Bradford’s City Park or Puddles are a good thing

Bradford City Park by D Mallaghan
Bradford City Park by D Mallaghan

Guest blog by Iain Bloomfield

The funny thing about puddles is that kids love em and they won’t be told by those of us who know better that they are not ‘A GOOD THING’……….

Which is lucky, really, as Bradford opened its ‘puddle’, its £24 million – or £30 mill depending on how ‘cross/informed/ill informed/willing to look into detail/split hairs about who paid for what’ you are – “waste of council money” that we were confidently told by those ‘who-know-these-things-on-our-behalf’ was not ‘A GOOD THING’, a thing that Bradford did not want and did not need.

Errrrrrrrrrmmmm……..  A certain amount of ‘egg-on-face’ for the Grinch’s as things turned out.

People turned out in their thousands to have as good a time as I can ever remember seeing people have in the city centre. A heady, happy, sardine-packed throng of thousands, made a mock of the very idea of segregation in relation to this place. Pretty much every kind of person you can imagine was there and they’d brought the kids (and in lots of cases Nan) along too. Someone on Twitter, and Twitter exploded with this, spoke of “feeling like we’d got our city back” and that spoke to me to the point of tears as I watched kids screaming like Beatles fans as they chased a balloon floating aerialist through the ‘puddle’.  It was beautiful and that has been a while.

Bradford has spent a long while waiting: A long while for the sun to come out, to have a chance to play.  A long while since we’ve had anything other than a grim struggle with an ill conceived, ill fitting, big business retail-led economic strategy that left us with a hole in the heart. A long while watching the ‘puddle’ take shape.  The long while we’ve been told we are both economically and socially doomed.  A long while since ‘The In Plaice’ off Centenary Square sold so many chips.

The time it takes to make Grinch’s of good people.

We were given lobsters, parkour, human fountains, Mind the Gap’s lovely Chicken Coup show, beautiful balloons above the mirror pool, lasers, fireworks, fountains.  Awe inspiring stuff that we haven’t had since the high days of the old Bradford Festival, and by goodness how we have missed that level of fun and adventure and the sheer blinking pleasure of watching brilliant people do their stuff and do it big.

The opening also gave us the packed out opening of Hand Made in Bradford (a place for artists and artisans to show and sell work slap bang in the city centre) and a brilliantly well attended ‘zine fair in the same. HMIB is a Fabric initiative, part funded by the Council, another hopeful sign that maybe, just maybe, the counter-intuitive is being grasped, that economic recovery is a complex and multi-faceted thing that demands a range of approaches beyond the Shopping Mall as be all and end all.

We also a protest over the farrago that has been the Odeon story over the last few years, it was quirky, witty, good humoured, well organised and about something important, in an odd way it actually summed the day up for me.

So yesterday was a beginning not an end, a day that maybe helped us understand that we are at our most adult when we cease to worry that playing is childlike and just do it.

It was a day a day that spoke of many things:  that we are not what we are told we are, that culture is a mixture of high art, chips and cake, that people are hungry to be collective and share experience, that when the voices of doom speak ‘it ain’t necessarily so’.

But mostly that kids have got it right:  puddles ARE brilliant.

Take a look at the wonderful set of pictures in the Impressions Gallery Flickr Pool...go on whet your feet and appetite


  1. I think it was an end, an end to a terrible 10 years for Bradford. I just hope that the council now use this puddle to allow creativity to splash about in it.

  2. The Bradford journey over the next few years will be fascinating. None of us knows whether this will prove to be the catalyst for a cultural and community renaissance in the city, an economic stimulus or a white elephant. The time to judge is not after a glorious celebratory weekend but a few years in.

    I am pretty ambivalent about the fountains myself. Which translates in the eyes of the pro-fountain hawks as ‘miserable old cynic’ or perhaps ‘grinch’. But I am clear that Bradford is to be congratulated for trying risky(ish) stuff. Building somewhere for people to play, to associate to commune. Providing a reason to come into the city that does not require ‘spending’. It has to be worth a try. Because the the best way to make progress perhaps is just to try stuff and see what works. And, trying stuff with a bias to association and community rather than retail and consumption feels instinctively wise.

  3. A lovely post, something to feel good about.

    At the very least, ANY scheme other than a shopping centre is a step in the right direction and if the spectacular success of the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield is anything to go by, Bradford should do all right with its pools…

  4. Just brilliant. Long time coming. #makingbradforddbrilliant again.

    Mike come on down and see, day in day out people sit in and around the puddle relaxing chatting etc. It is now an unique community space well worth visiting.

    We still have issues in the centre as a shopping experience, but this ‘puddle’is a great start. I for one felt happy for the loyal retailers in the centre, who must have like us all, had a very good day Saturday.

    I have already spent more in the centre this year than last. That must be a good thing and I encourage others to do the same.

    Can’t wait for the next event to be put on.

    Bradford born and bred and proud of our latest attraction,


  5. This blog exemplifies so much for me about why I get up in the morning, what drives me to see a community of people come together like they have done in Bradford.

