Day 7: More Than Just An Airport In Yeadon

bradford city hall

The “poor relation”; “not a place you’d want to live”; or simply, a “sh*t-hole”.

I’ve heard Bradford described as many things – by the press, by Leeds United fans at Elland Road, even by its own local folk. Very rarely is it complimentary.

But Bradford is a beautiful place with a great history, and – if some of the people I met on Day 7 of my travels have their way – a promising future ahead. Its sandstone townscape blesses the city with an exotic, dreamlike panorama, especially on a sun-kissed day like that on which I turned up.

Despite the best efforts of councils and developers in recent years to destroy all that, it remains a special place.

If you arrive at Forster Square station, head straight to the old post office building and you’ll see why. This was my first port of call on Day 7: I stood on the junction at Canal road trying to navigate my way. I fell back on my phone to find the website of the organisation based there, on the frontpage of which is a picture of the grand old building, sprawled in front of the cathedral. I looked up, and there it was in its splendour – like so much else in Bradford, a monument to a time when this region made things and and also made things happen.

Helen from Kala Sangam, based in the building, was kind enough to invite me for lunch, telling me not only about Bradford but also about the work they do. Kala Sangam describes itself as a South Asian and collaborative arts organisation bringing people together with performances, workshops, and all manner of educational programmes with partners and creatives in the region. As well as a creative space, the building is now home to Daisies Cafe, where we shared a good quiche.

Helen herself is from Beeston, and still lives in Leeds – so she sees daily the divide between the two cities even on her commute to work. Less than half an hour by fast train between one another’s city centres, and separated at the middle by the suburban spread of hard-to-define residential areas such as Pudsey, Calverley and Thornbury, Leeds and Bradford have an awkward relationship: sometimes rivals, but often the balance is tilted strongly in one direction more than the other.

However Malcolm, who works at the old post office building on Forster Square, took me on a tour and talked about some of the history of the city.

Its modern story is a sorry tale: shambolic failures such as the Forster Square shopping centre development, old edifices torn down and replaced by ramshackle in-vogue concrete blocks.

But historically, Bradford was a big name, and its relationship with Leeds at the heart of the entire county’s prosperity. This was where wool was imported from all over the world, the raw material made into a product before it was taken on to Leeds to be transformed and tailored into garments.

Industrialists – Salt the lead star, but joined by a large supporting cast – brought money and jobs, and also often would return and invest in the community, working to secure the health and basic education of their employees. According to Malcolm, it’s been said that at one point there were more millionaires per head in Bradford than anywhere else in the country.

But even then Bradford had a bad press. I visited Lumb Lane, which I was told Engels once described as the filthiest street in Europe. Having already had my lunch, I didn’t stop off at any of the kebab shops which now line the kerb, but these days that’s all that could possibly give it the same sobriquet.bradford mill

In the heart of the city, Centenary Square is bordered on one side by the impressive City Hall and on the other by a new development of bars and flash restaurants. Looking around at the latest developments around the county, finding old building societies or banks or political and social clubs now occupied by chain wine bars and upmarket Indian restaurants, I can’t help but think that if these old mansions and houses hadn’t been bought up by the leisure industry, they’d have been knocked down and our city centres left derelict.

Thank goodness then for the likes of Waterstone’s, who now occupy the old Wool Exchange, and who have kept the vast blackboard which was once used to display prices to traders on the floor. Thank goodness for Kala Sangam too, bringing new life into a building which could have been left to rot but which now stands as a bond between the city’s great history and a future which – if enough of its locals work hard for it – could yet transcend its past.

In the evening, Leeds United hosted Bradford City at Elland Road in a League Cup match. To some, the Leeds-Bradford match is the one that really counts: nobody likes Leeds United and even clubs we don’t care about will be heard singing ‘We All Hate Leeds Scum’. But Bradford is the local derby that counts for something, it seems.

And ultimately perhaps that’s a good thing: it shows that we still care about each other, that we still pay enough attention to one another. The potential – culturally, creatively, economically, politically – that towns and cities across West Yorkshire have by working together is huge, and nowhere more so than in Leeds and in Bradford.

