A new Government strategy is aiming to tackle Bradford’s ethnic divisions – but for local community workers, those in power must accept some of the blame. Chris Burn reports.
Delroy Dacres thinks very carefully before answering whether social integration has improved in Bradford since the city’s infamous riots in 2001. “From my perspective,” he says after a pause, “I would have to say no.”
If anyone should be able to judge, it’s Dacres. He is a former player and manager of Campion AFC, a football club with players from a wide mixture of backgrounds, which helped organise a special tournament to rebuild relations just a month after Asian and white youths clashed on the city’s streets. That eruption of racial violence saw a BMW dealership burnt to the ground, shops looted and around £10m damage caused. Almost 300 people were arrested.
Seventeen years on, racial integration in Bradford – and many other places across the country – is under scrutiny once more. The West Yorkshire city has been named by the Government as one of five pilot areas for new measures to help bring communities closer together and reduce frictions.
The £50m plans announced in a green paper last week include boosting English language skills by setting up “conversation clubs” and supporting councils to improve provision of tuition. Schools where pupils come from a single ethnic or religious community will have to ensure they mix with children from other backgrounds.
It follows a 2016 review by Dame Louise Casey which showed Bradford had one of the worst records in the country for people being unable to speak English and children going to schools that were effectively segregated by ethnicity.
The large population of Muslim Pakistanis in Manningham, where Campion AFC are based, saw it named as one of the top ten areas in the country where a minority faith or ethnic group made up the majority of its population. Two other areas of the city – Toller and Bradford Moor – were also in the national top ten.
Dacres says the Government plan contains some sensible ideas – but he sees the announcement of the new funding as bitterly ironic.
In addition to his involvement on the local football scene, he is a director of Manningham Mill Sports and Community Association. Before the global financial crisis led to hard-hitting austerity measures from the Coalition Government, it was running dozens of weekly classes – covering everything from sewing to football coaching, and even English lessons – but then funding was slashed.
“Because of Government austerity, places where people could turn up and get to know each other are going to the wall,” he says. “Of course, it is good if more people could speak English. If you moved to France, it would help to know French so you could get around.
“But in days gone past, we used to have a community development officer working in the community and putting activities on. Community groups and individuals could access opportunities like help with speaking English and getting educated and getting out into the workplace. Now those budgets have been cut, there is nothing, the people running them have moved on.
“If they are going to give this new money to big organisations like the university or the council, then that might not get to the heart of the problem. People aren’t going to be willing to travel to the other side of Bradford, so things have to be done locally.”
A former employee of the centre, who asked not to be named, says the building used to be a thriving hub of community activity with up to 200 people per week coming in for individual classes.
But as grants from different sources dried up in the wake of the financial crisis and the austerity measures that followed, the centre had to make its staff redundant back in 2013 and classes haven’t been run since.
The former worker says: “It effectively ceased running as a community centre because we didn’t have the staff to run the building. There have been no classes since. People still come up to me and wax lyrical about the experiences they had there, including those who used it as kids and are now degree-level students.
“This announcement is a massive U-turn by the Government. We had people from all different communities coming to use the centre.
“The loss of youth provision across the city has meant there is nowhere for young people.
“For me, the breakdown of community cohesion is a consequence of a lack of support and short-termism. Council funding cuts mean they have to focus on statutory services like adult social care. A youth service is not a statutory service but providing these things in a community underpins everything.”
But it is far from a completely bleak picture in the city, whatever the undoubted potential for improvements to be made.
The Government green paper highlights the positive impact of Speakers Corner Collective, an unfunded, creative and political social space in Bradford city centre – led by a collective of women, girls and, more recently, young men. It campaigns on issues like mental health and youth participation in decision-making, running community events open to everyone that are aimed at bringing people together.
The young people involved come from different backgrounds and from across Bradford, with the youngest member being 13 and the eldest 21, although the group is supported by older adult volunteers.
Meanwhile, the Dixons Mixed Multi-Academy Trust which runs eight schools in the city has started making admissions by randomised selection rather than distance at three of its academies to better help attract a more diverse mix of students. It is hoped a shared sixth form provision from next year will draw students from a wider geographical area across Bradford.
Bradford Council chief executive Kersten England says she see participation in the pilot project as an opportunity to build on the city’s many positives. “Bradford is the youngest and one of the most diverse places in the UK. Many of our people are young, digitally savvy, globally connected and entrepreneurial.
“In part that’s why we are the most productive city economy in the Northern Powerhouse and the best place to start a high growth business of all UK cities. But we know to deliver even greater prosperity and wellbeing for our district we need to make sure that people from all our diverse communities live, learn, and work well with and alongside each other.
“This integration programme is a great opportunity to strengthen and deepen our work to bring communities together, to promote and uphold shared values, to give everyone the skills to participate fully in the life of the district and the opportunity to build a good life in Bradford.”
Government plan ‘needs more funding’
More money is needed to deliver a “seismic” shift to community cohesion across the country, according to Dame Louise Casey.
Lady Casey, whose 2016 inquiry into the issue helped lead to the development of the Government’s new Integrated Communities Strategy, says while the £50m investment in the first two years is welcome, it will not go far enough.
With 770,000 people settled in the UK not speaking English, she said: “It is really important that as a nation we are all able to speak a common language and that common language is English.”
Lady Casey said the strategy also included “very important” proposals to tighten registration of home-schooling to protect children against exposure to extremist ideology.