stuck in a Mire of Bad Publicity

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.


About jatkinson1977

I'm in my 30s and married to Sharon, the beautiful woman who keeps me in check. We live in Shipley, just outside Bradford, with our black lab, Nipper. I'm an English teacher in secondary school and, after working as a Teaching & Learning Consultant with the local authority, have returned to the classroom to become a Lead Professional in English at a large comp in Bradford. I'm also trying to become a little more cultured, especially by seeing what culture's right here on my doorstep in Bradford and West Yorkshire (please see my blog, 'Am I Kulchad Yet?'). I've got a third and final blog which is filled with things that, essentially, don't fit into the other two but are interesting enough to share (please see my blog, 'Things That Occur To Me').
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9 Responses to Bradford – A Rudderless Ship Stuck in a Mire of Bad Publicity

  1. Damien says:

    Excellent! Someone with a passion for our city and telling it like it is! Thank you John for writing this post. There is an increasing number of people who are rallying to your call and I am proud to be amongst them. I sense a groundswell of opinion and we must capitalise on the opportunities to show Bradford in her true light. Very best wishes. D


    • There are many, many of us, I think, but we’re quiet – too quiet.

      I get so angry reading the T&A when every poster slags off the town and, far, far worse, slags off people and their attempts to do something to make things better. We need to out shout these people and do something.

      Positive Bradford Day whould do something, but we need to do a little and often to get the city breathing again. Personally, I’ve made an effort to go to museums and events in the city centre this summer, and I’m shopping more at Shipley and John St (oops, Oastler Centre) markets.

      I hope we’ll find Bradford’s a sleeping giant and not the dead duck so many whingers whine about.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  2. Tom says:

    “How many other places would illicit such an open, immediate and entirely negative view from a stranger?” – Middlesbrough! And I have a similar soft spot for the Boro as I do for Bradford, though Bradford is a way better place than Middlesbrough.


    • I’ve never been to the Boro so can’t comment. However, I reckon the way it’s treated is v similar to the way Bradford’s treated – always brought up as an example of a crap town, and I remember it as being mentioned more than once in ‘Yes, (Prime) Minister’ a few times as the place no-one wants to go.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  3. Darren says:

    Interesting blog post.

    I am not a local to Bradford, but I live in Pudsey which isn’t a million miles away. After I saw some tweets of photos of the city it made me wonder about this negative media attention that it receives, and yes, like most cities it has problems, but, Bradford isn’t just the city centre. It has some fantastic places like Saltaire and unfortunatly, as an outsider looking in I think this gets lost within all the negativity around the city.

    18 months ago I launched My Life in Leeds because as a local I was frustrated with the negative attention the city was receiving – not just that, but having written about the tourism/travel industry for some years, I was frustrated that people didn’t know what the city offered.

    The My Life in Leeds project is still being improved upon, and I have learnt lots of lessons about marketing a destination, and I would be interested to speak with locals in Bradford about creating a similar local guide, which promoted the whole city, and written by local people.

    I am intrigued, and I know I’m an outsider 😉 but wondered if anyone had some time to have a chat over a coffee? I have the technology at hand to be able to roll this out to Bradford, but I am interested to know if local people would be interested in writing and promoting such a guide?


    • I agree with lots you say. Re Bradford District, like Saltaire and Ilkley in particular, they would be so much better off with a strong, vibrant city attached; the danger for Bradford is that they’ll leave and set up shop on their own and Bradford (and Saltaire and Ilkley) will be weaker for it.

      As for a cultural or what’s on guide, I’m very interested being part of such a group; Mark Dolby (@markdolby) mentioned it once so I think there is a willingness for such a thing to be produced – I’ve tweeted him about this to see what he thinks.

      Thanks for your kind comments and very, very kind offer of a cup and a chat – I’ll speak to you soon.


  4. Contents Hot says:

    I was brought in Bradford (Odsal) and live just outside now in nearby Cleckheaton. Mum still lives and shops in the City. So I’m an ex Bradfordian I suppose! I just get really frustrated with the ‘powers-that-be’ when I go into Bradford. What’s been done (or not done as the case maybe) with City centre for example when other similar cities in the region: Huddersfield, Wakefield etc have flourished and rekindled their image. surely it must be Bradford’s turn?


  5. toeyclucker says:

    Thanks for this great and informative post. I’m working to launch a site that compiles facts about the city and District’s little-known gems. Hopefully, it’ll be launched in a week or so, but as I’m new to the area, I’d love some suggestions of what/how to love the area. If the local council’s leadership is as hopeless as the JRF’s report suggests, how can citizens work to bring people and jobs to the city? Positive Bradford are trying, the Am I Kultchad Yet blog has been a great help, but how else can the blogosphere help?

    Additionally, I’m soliciting area photos from the #hiddenbd-tagged photostreams on Twitter. If any of your readers would be willing to share their images for the site, please get in touch!
    All the best, @toeyclucker


    • Hi

      Thanks for commenting and glad you liked my other blog, Am I Kulchad Yet?, and that you found it helpful.

      I tried to follow you on Twitter but found a private acc from someone in Philly – is this you?


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