Bradford UK City of Culture 2025 is half a year away and the BBC is on board

Bradford’s year as UK City of Culture is six months away and the BBC has announced its partnership. John Blow gets an update from those at the helm.

Travelling through Bradford city centre with half a year to go until its time as UK City of Culture in 2025, thosewith a stake in the event – all residents, that is – might understandably feel a little nervy.

Roads are still torn up as Bradford Council continues work to pedestrianise parts of the centre.

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Meanwhile, major institutions such as the National Science and Media Museum and its Pictureville cinema are barely operating right now – the former for a planned renovation, while the latter is mostly shut to deal with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete discovered last year – and the much-vaunted launch of the Bradford Live venue at the old Odeon cinema has suffered delays.

The panel in Bradford.The panel in Bradford.
The panel in Bradford.

Shanaz Gulzar, creative director of Bradford UK City of Culture 2025, says residents are keeping the faith.

“Six months is a long time in the world of building,” says the artist. “Bradford Live looks phenomenal now from where it was even six months ago. It’s close to completion actually. It should be complete in the next four to five weeks,” she says, speaking at the end of June in One City Park, the new building that overlooks Centenary Square.

The Science and Media Museum, meanwhile, is due to re-open in 2025 after the completion of £3.4m works including new sound and vision galleries.

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Speaking about the roadworks, Shanaz adds: "We've got some visitors over from one of the countries that we're working with and one of the British Council leads took a picture and sent it back to the team and said, ‘Look what Shanaz has done to the city!’ You know what? I'll take that. But the majority of this will be complete by the end of this year and then the rest of it, and that is further out the city centre, will be done by early next year.”

Shanaz Gulzar.Shanaz Gulzar.
Shanaz Gulzar.

She spoke to The Yorkshire Post on the day the BBC announced it would be an official partner of the Year of Culture, revealing a raft of initial commissioning plans for the event.

These included the New Comedy Awards, Contains Strong Language poetry festival, a BBC Bitesize Schools Tour and Countryfile special – with the last a fitting choice for a district whose outer wards are rural.

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“But that’s not known outside Bradford,” says Shanaz, sounding incredulous. “People, nationally, don’t know how rural Bradford is. We're exploring all sorts of projects that accentuate that, bring that to light.

BBC director-general Tim Davie and Bradford 2025 creative director Shanaz Gulzar in Centenary Square.BBC director-general Tim Davie and Bradford 2025 creative director Shanaz Gulzar in Centenary Square.
BBC director-general Tim Davie and Bradford 2025 creative director Shanaz Gulzar in Centenary Square.

"The Brontë Parsonage is getting visitors from all over the world and then they actually realise it really is situated on the moors. We talk about lived experience – they wrote about their lived experience but through fiction.”

With the BBC pursuing a strategy to move more operations outside the capital, called Across the UK, planning a wealth of TV, audio and education programmes in Bradford during the special year presents it with something of an open goal.

Katrina Bunker, BBC senior head of production for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, says: “Hopefully we’re demonstrating to licence fee payers everywhere that we do tell your stories, you are important to us, we do want to hear your voice and see you in the programmes we make. The fact that the BBC has moved more and more of its programming out of London and into the regions is really helping with that. Also, an event like Bradford 2025 is just such a great excuse to get those big BBC brands up here.”

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Some people, though, might feel that these announcements are no consolation for the BBC changing local radio programming through shared content, as has happened over the last year.

“I would argue against [the term] cutbacks,” she says. “I would say we've made changes, actually, because of the way the market is changing. We know that listening to traditional radio, viewing traditional TV, is going down.”

She adds: “We've had to change how we work so that our local and regional content is getting to audiences now and audiences of the future as well.

"We’ve talked about how youthful a city is,” adds Katrina, referring to Bradford’s claim to being the youngest city in the UK and even Europe.

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"If the BBC is going to engage younger audiences with the content that we make and create throughout Bradford 2025, we need to be on platforms beyond just traditional radio and TV.”

During the event at One City Park, BBC director-general Tim Davie gave a speech to staff and there was a panel discussion with Katrina, Shanaz, broadcaster and Yorkshire Post contributor Nick Ahad and entertainment producer Adeel Amini.

Adeel is from Bradford and has been based in London for 16 years but joined the board of Screen Yorkshire in2021, coming with TV credits including Catchphrase, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Blind Date and 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

He said: “Bradford, the city, and Bradfordians are very resilient. This city has been through a tough time but what is such a joy to see today is how celebratory everyone is being about it and how much we want it to rise.

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"And there's a little bit of that Yorkshire pride as well, where we're like ‘We're here to prove a point that Bradford – like when I was coming through the industry – is more than just a stereotype.’

"I was bullied for my accent growing up and going into the TV industry. People have this perception of what somebody from Bradford should be like and what sort of shows they should make and I think what is really marvellous here is that we are showing that we can do everything and we will do everything and we’ll do it very, very well.”

Sounds like a clear road ahead.

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