How Bradford's Capital of Culture 2025 bid director fell in love with Yorkshire

He was born in Leeds, made his name in London and has returned to his home county by way of south-east Asia and San Francisco.

Richard Shaw, director of Bradford's bid to be UK City of Culture 2025. Picture Bruce Rollinson

But Richard Shaw has “fallen in love with the spirit of Bradford”, the district he is directing to a bid to become the UK City of Culture 2025.

He carved out an impressive career at the helm of arts and media organisations, including the British Film Institute, the National Theatre, English National Ballet and Lion Television.

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Living at Little Horton Green, Bradford, he is soon to settle in Saltaire, the city’s famous UNESCO heritage site created by Sir Titus Salt.

Richard Shaw with City Hall behind him. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Coronavirus creeps into any discussion of future plans, and the bid is no different, but the city council’s leader Susan Hinchcliffe has previously said the district remains “100 per cent” committed to the process.

Mr Shaw said: “The bid is an opportunity for the city district to come together.

“Something to focus on that at its heart is a regeneration project.

“What better time do to it than as we come out of a very, very strange and difficult time when recovery is going to be absolutely central to revitalising Bradford and the wider district?”

He added that as a newcomer to the district, seeing how its arts organisations have continued to stay active at this time “has been really emotional and impressive and extraordinary”.

“I fell in love with the spirit of Bradford.

“It was extraordinary that the city made 55 grants during this lockdown to a huge variety of cultural artists. Watching them fight with such a passion has been amazing.”

He added: “What was such a surprise was to see Bradford pull together and use culture and the arts in a way of connecting people, (that) was very, very extraordinary, really, really impressive.

“If it can do that during the lockdown, imagine what Bradford can do when it’s set free.”

Mr Shaw, 56, believes a combination of his experience in television, the arts and funding roles equips him amply for the directorship.

He was at Lion Television between 2002 and 2014, in roles including executive producer and head of development.

Television, he says, “is all about winning bids”.

“You are permanently winning work by writing bids competitively.

“I spent 12 years of my life winning business for one of the most successful independent television companies in the UK.”

Successful City of Culture bids also need to be able to highlight how there are a range of arts and culture in their cities.

Mr Shaw said: “I’m able to see it from the point of view of funders and people who make funding decisions.”

But he adds: “I wouldn’t overstate the ability of one person to do this.

“A City of Culture bid is when you have an act of enormous collective endeavour.”

Mr Shaw grew up in Roundhay, north Leeds, and says his family has been “Yorkshire for generations and generations”.

He said: “I always had a long-standing connection to this area, and wanted to be here.”

After attending the University of Hull between 1981 and 1984, studying drama, he became promotions and fundraising manager at the National Theatre between 1987 and 1989.

He then worked for the English National Ballet between 1989 and 1998 before he was recruited to lead the communications and re-launch strategy for the Royal Opera House, where he stayed until 2001.

His last job before taking on the bid was at the British Film Institute as director of marketing, communications and audiences, after which he spent a year in Java and San Francisco.

Speaking about Bradford, he said: “I was completely seduced by it as soon as I came back.”

He was drawn by it being “on the cusp of huge change”, its “visionary” council leadership, spirit of rebellion, politics and mixture of communities, he said.

Speaking about Bradford’s cultural standing, he said: “I hesitate to talk about rewriting the story, but I do think there is a job to be done of changing the perspective of a city.”

He said that “everybody poured massive contempt on Hull” when it announced its intention to bid for the UK City of Culture, but it “burst with pride” when the programme launched in 2017.

“The temptation is to cut and paste and that’s a one-way (trip) to disaster.

“You only win a bid if you are completely unique and distinctive.”

A consultation, which is yet to finish, has been taking place to find out what people think makes Bradford “unique”.

One theme is the “very, very distinctive and powerful voice around young people...who I think undoubtedly have a very strong voice in the bid”.

Another is the “mills and hills contrast” of grand architecture and natural beauty.

Thirdly, he mentions its “spirit of independence”, an example being that it had the first council to offer free school meals in 1906.

Bid organisers are currently in a “listening phase”, but submissions will likely take place in December 2021.

Mr Shaw said: “I’m planning to be here. This is a long-term commitment for me.”

Bid director Richard Shaw wrote a book during his year off from work following his time at the British Film Institute.

Based on his own experience, he penned Conquer Type 2 Diabetes while living in Java and San Francisco.

He says that Bradford is “better than both, probably”.

Speaking more about the bid, he said: “It’s an enormous professional change. It’s a real revelation and a huge opportunity both for me and the district to try and pull it off.”

He said that there are benefits for the region by launching a bid regardless of whether Bradford wins - although that is something he cannot think about yet, he added.

For information about the bid, visit https://bradford2025.co.uk/