Why QED Foundation's Adeeba Malik CBE wants Bradford to win UK City of Culture 2025 bid after Hull's success

Adeeba Malik has spent her life standing up for Bradford after her father came to West Yorkshire in the 1950s. She tells John Blow why she’s on board for its bid to be UK City of Culture.

Adeeba Malik CBE wants to create the kind of Bradford that’s worth driving thousands of miles to see.

That’s what her late father Mohammed Sadiq Malik did in 1957, after all.

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He travelled by road from Pakistan to West Yorkshire, in cars and coaches, searching for a prosperous life in the mills, where he eventually became a foreman.

Adeeba Malik photographed by Ernesto Rogata.
Adeeba Malik photographed by Ernesto Rogata.

Malik wants to harness just this kind of vision for her home to again become a place of opportunity and hopes to do this through Bradford’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025, after joining its board last year.

“My dad came because the textile sector was growing,” she says.

“I’m in this country because of him making that journey in a car from Pakistan to getting here. That’s what he did. He came in a car and buses and coaches and whatever. He didn’t fly over.

"And he took that long journey to get here to be part of a city which not only gave him opportunity or his family the opportunities, but also gave the wider people of the district the benefit of having these workers in the mill.

Adeeba's late father Mohammed Sadiq Malik, centre, as a young man.

“Because what it did is it created wealth and opportunity. And that’s what I really believe in. It’s about creating the opportunities in terms of work, health, education, so people benefit.”

Culture, too, could be a major force to reckon with in Bradford.

But she knows there are people to get on side first. Malik notes that 53 per cent of the district population are in the lowest or least-engaged culture segments compared to England overall, which is at 33 per cent.

Worse still, 80 per cent of the people in the 12 most deprived wards of Bradford are in these lowest engaged segments, according to a council report in January this year briefing members about progress on the development of a 10-year cultural strategy, which cites Audience Agency data used for the city’s Creative People and Places programme.

Adeeba Malik CBE is a board member of Bradford's UK City of Culture 2025 bid. Picture: Ernesto Rogata.

Malik says: “Obviously the image and the status and the title and getting people in to the district will be fantastic but, for me, the bid has to be two things.”

Firstly it should be a bottom-up, grassroots process.

“We have the resources, we have the mindset, we have the passion, we have the experience and we have the people to make this city the City of Culture.

“So we’ve got to make everybody, whether they’re living in Holme Wood, whether they’re living in Heaton or whether they’re living in Keighley, to feel that they’re all part of that.”

Adeeba cradled by her father Mohammed Sadiq Malik just fater her birth in 1966.

Secondly, and consequently, people in the district should feel that they own the project rather than being told how to do it by others. “When we feel we own that, then everybody else coming in will be able to own it. There’s no point getting everybody else to feel that they can own it from outside, the district has to feel it owns this itself and everything else will build up.”

She adds: “If you’ve got people not taking part and not buying into it or don’t feel they’re going to be important to be part of it, you have to go out and look for them. You have to work with people who’ve got the contacts and the relationship with them, and bring them in.”

Malik is in a good position to do this, being the deputy chief executive of the QED Foundation, which supports the economic and social integration of ethnic minorities.

After being awarded an MBE for her work with ethnic minorities and businesses in 2004, Malik received a CBE in 2015 for services to community cohesion.

She has also served as a board member at regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, as governor of Sheffield Hallam and Bradford University and director of Northern Ballet. In addition, she was on the Cabinet Office Race Disparity Advisory Group, acted as a commissioner of the Women and Work Commission and worked with British Waterways among various other organisations.

Malik was appointed to the Bradford 2025 board in September last year alongside Sabbiyah Pervez, communities reporter for BBC Look North, Brendan Brown, chief executive at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, and Richard Emmott, director of corporate affairs at Yorkshire Water.

Bradford’s efforts come after another Yorkshire place Malik knows well, Hull, made a huge success of its own triumphant year as the UK City of Culture in 2017.

Malik spent four years in the East Yorkshire city for university between 1986 and 1990 and says it was “transformed” by its bid.

“People said, ‘Why you going to Hull? You don’t go anywhere after that apart from the sea’, she remembers.

“It’s like nobody could get their head around why I went to Hull because nobody of my colour skin went to Hull.”

She adds: “Sometimes you’ve got to give the underdog a chance. You’ve got to give people in cities the chance. They might not have the greatest levels of education or the best employment rates or the most snazziest buildings in the country.

“It is about giving the cities like Hull and Bradford the chance to shine, it really is. If you can give titles to places like Hull, what they have done has demonstrated that they were able to deliver. And that’s what Bradford wants. Bradford wants some of that, we want some of that – because we want to demonstrate we can deliver.”

Then she puts it more bluntly.

“I’ve got a lot on my plate. I’m a carer for a mother who’s got multiple health issues, I’ve got my work at QED, I do a lot of work with the Government and the Cabinet Office – I’ve taken this on because I just want the city to win this. Simple.”

Malik says she grew up watching an eclectic mix of wrestling, Top of the Pops and horror films, and reading Enid Blyton books. But in a 2015 article with The Yorkshire Post, she said some young people didn’t feel able to identify as both British and Muslim.

This seems to have shifted, she thinks, and believes a solution is in discovering common causes.

She says: “It’s finding things that bring people together regardless of their background. Food brings people together, sport brings people together. I’m a big music person, I’m dying to get back into a stadium and hear some rock music. It just brings people together.

"Since that interview in 2015, there’s plenty of evidence of young people of Muslim background saying they have this strong affiliation to being a British person.”

She adds: “People have this expectation that you can only be one thing and you don’t have to be, you can be multiple things.”

When she’s in London on business with Government departments, for instance, she adopts the “hardcore Yorkshirewoman” persona.

And do they listen?

“They do when I talk to them,” she says.

“I don’t know what else they think when I’ve gone. But when I talk to them I feel a sense I’ve been listened to.”

Young city, big dreams

City leaders in Bradford hope that a successful bid would secure millions of pounds in investment.

Lancashire, Medway in Kent, Gloucester and Southampton have already announced their intentions to bid. Bradford, however, believes a key to its offer is its demographic as a young city (29 per cent of its population is under 20 and nearly a quarter under 16) and as one of the most diverse in the UK.

The UK-specific City of Culture scheme was launched in 2013 – following Liverpool’s hosting of the European Capital of Culture title in 2008 – and a new location is chosen every four years.

The city announced its intention to bid in July 2019, and Shanaz Gulzar was named as the chairwoman in September 2020.