In the first of a series of T&A spotlights on Bradford’s City of Culture 2025 team, We talk to bid director Richard Shaw.

IT is time, says Richard Shaw, for Bradford to re-write its story. “When I look at this district I see a world-class constellation of nationally significant arts organisations - the Alhambra, Salts Mill, St George’s Hall, Bronte Parsonage, National Science and Media Museum, a new 4,000-seat venue underway, two great literature festivals, the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. And enterprising, passionate organisations doing great things here: Freedom Studios, Mind the Gap, Kala Sangam, Brick Box,” he says.

“The Leap is a wonderful example of how the NHS can work with the arts and culture. There’s nothing else in the UK like it.

“There is much to shout about - and the City of Culture bid is a huge opportunity to do that. It’s time to change perceptions and the lazy media stereotypes that have left Bradford often misunderstood, and write a new story.

“That was one of the biggest results for Hull, when it became City of Culture. It re-wrote its story.”

Leeds-born Richard has worked in the arts, theatre, dance, film and broadcasting for 30 years; at organisations including the British Film Institute, the National Theatre, English National Ballet and Lion Television. Now he’s returned to his Yorkshire roots, as director of Bradford’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025. “I always planned to come back to Yorkshire,” he says. “I remember touring here, coming to the Alhambra and taking over the top floor of the Kashmir with a load of ballet dancers. I thought Bradford had an extraordinary cultural heritage.”

Richard heads up the Bradford Culture Trust bid executive team, working with a steering group comprising representatives of district-wide arts and social enterprise organisations.

This is the fourth UK City of Culture competition, run by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The previous winners were Londonderry (2013), Hull (2017) and Coventry (2021). As it stands, Bradford is competing for the 2025 title with Lancashire, Medway and Southampton, while Luton, Northampton and Tees Valley have withdrawn.

A legacy for Hull is that £676m worth of public and private investment was injected into the city between 2013 and 2019, and over 850 new jobs were created. Richard says Bradford could reap the same benefits, if not more.

Key to Bradford’s bid is making it very much about the district. “Cities that win usually make their bid unique and wholly distinctive,” says Richard. “Bradford’s diverse demographic is made up of uniquely defined groups that have their own approach to arts and culture. If we can harness that we can take a completely different approach that will set our bid apart from the rest.”

“I have never come across a city so committed to the power of culture in health and wellbeing. In Bradford we have faith organisations, the university and football club all investing in culture. Bradford City uses #Bradford2025. That’s not happening in any other town that is making a bid for this title.

“Bradford is leading the way in so many ways; in the voluntary sector, civil rights, the independent creative sector. It was the birthplace for free school meals and the Labour Party. In our bid, culture means so much more than narrow definitions of ‘the arts’. We’re interested in things that can challenge preconceptions of what culture can be. Food, sporting, faith and film - all things for which Bradford is rightly famous - need to find their place in our plans.”

This spring a series of roadshows will head out across the district, spreading the word about Bradford’s bid and gathering ideas from the public. Although the title is City of Culture, Richard says the rewards will be felt districtwide, and he wants the whole district on board: “The people who live, work and study here will drive the bid. We need to capture voices across the district to find stories and shared experiences about Bradford.”

The public consultation will continue into the summer, at community venues and schools. People attending arts and cultural events are urged to post about it on social media, tagging in @Bradford2025 with hashtag #Bradford2025.

Bradford has never been big on civic pride, but Richard is confident of public support. “I sense winds of change in Bradford,” he says. “When Hull first talked about bidding, over 60 per cent of its people said they didn’t support it. ‘There is more culture in a pot of yogurt that the whole of Hull’, said one resident. In a recent T&A poll, 73 per cent of people said Bradford should go for the 2025 title, which is different to how it might have been a few years ago. We are leading the field on the social media campaign, compared to other bidders.”

After the roadshows, the public input will be used to shape a campaign leading to Bradford’s first bid, in spring 2021. A shortlist will be announced in summer 2021 and a judging panel chaired by TV producer Phil Redmond will decide the winner. The announcement is expected in December 2021.

Landing the title will, says Richard, mean “enormous” economic and social benefits; generating new investment, jobs, resources and more visitors, and offering new skills and opportunities for people living, working and studying here. It will also set a long-term cultural strategy in place.

“Bradford 2025 is a way of describing everything that happens here, and a vision for the future,” says Richard. “It’s about gathering pieces of storytelling that describe what the future looks like.”