Hasina Momtaz

When I was invited to attend an event at the Southbank Centre on Thursday evening, gloriously title ‘Bradford Champions Modern British Culture’ I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I knew that the event was part of the city’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2025 and that there would be many well-established names from the creative industries and broadcasting. On those two points, the event did not disappoint; the speakers and the panel were heavyweights from both arenas.

But as I walked into the room, a familiar feeling started to overtake me.  It had happened again.  But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

As a lifelong Londoner, I thought hmm, let’s see what Bradford has to say for itself.  As it turns out, Bradford has plenty to say for itself and deservedly so.

Without launching into a history lesson; did you know that Bradford was a classic boomtown of the Industrial Revolution years and quickly became the wool capital of the world? I’m not pulling the wool over your eyes – it really was.

In 2019, excluding London, figures show that Bradford is currently undergoing the biggest population growth in the UK. The city also has the largest proportion of under-fives and under 19-year olds, and the largest average household size. Between 2001 and the 2011 Census, the overall population grew by 11% to 470,800 and this is set to continue by current projections.

We don’t always think of Bradford first when we think about music, literature or arts and culture, but maybe we should because David Hockney, the Bronte sisters and JB Priestley all hailed from Bradford, as does magician Dynamo and global star Zayn Malik. If that doesn’t impress, then maybe this will; In 2009, Bradford beat Cannes, Venice and LA to be named the world’s first UNESCO City of Film because of its long association with filmmaking. Bradford hosts a number of high-profile and internationally recognised film festivals and film related events.

Economically, the city is just as vibrant. Bradford has a young and dynamic workforce, creative entrepreneurs and global business links. There is a high level of self-employment and business start-ups. More than 40 large companies have their headquarters in the district and employ more than 370,000 people with a combined turnover of around £30 billion.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Bradford has been named Curry Capital of Britain for five years running!

So, back to why I had that same familiar feeling as I walked into the room.  Well, it was because I couldn’t see anybody who looked like me.  No, I wasn’t expecting my doppelganger (that would have been weird – shock face emoji goes here) but where were all the brown and black faces? There were less than10 in a room full of at least 50 to 60 people. Diversity, of course, isn’t just about colour or ethnicity, it is also about class disability and youth.

Where were the dynamic young people, other than the breakdance act, at the beginning? Why wasn’t there a young person on the panel speaking about what winning the bid would mean to them? There was plenty of diversity; from smiling hijabis to an elderly Rasta man to young people dancing on the promotional video. However, I was left wondering, beyond the video, will they have a real say and exert their influence during the bid process? I really hope so because Bradford sounds like an amazing place.

Don’t get me wrong, it was heart-warming to see so much Bradfordian pride in the room but surely, the organisers would have thought about the optics given the nature of the event which was, partly, to promote Bradford’s diversity.

I did have a quick chat with Kersten England, the Chief Executive of Bradford Council, who assured me there was much more diversity at the morning event in Bradford. Which is brilliant but let’s see more of it everywhere.

There was a lot of talking the talk, but not much walking the walk, I’m afraid.  There was plenty of good chat about diversity, in fact, it was the buzzword in the room and kept popping up in speeches and comments from the panel, but I didn’t see much of it in action in the audience or on the panel.

I was in the Mayor of London’s Press Office when London won the bid to host the London 2012 Games and it was a magical moment when the news was announced.  I’ll never forget attending the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. One of the reasons London won the Games was because of its diversity. Just like the eyes of the world were on London in 2012, the eyes of the UK are now on Bradford and, if they play this one right, this could be Bradford’s ‘Olympic’ moment.