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Bradford City of Culture Bid

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2022

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Miss Dines.)

It is a pleasure to be granted this Adjournment debate. I am proud to be able to speak today in support of Bradford’s bid to become the UK city of culture 2025.

Ask anyone who has lived in Bradford or spent any length of time there what they think about the district, and they will tell you of its beauty, its brilliance and its quirks, for there are few places quite like Bradford. They will always rave on about the rich, deep and diverse culture that Bradford has to offer. After all, it was the hills of Bradford that provided not just the home of the Brontë sisters but the backdrop to their novels. It was one of Bradford’s sons, David Hockney, who went on to become one of the world’s most influential painters. It is Bradford that brought up one fifth of the boy band One Direction, winner of numerous musical awards and accolades—Zayn Malik. It is Bradford that is the site of some of the most stunning architecture you will ever see, such as the Alhambra, St George’s Hall, City Hall and the Bradford Odeon, which is finally on the way to being restored. Months spent pestering Ministers have borne fruit and Bradford’s iconic Odeon is now well on the way to restoration.

There is also our vibrant TV and film scene, with Bradford becoming the world’s first UNESCO city of film in 2009, and with our “streets of heritage” buildings such as City Hall and those in Little Germany being stars in their own right in many historic dramas. One of particular interest, as I found out only this morning, is “Peaky Blinders”—a programme that I have never actually seen but am reliably informed has some resemblance to this place. I cannot confirm or deny that, of course, Mr Deputy Speaker. Our National Science and Media Museum is the home of many treasured collections in the media world and an important part of Bradford city centre.

Nor can we forget the rich sporting culture that Bradford has in spades. Bradford City, winners of the FA cup, albeit a while back in 1911, have some of the most passionate fans you will ever meet. I was on the wrong side of that during the 2017 general election campaign when trying to cajole some of my supporters into a much-needed door-knocking session, only to be told in rather salty language where to go by every single one of them because they would much rather watch the final in which Bradford were partaking—quite rightly, I have to say. Bradford was also key when it comes to the founding of what became the great sport of rugby league. I know that intensely, because my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) is perhaps one of its biggest advocates, and I am convinced she will come in on that point.

I thank my hon. Friend first for securing this debate, and secondly for talking so passionately about our great city of Bradford. I have to say I do not think I am the biggest fan of rugby league in this place, because the biggest fan is Mr Speaker, who is not currently in the Chair. It is fantastic to be here, to intervene in this debate, to champion the great city of Bradford and to talk about the brilliant and diverse cultural exports that make it the ideal candidate to be the 2025 city of culture. This is a timely debate, because 2025 also marks, importantly, the 130th anniversary of the founding of the Rugby Football Union in the historical heart of God’s own county of Yorkshire. I am glad that Mr Speaker is not in the Chair to hear that.

Bradford’s rugby league club, the Bradford Bulls, are one of our greatest cultural exports and are known around the globe. Given the return of the Bradford Bulls to Odsal, and the central role they play in our city and our district—not just in my constituency of Bradford South, but right across the UK and internationally—does my hon. Friend agree that the cultural icon of the Bradford Bulls is central to inspiring our local young people, providing exceptional opportunities for our communities and highlighting the essential role that sport and regeneration can play in Bradford’s city of culture bid for 2025?

I am always grateful to my hon. Friend, and she makes some excellent points, which is why it was an excellent intervention. She is absolutely right about the Bradford Bulls, and she continues to be a great champion not only for the district, but for them. The Bulls fell on hard times recently, but they have picked themselves back up, and they continue to be a fierce, resilient team in which the city has a great amount of pride, and I know that my hon. Friend will continue to champion them.

Talking about sport, we cannot forget that it was Richard Dunn who took on the great Muhammad Ali. While he might have lost resoundingly, his legacy lives on in a new generation of boxing stars, from Bobby Vanzie to Tasif Khan, and in the grassroots boxing gyms, which are an important part of our inner-city communities and act as a real hub for people of all ages.

Cricket, rather unsurprisingly, is a popular pastime for people in Bradford, driven by south Asian communities who emigrated to this country and play at a professional level, including Bradford’s own Adil Rashid, who plays for the England side. While we may lack turf cricket pitches, which remains a serious issue in the city, many promising cricketers grew up perfecting their game on urban cricket pitches, also known as “the road outside your mum’s house when there was no traffic”. Many a great star was born on those roadsides.

I cannot get away with talking about Bradford’s culture without mentioning our food culture and our love of a good dish, whether it is cooked at home with friends and family or at one of our many outstanding restaurants. Let us be clear: Bradford is the curry capital of Britain, if not Europe, as demonstrated by the fact that Bradford’s curry festival is the one to beat. While I have to accept that our near neighbours, including my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), will often try to challenge us for that title, I think even he would accept that it is an utterly ridiculous notion that Leeds would come anywhere near Bradford when it comes to food.

