A little more than three years ago Mohammed Iqbal spent a Saturday afternoon shopping in Bradford with his son.
It was several years since he had really spent time in the city centre and he was shocked and disappointed by what he saw.
But rather than just complain about his frustrations, Dr Iqbal used them as a catalyst to establish a new group which he hoped could really improve and change the area.
Bradford Matters had its first meeting in March 2011 and now meets four or five times a year with a diverse membership including some of the area’s most connected people in business, religion and education.
Dr Ibqal moved to Bradford from Kashmir as a child and went to school in Tong before completing a biochemistry degree and Phd in Nottingham.
He has always been involved in Bradford and its development, but had a break when he had a family and to pursue his career.
“About three and a half years ago my kid said ‘Let’s go shopping’. It was the first weekend I had properly spent in Bradford and I was absolutely gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe what had happened – the empty shops and just the atmosphere.”
He spoken to groups such as Bradford Breakthrough, Positive Bradford and Common Purpose and Bradford Council leader David Green “I said some of us are very passionate about our city, but we need some questions answered and we need to know where we're going, so that’s what really drove Bradford Matters,” Dr Iqbal said.
“My impression was there’s a lot of good intention, but nothing was really coming together in terms of accountability or networking.
“Initially I got together with a few like- minded people and at that stage I was conscious that we should involve all the leaders of the faith communities as well as the key business people,” Dr Iqbal said.
The first meeting was held on March 1, 2011, at Bradford Cathedral.
“I picked that very deliberately as a venue because I thought it was very important that we worked together as a group, and it had to be a diverse group.”
Sir James Hill, who chairs the group, said: “Iqbal and I met and were concerned about where Bradford was going, particularly in terms of the inner city. This wasn’t just a hole in the ground, it was about how we were failing with the centre of Bradford.”
Dr Iqbal said: “We said we’re going to be quite a diverse but quite senior and experienced body of people – we were quite selective who we were bringing into the group as well and networked through all the chambers to Breakthrough, to Council to MPs, and we said these are the issues we think are important, this is what we want to do.
“Then we started lobbying all the leadership figures, but we all did it quietly.”
The group identified Bradford’s challenges, so it could establish its key aims.
“A thriving city centre, such as in Leeds or Manchester, gives a place its heart and energy,” Dr Iqbal said.
“And if your heart’s not really pumping and it’s not right, then you’ve lost it no matter how you try to say we’ve got a fantastic district. It will bring it down.”
The group has contributed to Bradford’s city plan suggesting a broad partnership that co-ordinates all groups, such as Bradford Matters, the Chamber and Bradford One, and their expertise.
When a city centre restaurant plan was mooted, within a few hours, one member had 11 major business saying they wanted a meeting.
“That’s the power of our members, the networking and their contacts,” Dr Iqbal said.
Bradford Matters also has direct interest and investment in the city through members’ businesses and involvement with projects such as the Odeon. They also have worldwide business contacts who are working to pull investment into the area, particularly city centre shops to support the new Westfield shopping centre.
“We’ve got the right sort of people who can practically shape ideas, but then we’ve got movers and shakers who can actually bring business in,” Dr Iqbal said.
“We’ve got people who can put lots of money in.”
Sir James said the group was always keen to be more than just a talking shop.
“The concern was that there’s a plethora of groups within Bradford and we could be seen as just another one,” he said.
Dr Iqbal added: “Do we need all these lobbying groups? That is a question and debate to be had and it’s continuing.
“Our view is that we do and the reason for Bradford Matters is because of its diversity and make-up and because of the prioritise we've selected – they are short-term and focused, ie the city centre, but long-term in terms of the full integration agenda across the district with faith and culture and education.”
But although other organisations may have differing priorities, they do work with other groups, particularly Bradford Breakthrough.
“Ultimately our vision is that it’s going to be a long term body and we’ll become hopefully a body that everybody refers to,” Dr Iqbal said.
WHO'S WHO ON THE GROUP:
Chairman - Sir James Hill BT OBE DL
Chairman of Governors at Dixon’s Academy, National chairman of Academies.
Business positions include Sir James Hill Group and Sir James Hill Wool Ltd and chairman of MHE Energy.
Charitable roles have included: chairman of the Joseph Nutter Trust, chairman of Airedale Rainbow Appeal and chairman of Bradford Cancer Support.
Vice chairman - Dr Mohammed Iqbal
Founder of Bradford Matters, President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Bradford, and member of the governing body of Bradford City CCG.
Mohammed Ajeeb CBE
Former Lord Mayor of Bradford, former deputy leader of Bradford Council and former chairman of Bradford City PCT.
Mumtaz Khan Akbar
CE/director Mumtaz Food Industries.
Dr Martin Baines QPM (Queen’s Police Medal)
Chairman of Bradford Hate Crime Alliance, chairman of Bradford Police Museum, former Race Relations Officer for Bradford and Canon of Bradford Cathedral.
Regional director of Common Purpose, which runs leadership programmes.
Former non-executive director of Bradford Breakthrough; former regional director for BT and former Common Purpose Advisory Board member.
Professor Mark Cleary
Former vice-chancellor at the University of Bradford.
Director of Jessgrove Ltd and director of Bradford Live (Odeon Project).
Chairman of Bradford Civic Society.
CE/director Property Management-Bradford Plaza.
Dean of Bradford Cathedral.
Director of Britannia Care Home, board member of Bradford Breakthrough and vice chairman on the Board of Governors at Bradford Academy.
Adeeba Malik MBE
Teacher who became deputy CE of charity QED, which supports disadvantaged ethnic minorities, and former board member of Yorkshire Forward.
CE director of Malik House, chairman of Yorkshire Enterprise Network and chairman of Rawal Cap Ltd.
Director of Student Success, University of Bradford, former Dean of School of Life Long Education, non executive member of Bradford Care Trust.
CE of Sunrise Radio.
General manager of Midland Hotel, Bradford.
CE of Seafresh and chairman of Asian Trade Link (ATL).
CE of Bradford Breakthrough and former director of the National Media Museum.
Dr Harjap Singh Pooni
Former secretary of Yorkshire Sikh Forum, former secretary of Federation of Bradford Sikh Organisations and former secretary of Bradford Sikh Parents Association.
Member of Judicial Services (Ministry of Justice) and former Head of Services (Equality) Bradford Council.
Professor Jon Reast
Dean of Management School, University of Bradford.
Iqbal Singh Sekhon
Solicitor at Commercial Properties.
Dr Madan Showan
Founder CE of Empire Direct plc.
Director of Little Germany Action Ltd and former regeneration projects manager at Bradford Council.
Director of Bombay Stores and co-founder of Positive Bradford.