Then those beautiful old Bradford buildings will be palaces again, and Malcolm’s elegiac stories of a city long past its prime will themselves return to the drawer of history.

For further background as to Mark’s challenge check out ‘28 days later’


  1. Thanks for coming to Bradford – I’m really glad you came across to see us. Could I ask why you didn’t mention Bradford in the title, even though the post is about my fair city? Could I also ask why ‘Leeds’ is mentioned 10 times in a post about Bradford? But, yeah, thanks.

    1. Hi John,
      Only one of the posts I’ve made this month has had a title with the place I’ve visited in it (and that was not even the main post in the daily blog, but an additional aside). Most people who read these blogs are coming to the links from Twitter and Facebook where it’s pretty clear where we’re talking about.
      As well as that, I was interested not only in Bradford but also the relationship between Leeds and Bradford (implied I hope by the title, referring to Leeds-Bradford airport, one of the few contexts in which one hears the two cities’ names put together). This is because it was a day when the two football teams were playing and already on my tour I’d come across people living between the two cities who said interesting things about the divide between two very close settlements which have long had a symbiotic economic relationship. One of the things I’ve learnt from this month has been that West Yorkshire (to my mind) is stronger as a county than it is as a series of disparate cities and towns. And by my count Bradford is mentioned thirteen times (and one of the times where Leeds is mentioned, it’s next to the word ‘Scum’…).

      1. Thanks for replying, and so quickly too.

        I take your point about the titles of all your posts not containing the subjects’ names, but your post does contain a place name: unfortunately, it is neither the place you were visiting nor is it even in the same locale, authority or district.

        I came across your blog on Bradford after having an excellent afternoon wandering the streets of Manningham and was looking for inspiration and examples of how others view my city so I could blog my day (; ‘The Culture Vulture’ is a fabulous read and I looked there, really, to see how it should be done and emulate that style. When I read what you’d written, I was unhappy. Bradford struggles against unfounded poor perceptions and a council that has done nothing to change this ( and if it is to rebuild its reputation it needs to be promoted fairly; I don’t think your blog did my city justice.

        Bradfordians will happily and, all too frequently, tell you of the city’s inadequacies, but a major hate is our unfavourable, unequal and pejorative comparison with our near neighbours, and your blog, I felt, only furthered this. We are not a suburb of Leeds nor do we want to be. Mentioning Bradford 13 times in a post about Bradford is understandable; mentioning Leeds 10 times in a post about Bradford is not.

        In short, I think I wanted to read your post and be inspired to visit and explore my city, and for others to be equally so, and I was disappointed.

        1. Hi John

          As discussed over on Twitter with you I’d be honoured if you’d help redress the balance as you see it, so future visitors to Bradford start to hear the plethora of positive voices, which can help bring people who share the sentiment out of the woods and give those flagging in energy a shot in the arm. We are aware of great stuff already happening such as Hidden Bradford on Twitter @HiddenBradford Bettakultcha, Iain Bloomfield at Theatre in The Mill, Gideon Seymour and Fabric, Bradford Playhouse, Jean McEwan, Irna Quershi amongst many others, that I’ve most likely offended by not mentioning yet…(please identify yourself in the comments below)

          If we could play our small part in helping bring people together to identify the great, critique the not so great (as an alternative to the local media) and shine a spotlight on what makes Bradford unique we would be happy.
          We are looking for contributors on a regular and guest basis and a person who wants to act as an editor to suggest ideas and commission content. It’s not onerous, and maybe this already exists?
          It’s not paid, but hopefully it helps galvanise and provide a very public place for people to find what you were looking for

          By the way have a look and see if some of these blogs don’t make you feel we have our hearts in the right place

          Let’s cut Mark a little slack, and see if we have a big part to play in helping you

          1. Thanks, Emma.

            The honour, I assure you, would be all mine.

            I would like to write a blog for The Culture Vulture but, as I’m a novice at both blogging and doing stuff, I want to get better at it before I have a go for such an esteemed outlet. Unlike Mark, I am biased and would want to persuade people to come to my city and enjoy it; I’m researching and experimenting as to how I might achieve that. Once I think I can give it a go, I’d love to write for you, but I’ll only do it when I can get people to try Bradford as a destination, and hook them enough to read my guest posts for you (were I deserving enough to be invited back) in the future and return to Bradford again and again.