The biggest and perhaps only disagreement that I and my hon. Friend have had is about whether the best curry houses are in Leeds East or Bradford East. I congratulate him on securing this debate. Although obviously I prefer my home city of Leeds in general, Bradford is a fantastic place, steeped in diversity and culture—everything from the fantastic Waterstones bookshop in that wonderful gothic architecture, to the historic music venue the 1 in 12 Club, to the history of politics in the city. Of course, the Labour party founder, Keir Hardie, stood in a Bradford East by-election. Unlike my hon. Friend, he was not successful—in that sense, at least, my hon. Friend achieved more than Keir Hardie.

Will my hon. Friend accept these congratulations from Leeds in the spirit of breaking down boundaries? Bradford is a fantastic city. As one of its neighbours, I love to visit it, and I wish my hon. Friend and the whole city of Bradford all the very best in their application.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour from Leeds. He is absolutely right. Bradford is the only city in the area—West Yorkshire and slightly further afield—that has been shortlisted, and all the support we have from our near-neighbour cities is very welcome. I thank him for his kind words.

In Bradford, we are slap-bang in the middle of the country, pretty much as far away from the sea as it is possible to be, yet I firmly believe that there is no better place to get a decent plate of fish and chips, whether it is from the award-winning Towngate Fisheries in Idle, Leeds Road Fisheries in the heart of Bradford, one of the other outstanding chippies across the district, or even down at the Eccleshill Mechanics Institute with Terry and the team—I have to confess that that is a secret haunt of mine for lunch.

We sometimes forget that culture means far more for people than just art, sport, film, TV and music; it is something that goes to the very core of who we are as people and communities. That is why I firmly believe that the richness of Bradford’s culture is best represented not by our art or even by our heritage but by the diversity of our district. After all, Bradford is one of the most diverse places in the country. We are home to someone from practically every corner of the world who has fled war, persecution or oppression, or simply came here to build a better life.

One of those people was my grandfather, who came to this country 70 years ago, like tens of thousands of others, as part of the generation invited to the UK to rebuild the country after the devastation of the second world war. Like many, he eventually settled here permanently to raise a family of his own. While he maintained his links with Pakistan and Kashmir, as many in the diaspora communities continue to do to this day, it was Bradford, before anywhere else, that was his home.

While the Pakistani and Kashmiri communities make up a large proportion of Bradford’s diversity, we are far from the only minority groups in Bradford. We are home to a sizeable Rohingya community, who fled genocide in Burma—interestingly, it is the largest Rohingya community in the whole of Europe—as well as to Bangladeshi, Indian, Afghan, Kurd, Slovak, Roma and many more communities, which come together like a bouquet of flowers to make Bradford the wonderful place it is.

Historically, Bradford has also had a large Irish population, as well as having been home to European refugees fleeing persecution on the continent, with Little Germany symbolising that historic time. Following the Kindertransport policy of the 1930s, Bradford became the home of many Jewish people who escaped the horrors of the holocaust, including my dear friend Rudi Leavor, who is sadly no longer with us.

Without being too big-headed, let me say that given the national, racial and religious diversity in Bradford, we likely have a claim not just to the title of UK city of culture but to that of real capital of the world. Tragically, some on the far right like to paint this rich diversity as a weakness, but let me be absolutely clear that it is anything but. It is our strength, and perhaps our greatest strength too, because Bradford has always stood united in the face of adversity and stood defiantly in the face of those who seek to divide us. This rich diversity has also given us much to be proud of, as it was these strong, resilient and vibrant communities that saw people from all walks of life—young and old, those of all faiths and none—come together to work together over the last two years to get through some of the most difficult times that we have all ever faced.

Because of our diversity, Bradford is also at the centre of demonstrating to others how to successfully turn integration into a powerful bond between communities, with Bradford Council for Mosques in particular acting not just as one of the leading institutions in the country for Muslims, but as one of the organisations to turn to when working across cultural and religious boundaries to bring people together.

Bradford’s welcoming nature is another key strength for our diversity and our culture, as there are no kinder, more generous or more welcoming people than the people of Bradford. Never is this more evident than in our proud status as a city of sanctuary, which I was proud to drive forward in a previous role in Bradford Council, that means Bradford will always offer refuge to those fleeing oppression, persecution and injustice from whatever part of the world they come. I strongly believe that the strongest point of Bradford’s culture is not the stunning architecture of City Hall or the rolling hills of Brontë country, but the fact that our arms are always open to people from around the world, particularly those fleeing injustice. Consequently, winning the title of UK city of culture 2025 would be a celebration not just of Bradford’s culture, but of the positive impact of diversity in our country today.

