Why arts consortium Bradford Producing Hub is flying the city's flag

This week I bring not a theatre to the lockdown profile series, nor a theatre company, but an idea.

Lisa Mallaghan, commissioning producer for Bradford Producing Hub.  (Picture: Tony Johnson).
Lisa Mallaghan, commissioning producer for Bradford Producing Hub. (Picture: Tony Johnson).

Actually, it’s more of an ideal than an idea, an optimistic notion of what an ideal future might be.

Today I include in these lockdown profiles Bradford Producing Hub. Why? The answer lies in the hub’s definition.

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“We are a four-year live arts development project. Ultimately, our job is to respond to the needs of the local live arts sector and to do things differently – not reiterate or localise institutional issues, bad habits of unhelpful ways of working just because ‘that’s how it’s always done’.

BHP's Creativity Council. (Pictures: Out of Place Studio>

"We’re trying to remove the red tape, find more accessible, welcoming ways of working, being open and honest. I’d say we’re defined by questioning, changing, supporting and doing,” says Lisa Mallaghan, commissioning producer for Bradford Producing Hub, or BPH.

So, a huge crossover with theatre, theatre companies and the kind of cultural life I’ve been celebrating with these profiles since we started sharing them way back in the first lockdown.

It makes sense to include BPH, a consortium, but I appreciate it can sometimes be tricky to get one’s head around these organisations that work behind the scenes of the UK arts scene.

Having seen first hand the magic created by producers, I can tell you that it is impossible to overstate how important they are to artists and to the creation of art. That there is a collective hub coming together in Bradford is one of the reasons the city feels confident in its upcoming bid to be named the UK’s Capital of Culture four years from now.

Mallaghan was appointed to her role last year and is the BPH commissioning producer alongside her work as senior producer at Bradford-based theatre company Mind the Gap.

She was ideally placed – BPH is a consortium made up of Mind the Gap alongside Theatre in the Mill, Kala Sangam, Common Wealth, Displace Yourself Theatre and 154 Collective.

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, there is a problem at the heart of BPH and it is one of too many voices – or at least it would be a problem, where the voices not united in a single message.

“We really care about Bradford,” says Mallaghan. “We want the city and its creatives to thrive. We have a creativity council made up of 19 local people who make decisions and make sure we’re representing our place and our people."

When the job of leading the BPH consortium, there were a number of high profile people in Yorkshire arts who had their heads turned by the possibilities of such a role. Mallaghan was clear that she wanted to make a difference when she landed it.

“I love supporting artists to develop and make performance happen that audiences will love. Having spent 14 years working at Mind the Gap, supporting artists with learning disabilities to create, lead, deliver, finding ways for everyone to be able to develop and deliver their creative ambitions is a fundamental part of who I am. This project is a gift to Bradford’s creative sector and I’m very lucky to be at the helm of it,” she says.

One of the things we do in these profiles of theatres and companies is look at some of the defining productions that have been brought to Yorkshire thanks to their work. It’s a tricky ask of BPH.

“We launched in January 2019, so it’s been an interesting time to run a live arts development project,” says Mallaghan, with understandable understatement.

“I’ve been really proud of how the team has responded to the difficulties of the past year. We’ve developed a fantastic strand of online training sessions covering lots of different arts jobs and ways of working.

"Our Front Room Poetry events are really wonderful, bringing brilliant spoken word performers into people’s homes, which we always kick off with local people sharing their words through an open mic slot. We’ve commissioned five new productions that will be coming soon and we’re about to launch the next set of commissions. Despite the restrictions of Covid, we’ve done a lot.”

BPH faces something that not all the companies in this series have to deal with: cynicism. I’m a Bradfordian, schooled and raised, I know the way the city is perceived. It’s something the Bradford Producing Hub, a key part of the city’s bid for Capital of Culture, is well versed in tackling.

“Bradford is a fantastic place. The youngest city in the UK, one of the most culturally diverse, its architecture and landscapes are stunning. But it’s also suffered from years of decline that directly impacts infrastructure, opportunity and self-belief. These issues are the same things that impact our arts sector.

"There is, however, exciting momentum in Bradford at the moment and BPH is key to a lot of it. Our job is to support and develop the live arts sector in readiness for the increase in opportunity.”

BPH is a good representation of the new confidence that is already manifesting in the city.

“We’re important nationally, as a pilot project trying to do things differently. One of our biggest aims is to take this opportunity to test things, simplify things and provide evidence to the national arts sector that there are alternatives, that things don’t always need to be done the same way, that inclusivity and accessibility for all isn’t as hard as people think,” says Mallaghan, demonstrating exactly why this series of articles outlining the important cultural buildings and companies we have in Yorkshire is the perfect place to celebrate BPH.