            Mark can consider his slack cut.

            Thanks again.

  2. Bradford does get a back rep but there are definitely some very positive stories beneath the surface, as touched upon in the post. Theres a very active craft and art community that really put a bright spin on things for me. The grumbles are there no doubt over the rather patchy city centre developments but I’m sure everry city has its grumbles, Bradford’s just seem rather more pronouced. Who knows, just wait and see I suppose.

    Anyway, thats my two pen’th

  3. Although I admit to a little bias, I still find Bradford has more cultural buzz in its little finger than Leeds has in its entirety.

    I recall arguing with Yorkshire Tourist Board – who wanted us to play second fiddle to Leeds – pointing out that the icons of Yorkshire are disproportionately in the City and District of Bradford. Top Withens & Haworth, Ilkley Moor, Saltaire, the Media Museum…Leeds has nothing to compare, just a city centre that’s not as good as Manchester or Newcastle.

    Yet we spent years talking ourselves down – all through the 1990s the Council told the world that Bradford was a declining dump. And first the world and then many Bradfordians came to believe in this Big Lie.

    I looked at the new City Park – bit untidy – this lunchtime and thought to myself “this will look good”.

    I drive past Lister Mills and see a great building – the like of which Leeds doesn’t have – brought into life.

    I could go on – talk about Manningham Park, tell you of the refubishment of Roberts Park, extol the vitures of our Mela and the success of our markets (despite that same 1990s council demolishing Yorkshire’s last specilist municipal food market).

    It’s a good place.

  4. “suburban spread of hard-to-define residential areas such as Pudsey”
    Pudsey is a thriving and well defined old town with a town centre, functioning town hall, library (not due for closure) leisure centre, much used railway station and brand new bus station.

  5. I’ve followed the debate on this post and on Twitter, and it’s been on my mind most of the day. Firstly, a disclaimer: my blog is not a tour guide or a travel agent’s brochure. I’m not really the right person to happily encourage others to go along to all the places I visit. If I do inspire others to visit, then that’s a happy accident – and indeed almost certainly because I too have been inspired on my visit.

    Whenever our home town, city or village or even country gets some bad press, we’re very quick to make a chest-beating defence and recite litanies of all the great things that we’ve produced, the people we’ve given the world, and so on.

    I made a cursory reference to the “hard-to-define residential areas” between Leeds and Bradford in the post, and one commenter above felt the need to have their own chest-beating session on Pudsey (which I mentioned), insisting it’s an old town with a thriving community life. I don’t doubt that it’s a nice place which I’ve visited on occasion before. But I’ve seen Pudsey described variously as a village, an old town, a market town, and a suburb, all whilst undoubtedly belonging to the City of Leeds; it is the end of the line of the bus I take into Leeds city centre every morning from the east, but it is 11 minutes by train from Leeds and only 9 minutes from Bradford Interchange. Hence I described it as a hard-to-define residential area (again, on the back of conversations with people who actually live there and thereabouts!).

    But in making his comment, Peter inadvertently supports the case I want to make. Pudsey remains a thriving area in large part thanks to its important place as a link between Bradford and Leeds, and its close commute-able proximity to the two. Pudsey’s prosperity relies to a large degree on both Bradford and Leeds. So John, when you tell me that Bradfordians are upset by comparisons with Leeds, I believe you must recognise that our local areas are made stronger by our associations with each other.

    I live in Halton, once merely a self-contained village close to Cross Gates and Temple Newsam. Now these really merge together and form a series of clustered suburban districts all feeding into the city centre of Leeds – and they are better off for it surely than if they were merely isolated villages, islands unto themselves. Our identities overlap: I am a Halton boy; I often walk to Cross Gates to shop or take the train to York or Leeds; I am a Leeds lad and a West Yorkshireman. We must celebrate that and celebrate our relationships with each other, not retreat to the defensive.

