Musings From The Padded Cell

Bradford – This Is My Hometown.


“Last night me and Kate we laid in bed talking about getting out
Packing up our bags maybe heading south
I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now
Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around
This is your hometown”

Bruce Springsteen

I’ve lived in Bradford all my life and people tell me that many moons ago this was a great place to live, prosperous, forward-thinking and vibrant. I suppose when you look around the world things still ain’t that bad.

We have liberties, freedom of expression and generally decent living standards. There is an abundance of beautiful countryside and some wonderful architecture, most sadly reflecting past glories.

However, in recent decades we have become the butt of a lot of bad jokes and the city seems to have had the wind knocked out of it, accepting a second-best culture.

Listers Mill

Listers Mill

Some of Bradford’s problems have not actually been of its own making. The collapse of long-established industries represented thousands of lost jobs in both direct and indirect trades; many of these were highly skilled and wealth generating.

Bradford did not invent globalisation but simply copped the fallout as traditional industries suffered; it has been a long road back and we are still treading it.

Our neighbour Leeds has spent the same few decades reinventing itself as a financial services centre skillfully taking advantage of a centralisation of banking, legal and other support services.

With this came enormous spending power driving a leisure and retail boom; for most of the same period, we endured the embarrassment of a giant hole in the city centre and the collapse of a once thriving nightlife which was the envy of even Leeds.

A decade of lost progress.

A decade of lost progress.

My eyes mist over remembering Cloud Nine, JB’s, Ely McFly’s et al; glory days indeed.

Of course we finally have the new Broadway shopping centre but, in contrast to Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, it is a bit like comparing a corner shop to M&S.

Broadway Bradford

Broadway Bradford

As it finally rose from the ground it was clear the Council had no idea what would become of the existing retail area; they still don’t.

“Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more”

Of course, any mention of Bradford is synonymous with immigration. Bradford was arguably founded on immigrants though you would have to be living in cloud cuckoo land to deny that there are not tensions bubbling away uncomfortably.

It is not Bradford’s place in the world to try to deal with man’s inability to live in complete harmony, side by side. A recent piece about segregation was old news and yet our leaders offered little opinion other than weak platitudes.

What the survey does highlight are significant and rapid shifts in the population of Bradford with two key factors; growth and “white flight”. The analysis defines “white” as “English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British”.

{For those with trouble sleeping the 2001 Census headlines are here If you have nothing to do today you can thank me later.}

The survey is also fascinating – must get out more – for the breadth of classifications afforded human beings. Our leaders might have been better advised to study this for homework as they seek to shape a future for the city.

Sadly the city has not had any visible leadership for generations. We have endured a succession of highly paid Council Chief Executives unable to make a mark on the place.

Our council is generally lampooned from the top down and rightly so with political figureheads providing little credibility, often looking out of their depth.

In a nation represented by 650 MPs, why do 530,000 people need 90 councillors one of which is also an MP – nice work if you can get it? They only seem to further divisions; let me give you a recent example.

As part of the recent round of spending cuts, several community facilities around the periphery of Bradford face closure. At the same time they plan to build an unnecessary new swimming pool in the inner city Toller ward at a cost of millions whilst acknowledging a crisis in adult social care funding.

Small wonder that many in the outlying areas deny any association with Bradford, such is the disconnect felt by more rural areas.

We have endured a succession of grand plans – sporting, cultural and commercial – of which few have materialised. In Leeds the skyline is dotted with busy cranes because they have a business ethic not one necessitated by political trade-offs.

Crucially too, the national newspaper industry has also been undergoing a sea change – regional papers may well even disappear within the next few decades – but what voice do we have for this city?

Our local paper seems unwilling to offer little other than cut and paste journalism, unable or unwilling to take on the big issues.

One look at the public comments attached to the articles free from editorial censorship – predictably comments were not allowed on the article about segregation – shows a city still very troubled.

There are serious issues to confront – poor educational attainment, low inward investment, burgeoning social care costs to name but a few – yet politicians and local media maintain a fantasy land approach rather than engage in adult debate.

Crime is also a big issue and Channel 5’s compelling Traffic Cops is currently based around Bradford and Leeds. It offers a glimpse of another world as most of us sleep but don’t blame the woefully under-resourced cops hamstrung by pitifully weak sentences.

Cllr Hinchcliffe

Cllr Hinchcliffe

Our current leader bleats on that we have the youngest population in the country conveniently ignoring that most are poorly educated and those that can will leave if they get the chance; those that stay have little to entertain them in the city itself.

Our night life has shown signs of some life lately but the contrast – again with Leeds – is pitiful. So where are all the young people she crows about spending their money?

Consider the touring music listings from The Sunday Times recently; not one act was listed as coming to Bradford, the fifth biggest city in the country with our young population. Ipswich has more pulling power whilst our Council is utterly clueless as to what makes a city centre vibrant.

The key to Bradford’s future lies with its young but the only way to avoid the prejudices and suspicions that are undeniably present in older generations is for them to mix freely. A thriving city centre is key to this.

Sunbridge Wells

Sunbridge Wells

The forthcoming opening of the bold and ambitious Sunbridge Wells complex is a litmus test for Bradford. Will it really pull in people with a few quid to spend and overcome the perception held by several generations that the centre is full of drunks and druggies so best avoided? I really hope so.

It is time to have some open and honest debate about where the city goes from here before more that can up and leave for good; like it or not, it is happening right now.

In a nation where the North-South divide grows ever wider, there is a similar gap between Northern cities. Bradford has been left way behind and off the beaten railtrack too, left abandoned and ignored.

Bradfordians are some of the best people you could ever meet – funny, articulate, honest, intelligent, polite and straight-talking – qualities our politicians have failed.

We deserve so much better.

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  1. John Armstrong says:

    Good thought provoking article.
    It’s often said that the only way to assist change is from within, I think councillor Wilson has a nice ring to it.

    • Thanks John but I would not last long with the dirty dealings and trade offs required…prefer to focus on changing what I can locally by giving kids an opportunity through sport that is fast disappearing…unless you go to the right schools.

      • Our local – and ONLY – running and athletics club is closing soon. It has been taken over by big money from the BMW plant and – I think – some money from the council – to be used for football training instead. It is beyond annoying, there are some genuinely talented you athlete around here who will have no chance without a local club to support them. We do not need more football clubs, the “sport” (I say that reluctantly as footballers do not behave like sportsmen most of the time…) already has plenty of outlets and it is high time other sports were given a chance.

        • Sadly money talks now louder than ever…but as you point out its not as if football as a sport is cash poor…even in leafy Oxford there are local elected fuckwits

          • Reg Nelson says:

            You talk the `people’s language’ and there are few people I mix with from Bradford who would dispute any point, or any perception you make. I think you represent the Silent Majority, (despite the fact that you are anything but silent), but these people generally don’t espouse thoughts as vigorously as the liberal left, and therefore are dismissed as Daily Mail reading right wing reactionaries. The councillors you mention will not debate anything that might be deemed to be of a `sensitive’ nature, and I have first hand experience of that. Keep fighting the good fight Steve and I wish you well.

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