As the largest mill town in the north of England, Bradford was part of the original northern powerhouse, shipping wool all across the country and indeed all across the world. As a working-class city, our culture—both past and present—is rooted in our history. However, deindustrialisation over the years gone by has not been kind to cities such as Bradford. Today, we have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country, with around half of the children growing up in my constituency doing so in homes that face tough choices between heating and eating.

We have rampant health inequalities, which mean that Bradford residents have a higher propensity of preventable diseases such as diabetes, and that we live years less than residents elsewhere. We have poor levels of educational attainment, with children growing up less likely to outperform their peers across the region and elsewhere in the country, and we have widespread insecure, low-paid employment, with people in Bradford paid less for more hours. We have suffered from a decade of austerity and decades more of deindustrialisation, and we have also been forgotten and neglected by successive Governments actually, with the decision to snub Bradford on the Northern Powerhouse Rail line being the most recent glaring example.

Nevertheless, let me be clear: we are not beaten, we are not down and we are certainly not out. As home to one of the youngest, proudest and most vibrant populations in the whole country, we still have a wealth of potential lurking beneath the surface. All we need is that extra little push, which is why winning the title of UK city of culture 2025 would mean everything to Bradford and everything to the people who live there.

Some may consider the title of UK city of culture as just a bit of fun or just a bit of recognition, yet it is much more. As we have seen with past winners—including Hull, just down the M62, which is facing many of the same problems as Bradford—it has been transformative and has put them back on the map for a whole host of positive reasons. These past winners have seen considerable investment over their year of celebration, as well as in the years before and the years after, with increased visitor numbers, greater participation in cultural activities, and new jobs and new skill development opportunities. There has been a lasting legacy; the cities were granted new life and had a refreshed sense of energy.

An independent report has found that Bradford is one of the country’s most deprived and left-behind regions, and it has the most to gain from the Government’s levelling-up agenda, if that is seen through, as promised. If it won the title of city of culture 2025, the impact of the investment that would follow is clear to everyone. I sincerely believe that that point should make things much clearer for the Minister. However, the power of Bradford’s bid is not solely in our rich, diverse culture, or in the difference that winning the title of UK city of culture would make; it is also in the strength of the bid. Over the past two years, Bradford has supported a fantastic range of incredible projects, from Summer Unlocked, which hosted a programme of free cultural events including theatre, music, film and more, to the Bradford is #Lit festival, and the fantastic Festival of Lights, which drew more than 20,000 people to a Bradford city square last year. To top it all off, recently there was the spectacular Mills Are Alive show in Manningham. That is a small sample of what is to come when Bradford hopefully wins the title of UK city of culture 2025.

I will leave the finer details—Ministers can see things for themselves when they go to Bradford, as I hope they will—but I promise that Bradford will not hold back in its plans for 2025, and it will definitely not stray from our proud tradition of doing things differently. Bradford is beautiful; Bradford is brilliant. Bradford is a place that people have to see, hear, taste, and experience for themselves. Bradford is the place that I owe everything to, and I could stand here and speak about it for hours—you will be delighted to know I am not going to, Mr Deputy Speaker. Ultimately, there can be no better place to award the title of city of culture 2025 than Bradford. It represents everything. I make my final plea to the Minister. This will make a difference. For all the reasons I have highlighted, Bradford is, and continues to be, the perfect candidate. Minister, this is our time. Give us that chance.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) for securing this debate about Bradford’s bid to become UK city of culture. He spoke eloquently and passionately about his city, of which he is so obviously proud, and I thank him for his contribution to the debate. He is a great champion of the city, and he will of course be delighted that Bradford was recently named one of the four places shortlisted for the title of UK city of culture 2025. It has been a competitive process, with all bidding teams submitting high-quality bids.

UK city of culture is the UK-wide quadrennial flagship competition by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, delivered in collaboration with the devolved Administrations. It invites places across the UK to set out their vision for culture-led regeneration. UK city of culture is about highlighting the role that culture plays in the heart of our communities; the hon. Gentleman mentioned that many times. It demonstrates that culture is for everyone, no matter who they are and where they come from. This is a key part of DCMS’s broader efforts to level up opportunity. It uses culture as the catalyst for investment, in order to drive economic growth and regeneration, promote social cohesion, and instil pride in places, making them even more attractive to live in, work in, and visit.