    Even when I went to Knaresborough for their arts festival last week (one of the highlights of my tour – a special, inspiring day) I heard some saying that they were beginning to trump Hebden Bridge as a festival venue, as well as lamenting on how Harrogate takes all the glory and the fame whilst they normally don’t get a look in (sound familiar?). Competition is good and healthy, but if it turns to bitterness and sheer enmity then it becomes crippling.

    At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Bradford and Leeds relied on each other – just like other towns across the county. That spirit has to guide us in this century ahead too. Uttering Bradford and Leeds in the same breath is not dismissing one in favour of the other, making some implicit or explicit comparison; it’s recognising the dynamic between us and the relationship that we have. Bradford’s relationship with Leeds is what made it great, and vice versa.

    Take London: culture in Richmond, Camden or Bethnal Green is strong and proud, even though those districts are as diverse as you can get in Britain (sort of) – because by belonging to a collective London, they all buy into the same collective identity, whilst remaining true to their own which they show off proudly.

    When I went to Bradford and spoke with locals there, their conversation was coloured by tragedy and a sense of disappointment and despair at the state of their city now. Looking out from the old post office hearing Malcolm speak of how great Bradford once was has to be the saddest moment of my tour this month.

    But if it is to regain its strength, its civic pride, and earn a better reputation, then Bradford will have to pull itself up by its boot-straps and do a huge amount about it. And it will take more than a handful of well-intentioned bloggers read by a clique of savvy, connected, metropolitan, back-slapping friends.

    I’ve seen on Twitter some blaming the city council for its failure to promote Bradford. Let me tell another small story I didn’t mention in this blog because I felt it ungracious to dwell upon. I visited the City Hall and enquired at the reception about tourist information, particularly as I was seeking out the place where the Independent Labour Party had originally been formed. I was told it was somewhere in Bradford, but the Twittersphere had given me three different street names, and on none of which could I find any reference. The lady at the reception, kind and attentive for which I can’t fault her, said sadly that the tourist information board used to have an office in the City Hall but don’t any more – “there are some leaflets over there you can look at though”. I told her what I was looking for, and she was good enough to call up the local branch of the Labour Party. Eight or ten minutes later, they rang back: they weren’t sure, but the chairman of the branch is the person who would know because he’s got a book on the history – but he’s on holiday.

    Whatever your politics or your class (I’ve never voted Labour in my life, and I believe they did just as much damage as the Tories to the North of England in the post-war years), the founding of the ILP is a milestone in Industrial Britain’s history. Every Bradfordian should learn about this in school, or failing that they should be taught it by their mothers and fathers.

    If the council isn’t working for you, start a new political movement, campaign for Bradford’s heart and soul, win elections, and change that council so you can get the city moving again, bringing prosperity and with it a greater platform for its culture and heritage. Sitting back and merely blaming the council for taking the life out of the city is the last refuge of the middle-aged and fed up. I say this because by the sounds of those who live there, Bradford’s problems are not cultural by any means; they’re political.

    I’ve gone on for too long, but as I say this has been on my mind all day and it’s important. Bradford is beautiful and deserves better than patronising sympathy, a sorrowful ode, or a litany of the nice things you can find in the city centre. I would like to be able to inspire people to come, though I can’t make that promise as I’ve simply gone around the county this month telling it as I’ve found it. If anyone on here wants to give me a proper, comprehensive tour of the city and its promising future (not just its past), then I’m free next Monday or Tuesday. Name a time and a place, and I’ll be there.

    PS. And of course Emma is absolutely right.

  6. Coming down the Wakefield Road into Bradford on a sunny evening or morning brings to mind J B Priestley’s descriptions of Bradford. Equally, Saltaire viewed across the Green at Baildon brings to mind the views of Hockney, with the vivid colours on his pallet closer to reality than someone not from the area could imagine.

    Bradford’s biggest problem is its poverty. Most of the issues are caused by lack of investment and not a lack of vision – although the city centre canal idea was a little bizarre.

    I’m not quite sure I’d class Ilkley Moor as “Bradford” though.

    What has intrigued me about West Yorkshire since I moved here almost 15 years ago was the tribalism of the county. I can’t think of anywhere else where there’s such an insular set of communities. While the Leeds Bradford rivalry might take the headlines, there are people living literally across the M62 in Huddersfield and Halifax who don’t really know what’s happening across the big road. All four have distinctive accents and there own linguistic traits.

