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“Places like Bradford have had deprivation for 30 years. We need a kick-start… For too long it’s been seen as a problem of the other – the council, that community. It’s got to be our problem, for our city.”

It’s easy to fall into clichés when describing Bradford. It teems with dynamism and energy, and exudes Northern grit, poise and civic pride. Diversity and youthfulness are two of its biggest strengths. Architecturally it is rooted in its industrial heritage. A northern powerhouse, nineteenth century-style.

But Bradford feels misunderstood by central policy makers: “they don’t know who we are” and “they underestimate us. They say, ‘there must be something bad going on here, let’s find it.” Over the last two days we’ve met a range of different people across the city and the district. From the young people at Food Works, an organisation dedicated to supporting people with learning disabilities into work, to the small business owners at Royd Enterprise Park, many of who have risen from the humblest beginnings to create nationwide and globally trading firms. While we saw and heard of significant and complex challenges, we found a city creating a new start.

At Yeme Architects – whose slick, quirky offices wouldn’t have been out of place in the coolest parts of London – we were served a traditional Pakistani breakfast as we spoke with local designers, young professionals, community workers and entrepreneurs. Their drive and belief in the city was palpable. Bradford is a place of creativity, youthful vibrancy and cultural diversity, they argued, and its potential is huge if only the city truly embraced this.

Bradford hasn’t wanted to be defined by its population. So there are 100,000 Asian people living in the city, but no Asian shops in the city centre.” But “if people really understood the demographics [and the market potential] they’d do a lot more.

The new Broadway shopping mall has started to make an inroads here, and is an important symbol of high quality, more inclusive retail investment in the city. At the opening of the new City Park, another recent investment in public realm, Nandos sold out of Halal chicken within three hours, and pubs sold out of beer.

With a population of nearly 530,000 Bradford is, as a district, bigger than Liverpool and Manchester. Over a fifth of residents are under the age of 16 years. Ethnic minorities make up 36% of the total population and there are over 150 languages spoken across the city. However, on almost all the indicators of economic prosperity defined by the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit, Bradford trails Leeds City Region and England averages: 9.5% of the working age population are unemployed, compared to less than 7% in Leeds City Region and less 6% across England as a whole, and median gross weekly pay for full-time workers is barely £460 per week, compared to £480 in the City Region and over £520 per week for England on average.

While there’s “a lot of wealth in Bradford, there’s a lot of deprivation. Food banks have been rising in demand.” It is estimated that a further tightening of the welfare cap will impact 2,590 households in Bradford when it comes into effect in the autumn, while the benefits freeze will affect 82,000 households. The cumulative impact of all pre and post-2015 welfare reforms is estimated to reach £980 per working age adult per year, by 2020. These cut comes on the back of austerity-induced cuts that – as in so many local authorities – will halve the council’s budget by 2020, just at the time by which councils are required to be self-financing under current plans.

In a city where investor confidence needs careful encouragement, relying on business rate growth retention is not an assured strategy. Pooling rates across the Leeds City Region will be essential if both the main urban centres of this functional economic area are to thrive, mutually reinforced by the level of commuter flows between the two cities and their complementary offers. As one senior leader said, “HS2 is important for us. We need Leeds to be prosperous” and welcomed the recent West Yorkshire Combined Authority report calling for Transport for the North to consider including additional stops in its plans. “We need to get Bradford off the branch line,” argues Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford City Council, and “think about not just Transport for the North, but ‘Growth for the North’focussing particularly on education standards – perhaps through a Northern Challenge for education, mimicking the London Challenge that resulted in a rapid and significant improvement in the quality of school education in the capital.

Time and again we heard that Bradford schools have been poor for the last 20 or 30 years, failing generations of young people and their families. There are signs that things are starting to turn around, as local people have taken it upon themselves to drive change. At the Carlisle Business Centre, for example, we met a young father who set up and runs a centre for children in the area of Manningham, epicentre of the Bradford riots in 2001. From small beginnings ‘Raising Explorers’ is now the largest provider of its kind in West Yorkshire, providing affordable afterschool childcare, homework support and tutoring, language classes and activities. Open seven days a week and throughout the day during the school holidays, it offers a secure environment for children to learn, play and mix with other cultures and faiths in the community. Raising Explorers is supported by the business advice and flexibility offered by the Centre, a social enterprise run by a spirited group of volunteers committed to the economic and social prosperity of their community; “This places smashes out social capital”.

Similarly, at Royd Enterprise Park we discovered another social enterprise to help local people to set up and grow their own businesses. We spoke to business owners at different stages of their life cycle, supported by the wisdom, flexibility and ‘village’ community spirit fostered by the staff team and fellow tenants. Importantly, the site is an example of how social enterprise can be built on a robust business model, and it reminded me of the examples we encountered with JRF in Malmo and Rotterdam, where the social economy allowed street-by-street inclusion at scale by creating a network of similar activity and support across the city-region.

At the peak of its wealth in the 1880s, Bradford was a global city that signified the place of Britain as leader of the industrial revolution. Since then it has been forced to find and maintain its place in a changing world. For some, this is a process of managing decline. For others, it is a process of renewal and repositioning, starting with an unashamed embracing of its diversity and collective ownership of the challenge of inclusive growth. Such collective ownership extends to Leeds (less than 15 miles down the road), the City Region and – via additional social as well as economic investment – central government. As Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged on the steps of Downing Street, we need “every single one of our great regional cities” to thrive and prosper, laying the foundations for an inclusive UK economy. 

Charlotte Alldritt is Director of the Inclusive Growth Commission. You can find her on Twitter @CAlldritt


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