    Iain nails it with ‘culture is a mixture of high art, chips and cake, that people are hungry to be collective and share experience, that when the voices of doom speak ‘it ain’t necessarily so’.

    Playfulness, fun, frolics, community, art. One big space priortising experience over spending. And do you know what, people will come to splash around, then they’ll go and spend a few pennies. Before that they may even enjoy the wealth of great stuff on their doorstep, Impressions Gallery, Fabric, Media Museum, The Alhambra, and who knows what with the Odeon. Imagine if Bradford was the place to go for pleasure and enlightenment? Oh it already is!

    @MikeChitty & @PeterRamsden The parade of shops around the city park have obviously suffered whilst the construction was ongoing, but it must be a mark of confidence that a big shiny Nando’s has set up there.

  6. I ran in the Bradford 10K early yesterday morning. The puddle was just waking up; the buildings were stately and graceful, the Town Hall toilets were stunning, and all in all, I was delighted by Bradford. Fingers crossed for more regeneration, rejuvenation and joy for a grand old city.

  7. Hi All

    Thanks for the comments. I’m pretty sure that one swallow doesn’t make a summer and, Mike is right, only time will tell. I love the mirror pool but am aware that, like all good things it will need careful looking after and not just in a maintenance sense. It will need filling with remarkable things that bring people together. That is Bradford’s next challenge. I suspect that BDMC were as stunned by the success as we all were and lets hope they can find both the money and imagination to run with the ball.

    There is a brilliant feeling about the arts sector in Bradford at the moment, people are talking together in ways they haven’t done before in my expreience and I’ve been here since 1997. There is starting to be some joined up thinking and different stories being told which feels damned good.

    I am hopeful that people really are understanding that that matters.

  8. Good that people will spend pennies but my worry is that they’ll do it in the fountains. (There must be a prize for being the millionth person to make this “joke”?)

  9. Before I moved here, I heard some Bradford folk have a reputation for saying “I told you so”. Right now the supporters of the City Park must be bursting to say it, but are probably wise to be cautious (as has already been said) this is just the start. For me the event on Saturday was one of those rare collective human experiences that waking up the next day you feel slightly different, like something has changed. Humans are good at this, but during a recession these spectacles seem few and far between. The long term benefit of investing in our built environment is that architecture, urban design and the arts when combined lift our spirits. And right now more than ever we need our spirits lifted.

    Good architecture and urban design is expensive. I suspect we won’t be seeing anything like the City Park in the UK (particularly the north) for a good few years. And, as for the Odeon (covered up like the architectural equivalent of an embarrassing old relative sent to bed early) it struck me that City Park needs the Odeon. To ensure the best of our past is preserved it looks as though they designed the iconic domes of the theatre and old neglected cinema to ‘finish off’ the square. How clever of the architects and urban designers to see the bigger picture and not just what is in front of them.

    For a city dwarfed by its industrious ancestors’ achievements, any Victorian would have been proud as the final fountain took off high into the sky on Saturday night. Hopefully, Bradford and its residents can once more connect with the spirit and confidence that built this city and move collectively towards a brighter future.

    Right, I am off for my lunch now. Think I will walk down to City Park to eat my sandwich.

  10. I think the City Park is just wonderful.

    It has imagination and wit and flexibility, and it makes people smile. I watched for a while, and the number of people who took the long way round to get where they were going just to have a wander through the causeway like path in the middle was surprising.

    It’s one of the best urban spaces I’ve seen for a long time, and I’m slightly astonished to be saying that, because that’s not the sort of thing us Bradfordians normally say.

    The thing is, though, the City Park isn’t the only triumphant urban space that Bradford has produced recently…the rejuvenated Roberts Park in Saltaire is similarly excellent. Perhaps Bradford might be consistently good at this sort of thing?

    1. … and before that the Mughal Gardens in Lister Park. Places where people want to go and spend time. Multi-use and imaginative.

  11. A perfect celebration of all that is good about Bradders. It’s right to give it a long time coming cheer. People of all ages love splashing in puddles!

    I hope that this momentum is an evergrowing ball of positivity rolling through the town and surrounding villages, that the Council and community continue to embrace social, environmental and economic opportunities to Make Bradford Marvellous.


  12. I thought the opening on Friday was amazing. Bradford truly felt like a vibrant and exciting European city, the weather could not have been kinder- seeing all those children( and adults!) from loads of different backgrounds in the water together was as beautiful as it was poetic.
    I am slightly biased as I had a small role in the design of the mirror pool but I think what has been achieved here is nothing short of remarkable. I think Natasha hit it on the head when she said that something seems to have changed , there was/is something very real and tangible in the air. It felt great to be a witness to it.

  13. The City Park looked fantastic all this week. It’s impressive that playfulness doesn’t – at least while I was there – seem to spill over into rowdiness and there is respect for users of all ages.
    I also admired the way its neighbour Impressions got in on the act on launch day and were rewarded with a huge number of visitors curious to see newly minted images of the scene outside.

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