    I’m unclear why these Bradford folk have to suggest Leeds is inferior to bolster Bradford’s reputation. Both Cities have their own culture, history and landscape. The great tale of the Bradford Boar doesn’t detract from the fantastic history of the Skyrack in Headingley. The Alhambra’s splendor doesn’t reduce the The Grand’s sense of theatre. The natural amphitheatre of Odsall can’t stop the intimate pitchside view from the Rhino’s home ground.

    I’ve worked and spent time in both cities – and some time in Huddersfield and Halifax – I see the good in all of them. Surely we should all be proud to be West Yorkshire folk and not quibble whether the building, person or piece of natural beauty outscores something a few minutes down the roads.

    1. A delightful outsider’s (?) or “oft comed un’s” view, and we must be doing something right to entice people such as your good self to come up here.

      Couldn’t agree more about us fighting each other to the detriment of all, and I am more guilty of this than most.

      However, what is galling, personally, is the amount of time a) spent comparing or referring to Leeds in any and all reviews and pieces on Bradford, and this being usually detrimental or, if positive, with surprise; and b) the negativity that is always referred to, always brought up, always hawked up and spat out: comments of the “We all know Bradford’s sh*te but…” ilk. It would be lovely if we could have some articles about Bradford’s cultural, historical or architectural heritage, its museums, its culture, its *anything*which do not mention Leeds, the Yorkshire Ripper, the Crossbow Cannibal, the riots, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam. Juxtaposition might make for a better piece, but it’s not helpful to us.

      Any road up, thanks for holding a mirror up to me.

  7. Over the last couple of years I’ve been shifting most of the (mainly music based) activity I do to Bradford. It’s a more rewarding city to do stuff in; the people are a little less jaded/commercially driven and I’d argue that its radical past is still easily traceable in current activity, places and institutions.

    That said, I find the uncritical ‘look at how brilliant Bradford is (in comparison to Leeds)’ tactic to ‘improving the city’ a little trite. Positive and interesting things need to be activated, facilitated and happen alongside the posi press and concerns over marketing; people can see through spectacle.

    The Sparrow has been the best contribution to Bradford in recent months in my opinion; an amazing boozer.

    1. Thanks Andy it’s always great to hear from you. Being time strapped is no excuse for us not to be having a more constant spotlight on the positive and interesting things you mention, and hosting conversations like this to stir things up I hope are a well intentioned part of a wider conversation.

      It may seem trite to ask a question about marketing, perhaps that word isn’t the best choice, especially as it denotes to many a bullshit projection to the world that bears little relation to the honest, complex realities of places and their people.

      My mission is to help people relook at where they live with fresh eyes, and if so inclined feel confident to share their stories, with each other and externally. These may not ever contribute to a homogenised marketing message, but convey something of the passions, the emotions, the realities of where we reside both physically and mentally. If I were ever in charge of marketing a place it would be less about commerical inward investment at all costs, but a really organic long term strategy of facilitating the people have a voice.

      That’s probably why I wont ever be in that role!

  8. Yep, no I get it and I think it’s an admirable and important thing to be involved in. I certainly wouldn’t want to be seen as a rubbisher of what you or Culture Vulture, or the many bloggers and tweeters that use their ‘powers for good’, do. Sorry if it came across like that.

    I guess my point, (poorly articulated!), is that there needs to be a balance struck between being positive enough to help create a new narrative to a city (or unearth and old one) and honest, critical representation of a place. One of the things I have found refreshing about living in and around Bradford for the last few years is the slightly self-depreciating attachment Bradfordians have to the city; it’s an attachment nonetheless!

    There’s a lot to be done in Bradford, and I think there’s plenty of opportunities, space, resources and, importantly, desire from the people to make that happen. The marketing or narrative should, however, emerge from that activity rather than the other way around. Otherwise you end up with another Leeds! (that’s a joke by the way).

    I guess maybe what I find exciting about Bradford is that it resists/defies marketing – it’s too contradictory, messy, ‘vibrant’ etc. A very fun place to do things in though!


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