Bradford UK City of Culture 2025 bid could make it a UK powerhouse - Carl Les and Stephen Houghton

As UK City of Culture 2025 judges visit Bradford after its bid was shortlisted, Carl Les and Stephen Houghton, co-chairs of the Yorkshire Leaders Board and leaders of North Yorkshire County Council and Barnsley Council, say why they think the prize is so deserved.

Later this month we will find out if Bradford’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025 has been successful.

If it does win, and we all hope it does, it would mean everything to the people who live there.

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Bradford set for a "new chapter" after being named on the shortlist to become th...
Artist Dan Archer' s stunning Borealis in November last year used layers of light and particle clouds to bring the magic of the Northern Lights to Bradford. Picture: Tony Johnson.

It would also be a cause for celebration across Yorkshire because not only would it be an opportunity to showcase everything this brilliant and diverse city has to offer, it would also be showcasing the entire region.

Visitor numbers would increase across Bradford district and elsewhere, which means we would all benefit. That’s the case with the Dales – people go there and then they visit the coast, or the Wolds, or one of our cities. This is the kind of positive economic process we want to develop further and having Bradford as UK City of Culture would be a huge boost to that.

As cross-party leaders in Yorkshire, we work well together because we are so inter- connected as an economic area. It’s the old saying, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We understand that and put politics aside when we need to for the good of Yorkshire.

We have always had very strong working relationships and cultural ties with Bradford and a lot of our residents work in West Yorkshire, just as a lot of people who live there work in North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, so there’s a two-way flow across the borders, which are only lines on a map. We share so many cultural activities and to have an important city like Bradford, which is right on our doorstep, being recognised in this way would only help strengthen those ties and broaden these activities.

And we know that investing in culture reaps dividends. We saw that in Hull during its tenure as UK City of Culture in 2017 which attracted more than five million people to over 2,800 events, installations and exhibitions, with nearly every resident attending at least one cultural activity that year. This shows that creativity and culture can be a powerful driver of change and fuel the wider economy as well as bring local communities together.

It can also shape public perception. When people talk about moving somewhere the first thing they often ask is “what’s the town centre like, and what could my family do if we moved here?” And if you can get the right levels of investment in transport, skills and culture, then you can accelerate regeneration because businesses want to invest in places where their employees are going to be happy.

Which is another reason why this bid is so important. Culture is a central tenet of Bradford Council’s ambitious regeneration plans and its leader, Susan Hinchliffe, deserves credit for encouraging investment in the district’s cultural sector.

Councillor Hinchliffe says “there can be no regeneration without culture” and she is right.

Bradford wants City of Culture status not to wear as a badge of honour, but to help deliver long- term, sustainable growth. It also wants to harness its unique identity.

Bradford district is one of the most diverse communities in the UK, with more than 150 languages spoken by its residents and it has the youngest population of any city in Europe (29 per cent of people are under the age of 20 and nearly a quarter are under 16).

Having a thriving cultural sector enables young people to discover talents and experiences they may not have come across before, and investment in culture allows them to explore all this.

Today’s young business owners and entrepreneurs see themselves as global citizens who are intrinsically connected to the rest of the world and Bradford district’s youthful demographic puts the city in a unique position when it comes to promoting itself and attracting national and international investment.

Bradford’s bid is not only about celebrating the city itself, but also its towns and villages, including Keighley, Bingley, Shipley, Haworth, Saltaire and Ilkley, which boast such world-class treasures as the Brontë Parsonage Museum and Salts Mill, home to the largest permanent collection of David Hockney paintings in the world and where his biggest ever picture, a joyous 295ft long frieze, has just gone on display in the UK for the first time.

Culture is at the heart of life in Bradford – from the National Science and Media Museum to the intercultural arts hub Kala Sangam – and it is there for the entire community, which is why there is so much support and goodwill for its UK City of Culture bid.

This is about putting the Bradford district on the map as a cultural powerhouse not only for Yorkshire, or the North, but the whole country.