Bradford 2025 offers unique chance to highlight city's amazing potential: Dan Bates

On May 31 2022, Bradford was announced as the winning bid for the title of UK City of Culture 2025. I wasn’t working in Bradford at this point, but I watched the announcement and was delighted when the district won.

Bradford was selected ahead of County Durham, Southampton and Wrexham on the shortlist for the prestigious accolade to follow Coventry as the UK’s City of Culture following an extensive judging process.

The announcement was made live on The One Show on BBC One and was memorably greeted with scenes of jubilation by crowds gathered in Bradford's City Park.

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The live footage really captured the excitement and energy of the people that night and you felt, even back then, that this could be the catalyst for change in the city.

Celebrations as it was announced that Bradford has been named the UK City of Culture 2025, by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries live on BBC's The One Show.Celebrations as it was announced that Bradford has been named the UK City of Culture 2025, by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries live on BBC's The One Show.
Celebrations as it was announced that Bradford has been named the UK City of Culture 2025, by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries live on BBC's The One Show.

I had no idea at the time, that a few months later I would be appointed Executive Director of Bradford 2025 and it’s crazy to think I’ve just had my first anniversary.

What really attracted me to the role – and what excited me the most - was the fact anything was possible.

After winning the bid, and then the euphoria that followed, we are now in full planning mode and getting ready to deliver a fantastic UK City of Culture for Bradford.

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It’s not just about the 2025 programme of events and what will be included, it’s also about the potential for the city, which is so huge.

Dan Bates outside Bradford City Hall. Photo by Tim Smith.Dan Bates outside Bradford City Hall. Photo by Tim Smith.
Dan Bates outside Bradford City Hall. Photo by Tim Smith.

Bradford has often been accused of hiding its light under a bushel, but the City of Culture title means we are now firmly competing with other major cities across the UK for our fair share of the limelight.

We’re now in the final 12-month countdown and since I started, we’ve grown from a team of four to 70 and I’m so proud that 96 per cent of us live in Yorkshire and over half live in Bradford itself.

We have a new office in the heart of the city centre and in the last year we’ve raised £32 million in grants and sponsorship towards delivering the year.

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We’ve also announced 21 organisations that will benefit from the £3m Cultural Capital Development Fund to improve and boost access to cultural venues in Bradford, as well as 35 Mini Seed Commissions that are allowing artists and organisations to develop their own cultural ideas.

There’s a really exciting programme being developed, which will be unveiled in autumn 2024; but so much pre-work is already ongoing in schools and communities across the district, and there will also be further opportunities for people to apply for additional funding in the spring to get involved.

We’re still busy with lots of planning including fundraising, exploring the district looking for potential Bradford 2025 sites, and meeting with community groups, faith leaders and businesses to explore what a UK City of Culture means to them.

As a city, we have made huge progress in so many areas already; Bradford Live is coming, the National Media Museum is having a makeover for 2025, there’s the new Darley Street Market with its performance space and the highways projects in the city centre, all of which are about the district getting ready for 2025.

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Businesses played a huge role in helping Bradford claim the UK City of Culture title in 2022 and those relationships are now developing further, with additional sponsors and partners coming on board.

Every business across the district can and should have a part to play in Bradford 2025, whether that’s through sponsorship, setting up staff volunteer programmes or giving their time and expertise in other ways.

The opportunities for growth in Bradford have never been better and we want to really highlight the city’s potential.

With the investment opportunities and transport infrastructure improving, more and more people are realising that Bradford is a great place to live, work and celebrate the arts and creativity.

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We have lots of things planned throughout 2024 - I can’t give too much away at the moment - but we are planning ways for local artists to be involved and a big recruitment drive for the thousands of volunteers we need to support us on our journey.

People talk about the legacy of any City of Culture and one of strongest legacies has always been the volunteer programme – Hull is still running its now.

We have been lucky with LEEDS2023 taking place last year as over the past six months we have been working hand in hand with their team, sharing experiences and good practice.

Wakefield and Kirklees have also done their own versions of an informal year of culture and Calder’s is this year, so there is a real appetite for this kind of celebration across the region, not just Bradford.

So, here’s looking forward to 2024, and 2025, when it really will be Bradford’s turn to shine.

Dan Bates is Bradford 2025 Executive Director

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