Derry/Londonderry was the first title holder back in 2013, and Hull won in 2017. This prestigious title has huge benefits; previous hosts have attracted millions of pounds in additional investment, created jobs, and attracted thousands of visitors to the area. Coventry is the current UK city of culture; its term finishes in May. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the city has developed an extraordinary, year-long programme of events that put culture at the heart of social and economic recovery. As a result of Coventry being awarded the title of UK city of culture, more than £172 million has gone into funding music concerts, public art displays, the UK’s first permanent immersive digital art gallery, a new children’s play area in the centre of the city, the new Telegraph hotel, and improvements to public transport. A further £500 million has been ploughed into the city’s regeneration since it was confirmed as the UK city of culture. More than £150 million of public and private sector investment was invested in the 2013 winner, Derry/Londonderry, and the 2017 winner, Hull, saw a 10% increase in visitor numbers during its tenure.

Bradford and the three other locations—County Durham, Southampton and Wrexham County Borough—were approved by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as the shortlist for the 2025 competition. That shortlist was based on advice given to the Government by the independent expert advisory panel, led by Sir Phil Redmond. The finalists were whittled down from a record 20 initial bids to eight outstanding long-list applications. The expert advisory panel will visit the four shortlisted places in May; then there will be a presentation from each of those places before the panel makes its final recommendation. The winner will be announced in Coventry in late May, so there is not too long to wait.

I am impressed by Bradford’s ambition and the way it has embraced the UK city of culture competition. I am sure that Bradford, along with the three other shortlisted places, will continue to robustly showcase its places and the strength of its bid to the panel. The UK city of culture is a proven model for culture-led regeneration, but there is no blueprint for success, and each city of culture has a different character and tackles new and different issues. The expert advisory panel is looking for a fresh narrative for the next UK city of culture—a strong story, a sense of identity and a vision for change. As the hon. Gentleman and others outlined, Bradford is a vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage and a young and diverse population. It has a huge amount to offer local people and visitors, and it is one of the few places in the world to have not one, but two UNESCO designations. Saltaire industrial village is a UNESCO world heritage site, and as the world’s first city of film, Bradford is also part of the UNESCO creative cities network. The area is also known for being the birthplace of the Brontë sisters and David Hockney, and for its strong cultural assets, such as the National Science and Media museum and the Alhambra theatre, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned—as well, of course, for its beautiful countryside.

Alongside all that, the area has recently seen significant investment in the arts and cultural sectors. Between 2018 and 2022, Arts Council England national portfolio organisations in Bradford have received more than £7 million, and organisations in Bradford’s local authority have received £3.65 million through rounds 1 and 2 of the culture recovery fund. The libraries improvement fund has support for Bradford’s libraries, so that they can improve their offer. Bradford is also one of 15 UK-wide locations that StoryTrails, one of UNBOXED’s commissions, will visit this year. Bradford has been successful in securing some £20 million from the levelling-up fund to invest in the Squire Lane wellbeing and enterprise centre, and has received £4 million from the northern cultural regeneration fund to redevelop the Bradford Odeon, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

I understand that Bradford’s bid is the outcome of lots of hard work delivered by the bidding team, and by the Cultural Place Partnership, which includes Bradford Council, the University of Bradford, Bradford College, representatives of the cultural sector and national funders, as well as the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and many others. The team are focused on using the competition as a platform to showcase Bradford’s strengths to the rest of the UK and the world, to improve opportunities for local people, and to increase access to jobs in the visitor economy and cultural sectors. There is an aim to add to the significant provision already in place and leave a lasting legacy of increased visitor numbers, and to develop a more vibrant, sustainable cultural sector. There is also a focus on ensuring greater community engagement across the district, celebrating Bradford’s diverse communities and increasing public participation in cultural activities.

This is not just about who wins the competition. There are clear benefits to all places that bid. For the first time, the eight long-listed places from across the UK received a £40,000 grant each to strengthen their long application ahead of the shortlisting stage. That has helped to level the playing field, and has encouraged places to develop deliverable plans, even if they do not win the title. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wants all bidders to leverage the bidding process. We are committed to working with those who do not win, so that they can continue to forge partnerships, develop culture-led change and strengthen cultural strategies; and we are working to signpost upcoming opportunities and funding. Hull, it should be remembered, was unsuccessful in bidding for the 2013 title, but it came back to win the 2017 title. Sunderland’s bid for the 2021 title created the momentum to form a new arts trust, Sunderland Culture. Paisley, which also bid for the 2021 title, has since hosted a range of major events, including UNBOXED’S About Us, earlier this month.

I applaud Bradford’s dedication to winning the UK city of culture 2025 competition. I wish Bradford and, of course, the other three shortlisted places—County Durham, Southampton and Wrexham County Borough—the very best of luck for the remainder of the competition.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.