CONGRATULATIONS Bradford, you did it. You saved a beloved and historic building from demolition, promoted it as an ambitious live music venue, and now you’ve gone and secured a huge chunk of funding from the Government. Nice work.

It’s not often we get to savour the sweet taste of victory in Bradford. I’m casting my mind back to a miserable November afternoon in 2007. I was a teenager on work experience at the esteemed Bradford Telegraph & Argus newspaper when our city received yet another punch to the gut. Bradford had lost out on a critical slice of lottery funding for a proposed new “urban park” (can you imagine such a thing in Bradford?!) to regenerate vast swathes of the city centre. As the humble tea-boy, I recall deflated journalists chucking away the triumphant “WE WON!” front cover and adopting the default “Bradford knocked back again” tone instead.

Like Capital of Culture before it, and Great Exhibition of the North after it, those early park plans were radical, ambitious, and had widespread support, but didn’t quite cut it at a national level. Bradford: the city of failures.

Of course, we know that’s not really the case, and the Bradford of today feels very different. Today the Government has finally recognised that this sleeping giant of the north is in need of some strong smelling salts – in this case, £4 million to bring the former Odeon back to life as a huge regional venue. After years of blows and failed bids, Bradford was long overdue a break, and 2018 has been kind to us so far. “A CITY ON THE UP!” exclaimed this newspaper on Wednesday. We are, apparently, on track for Northern Powerhouse Rail; we’re to host some sort of international cycling race next year; and small, but significant, trickles of lottery funding continue to support big projects like the refurbishment of St George’s Hall and the rejuvenation of the Top of Town. The proposed Business Improvement District and an ambitious economic strategy (unveiled earlier this week) are also adding to an air of confidence that can be felt from the corridors of City Hall to the bars on North Parade.

We’ve had grand plans and nice pictures before, though, so what’s changed? For starters, we’re becoming a far more collaborative city. We are finally starting to connect all the wonderful things going on and shout about them with one, coherent voice. This collective sense of civic pride really shone through in our successful Northern Cultural bid – from the thousands who signed the Civic Society’s petition and spoke up on social media, to the diverse creative figures and cultural groups who came together to lobby to the Government. This was a true Bradford effort, and the result will be a stunning new icon that the whole district can be proud of.

However, we can’t be complacent. There’s a saying among journalists that could also serve as a note of caution for Bradford: you’re only as good as your last story. In this case, the Odeon is a remarkable story with a (hopefully) happy ending, yet we can’t stand still and pin all our hopes on just one or two high-profile projects. We’ve seen with Broadway that no matter how exciting or expensive the development is, it’s never enough to transform a city’s fortunes in isolation, and it certainly won’t succeed without capturing the public’s imaginations.

For me, this is where the role of a strong civic society, and an even stronger and empowered community is so important when it comes to shaping the future of this city. We shouldn’t wait for the next potential Odeon saga to unfold, or cool our collective heels while the council cooks up another grand plan. Making the city better, from picking up litter to petitioning your elected representatives, is everyone’s responsibility.

So I encourage all Bradfordians to do three things to maintain this wave of positivity and help our city prosper. Firstly, speak up. If you have an idea for your city, share it. And while you’re at it, tell everyone you know about the great stuff already happening here. Like any brand or product, it’s word of mouth that matters, not fancy slogans. Secondly, challenge everything. In the fast-moving era of fake news, we rarely read beyond the headlines, which can so often distort the bigger picture.

And finally, I encourage you to always keep looking up. Be positive, be proud, and occasionally take a moment to literally “look up” at our beautiful architectural legacy next time you’re in town. It will serve as a reminder of what Bradford can achieve when it’s full of confidence.

The Odeon, written off for demolition just ten years ago, is a triumphant tale of people power in action. When the powers that be signed its death warrant, the people of Bradford spoke up, challenged it, and ultimately had a far greater vision which is now slowly (but surely), coming to fruition. All of which begs the question: what can we channel our collective efforts into next?

  • Si Cunningham is chairman of Bradford Civic Society