It’s grim in Bradford, or so people like to often say. But the city, which has had its fair share of issues, could be on the cusp of a major renaissance.
A man leading the charge in not just changing perceptions of the city but also bringing economic benefits to it is Ian Ward.
The general manager of the Broadway shopping centre almost never moved to the city.
Back in November 2015, when he was initially offered the role he turned it down. The development had a troubled start, for many years it remained a hole in the ground, with work only beginning in 2014.
However, it was personal reasons that kept Mr Ward from accepting the challenge of making a success of the new shopping centre, not its preceding reputation.
“It wasn’t the right timing,” he says. “I had a two-year-old girl but I said if things don’t work out then get in touch with me.”
At this point he was in Liverpool managing St John’s Shopping Centre in the city as well as chairing the Liverpool Business Improvement District.
Taking the job
It wasn’t long before the call for the Broadway came. Two weeks later the phone rang.
Mr Ward said: “I got a call saying it hasn’t really worked out with what we’re doing and we really want to have a conversation with you.
“I eventually gave my three months’ notice in at Liverpool and I came to Bradford in March 2016, about four months after it opened.”
Since then the experienced retail boss hasn’t looked back. Mr Ward realised that if the shopping centre was to meet its ambitions in terms of footfall and dwell time then it would need to take on a more hands-on role in the city.
For the benefit of Bradford
Instead of just focusing on keeping his own house in order, Mr Ward has thrown himself into helping push the regeneration of the other parts of the city. The thinking being that if Bradford is booming then Broadway can only benefit.
A key area of focus has been setting up a Business Improvement District in the city. It was Mr Ward who initially led the conversations.
Over the past two years, he has used his experience as chairman of the Liverpool BID to help carry out a feasibility study and put together a business plan.
In October last year, the Bradford BID was given the green light, unlocking £2.5m to be spent over the next five years on improving the city centre.
When it came to naming a chairman for the Bradford BID, the organisation had the ideal candidate in Mr Ward.
Starting life as a baker
His career in retail began over 30 years ago. In fact, Mr Ward started off as a baker for the now-defunct supermarket Presto.
When Presto was acquired by Safeway, he worked his way up to become an area manager for the supermarket chain.
He would then go onto become a store manager for Marks & Spencer, following a short sabbatical after Morrisons took over Safeway. But it was Mr Ward’s move into shopping centres that would really define his career.
Mr Ward was approached by real estate investor Land Securities to look after some of its retail destinations.
“I’ve got to be honest at the time I didn’t know who they were,” he said. “Land Securities turned out to be a massive company that manages shopping centres.”
Tidying up shopping centre schemes
Here he forged a reputation tidying up schemes such as the Stratford Shopping Centre in London. Mr Ward eventually wound up in Liverpool.
Today he is responsible for the 700,000 sq ft shopping centre with 90 retailers and a cinema complex. Over 200,000 people a week pass through the Broadway.
Having seen the retail landscape change over the years, Mr Ward has a challenge on his hands in keeping the offer there attractive.
He said: “The focus is switching a little bit towards becoming more of a destination rather than just a shopping experience.
“You’ve got to evolve and to keep yourself fresh in this market you’ve got to be more of a leisure destination.
“We’re currently in the middle of negotiations to get more of a leisure mix into the scheme.”
City a ‘work in progress’
While a lot of major businesses are moving back into Bradford, the city centre’s regeneration remains a work in progress, says Mr Ward.
He added: “It will probably still be a work in progress for the next few years but what’s clear now is that there is a vision out there.”
The city is still behind the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, according to Mr Ward, but Bradford’s time is now.
Mr Ward said: “It kind of sat in a bubble for a number of years while the other cities were going on their journeys.
“It is quite simply now Bradford’s time. That’s shown with footfall, it’s shown by the fact that a lot of these important businesses are coming back to the city centre.”
Making Bradford sparkle
As chairman of the Bradford BID, the greatest challenge for Mr Ward is “not having enough hours in the day”.
The BID is already bringing together stakeholders to market the city as one with the Sparkling Bradford campaign.
“We’re already ticking things off on the objectives that we set,” he added. “I’m really proud of how we’ve transformed in the city centre to build partnerships, recognising that it’s about how we do the journey together.”
Embracing the challenge
High streets up and down the country have suffered from a downturn. While bricks and mortar retailers lament the never ending march of the likes of Amazon, Mr Ward has decided to embrace the online giant.
The Broadway introduced Amazon lockers that allow people to collect their parcels.
Mr Ward said: “You’ve got to find ways of embracing it in a way which will help your footfall or sales in your shopping centre.”
He added: “I believe high streets have still got a massive future but it’s really important that we all fight for the high street and we all work together to keep them alive.”
High streets have the ability to bring people together and should be embraced, Mr Ward believes. “They are a part of our community,” he added.
He may not have wanted to switch four years ago, but Mr Ward said “I’m really enjoying my time in Bradford. I love putting something back in.”
With people like the general manager for the Broadway leading the way, it might not be so grim in Bradford after all.
Title: General manager of the Broadway
Date of birth: May 11, 1969
Lives: Westhoughton, Bolton
Favourite holiday destination: Menorca Cala Galdana
Last book read: The only books I get time to read are financial reports or on-site procedures
Favourite film: The Bodyguard
Favourite song: Billy Idol – White Wedding
Car driven: Jaguar F Pace
Most proud of: My two daughters – Katie and Isabelle
Education: Saddleworth Secondary School