HALFWAY down Ivegate, in a building that was once Yorkshire’s oldest pork shop, there’s a cultural revolution going on.

This is Bradford’s oldest street, where city life has unfolded for centuries. The old Philip Smith & Co butchers, where queues used to snake up the street every Christmas for stand pies, is today home to The Brick Box Rooms, a vibrant, lively bar and arts venue run by a company breathing new life into city spaces. Co-founded by Eleanor Barrett and Rosie Freeman, The Brick Box makes creative art work for people and places; producing festivals, regeneration schemes, consultancy packages and innovative approaches to empty spaces.

The Ivegate venue hosts a range of events - spoken word nights, discos, craft workshops, supper clubs and art exhibitions among them. It follows the success of Brick Box’s Wild Woods project, which transformed Darley Street’s empty Marks & Spencer unit into a thriving cultural venue in 2016. This week a ‘Mini Mardi Gras’ brought live music and street food to Ivegate. Such initiatives bring people into the city centre, boosting the local economy.

Re-imagining spaces is at the heart of the Brick Box ethos. It’s what Eleanor, who grew up in Bradford, did when she returned to the city a decade ago and took over Bradford Playhouse; boosting visitor numbers and taking the venue into a new era. In 2010 she set up The Brick Box with Rosie. Initially a cafe and events programme in Brixton, the company produced people-led events across various spaces, from docks and flyovers to council estates and theatres. Now in Bradford, Brick Box is firmly behind the City of Culture 2025 bid.

“It feels like now is the right time,” says Eleanor, co-ordinator of Bradford Cultural Voice, which informs the bid. Rosie is on the Bradford 2025 steering committee. “This bid is a chance to galvanise the incredible creativity and diverse cultural life in Bradford, and it’s also about addressing economic challenges. There’s already a sense of confidence in going for this bid, and the ongoing process will breed more confidence.”

A series of roadshows is planned this spring, to gather stories and ideas for #bradford2025. The bid team is also asking film-makers, animators, photographers, businesses, cultural organisations, families and community groups to make short videos for social media, showing the cultural life of their neighbourhoods.

Eleanor is keen for people across the district to get involved. “We did a bus tour as part of the 2040 Vision, taking people out of their BD postcodes to areas they weren’t familiar with. Across the board, people were very positive about the City of Culture bid,” she says. “It can connect the stories we already have.

“There are great things happening here that couldn’t happen anywhere else. We moved here from London nearly four years ago, partly because London was becoming too homogeneous, and partly because we saw a more exciting cultural scene in Bradford. It’s very different to cities like Leeds and Manchester; there are fantastic, accessible spaces here. If people want to read their spoken words, play acoustic music, or learn DJ-ing skills, they can come along and do it, in a factory building or shop. It’s much harder to do that in bigger cities. Across this district there are old mills, churches, schools that could be upcycled and put to use, crossing over with piloting new models, community ownership, green energy. It’s a chance not to go down the road of gentrification, which we’ve seen so much in London and other cities.”

She adds: “Bradford has a sense of authenticity that you don’t get in London, where you’re either cool or not. Bradford doesn’t care about ‘cool’. We get all kinds of people taking part in our spoken word nights - a man who’s 80, a mum with two kids, a teacher. We’re uncovering an amazing seam of talent.”

The UK City of Culture competition is run by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Bradford is competing for the 2025 title with Lancashire, Medway and Southampton. Hull’s success in 2017 left a significant legacy on tourism, business and cultural engagement among residents. As well as a projected value of tourism of least £300m, and a 346per cent increase in successful applications to Arts Council England, there was a 34per cent increase of self-esteem in children and young people.

It is vital, says Eleanor, that Bradford’s bid creates a lasting legacy: “It would be amazing for Bradford to win a prize,” she smiles. “We’ve long been in the shadow of Leeds, downtrodden, getting a bad Press. Winning this would unite us, and show what we have. But it’s not just about the ‘big year’ of the title, it’s what happens afterwards. Bradford is Europe’s youngest city, we need to offer young people ways of stepping into the opportunities this bid creates. Winning the title will mean direct economic benefits, investment will then trickle down.”

Brick Box’s DIY ethic and the grassroots projects it initiates and develops - developing buildings for creative use, creating a producing hub, sharing resources, helping people develop their own projects - give the city’s cultural life a visible, democratic platform, which will form an essential part of Bradford’s bid.

“There are half a million people here, but sometimes it feels like a village. We have a really coherent, strong, visible cultural sector, which in other cities can be fragmented and overwhelming,” says Eleanor. “

“The other cities bidding for this title are running scared.”