I was born, raised and educated in Bradford and when I decided to set up my own recruitment business in 1997, I couldn’t think of a better place to do it. It’s a city full of talented, diverse and motivated people and businesses. A place where there is more entrepreneurialism than anywhere else in the UK.
Just over ten years later I sold the business and started another in the city – one that was as much about giving something back as it was about turning a profit. Despite (or maybe even because of) its reputational problems, there has always been a very social element to doing business in Bradford. We Bradfordians are a proud breed and want to see our local communities thrive.
In 2011, I was in the car on my way to give up a day of my time to take part in a Dragon’s Den style competition for school children at Bradford-based Seabrooks crisps. There was a story on the radio about some new research carried about by Travelodge which claimed that Bradford was the most unsafe city to visit in the UK. As a Bradfordian, I hear negative news stories about my home city on a weekly basis. However, I had rarely heard it called unsafe. In comparison to other major cities in the UK, it was known for being incredibly welcoming.
When I arrived at Seabrooks, I found that the other panel members were riled as well. The then CEO of Seabrooks was a Liverpudlian who remarked on the fact that there was nowhere in the city where he felt intimidated – unlike his beloved home town.
Somehow this story was the tipping point that made us want to take some serious action against all the negativity. It was having a major impact on the success and regeneration of the city and we weren’t going to sit back and take it any longer.
So Saleem Kader (the Managing Director of Bradford institution Bombay Stores) and I decided that we needed to do something that epitomised everything that Bradford was about. Something that was totally inclusive, not political and that tapped into the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. It also had to be something that didn’t look at the city through rose tinted glasses but that accepted and celebrated what made it different to other nearby cities like Leeds.
We came up with Positive Bradford Day and last September we got people to come together to speak up for the city we love and showcase everything that is great about it. It brought all the entrepreneurial and creative people and businesses out of the woodwork and into the spotlight.
Since then, we’ve launched the Positive Bradford 200 Club that pumps money into community groups, filled empty shops with art work, created retail space for creative businesses and started a campaign to train taxi drivers in how to ‘sell’ the city’s highlights. All of this is voluntary but it hasn’t been difficult to get Bradfordians on board to help – it is in our nature.
As we approach the second Positive Bradford Day, to be held on 22 June 2012, we’re looking at a city centre that is on its way to being transformed. The newly completed City Park has given us a focal point, which is already a hive of activity, the Westfield shopping centre has now been given the definite go ahead, and many of the empty shops and buildings are now being used and are drawing peoples’ eyes away from boarded up shop fronts up to breath-taking architecture.
These small changes have given the city a new lease of life and renewed ambition for the future. We are not a Leeds – and we don’t want to be – so we no longer need to play the part of its poor relation. Instead, we can focus on what is unique about Bradford. In the future, it will be a cultural and creative hub that people go out of their way to visit for its heritage and diversity – but we need people to believe it.
Behaviour breeds behaviour and as people see the creative business popping up in the city centre and people getting together to celebrate what we love about Bradford, attitudes will start to change. If everyone who moaned about or put down Bradford did something about it, it would happen much more quickly.
Positive Bradford Day is on 22 June 2012. Find out more at www.positivebradford.co.uk