For our series on Bradford 2040Vision, we are looking at how the district will evolve over the next two decades and today Anila Baig turns her attention to a hugely important area for the Bradford district - culture “IMAGINATION is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

So said Einstein who knew a thing or two about the subject and it is also a mantra that Eleanor Barrett lives by.

She’s the director of the international arts company The Brick Box which aims to empower people through cultural activities and this couldn’t come at a more pertinent time as Bradford aims to win the City of Culture title in 2025.

For our series on Bradford Vision 2040 we are looking at all aspects of life in the district and today we focus on the city’s cultural renaissance.

Can the arts really have such a profound effect on the mental well-being of our citizens and what would it mean for the district to win the title of City of Culture?


Eleanor is well-placed to address such questions as she was immersed in the arts literally from birth having spent her early years in a commune in Bradford where her father Mike was a well-known artist and activist.

In recent years ‘culture’ has taken on a specific meaning in Bradford but according to Eleanor there was always a very strong arts scene in the city.

She said: “We were a group of people who believed in ‘arts activism’ so we would go round daubing slogans, attending demonstrations and the like. We called it ‘organised resistance.’ “There was also a very big music scene in Bradford at the time. It was just a really great time, so much happening throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s.”

Eleanor moved out of Bradford at the age of 24 to attend university in Sheffield where she studied Media and Video Production.

She worked in television then spent five years teaching BA and MA Media and TV Production courses at Liverpool John Moores, the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Manchester.

As well as lecturing, she wanted to use creativity and the arts to help people with drug and alcohol problems.

“People think of the arts as being just for entertainment but I think it has a really useful role in helping people in different ways. I have seen first-hand the impact it can have on people who wouldn’t have necessarily thought about expressing themselves through the arts.”

Eleanor managed a rehab project in Brighton for a number of years then later developed a career as an artist and producer.

She produced work for the Brighton Festival and the Bradford Mela and had a stint working in New York.

She was the Director of the Bradford Playhouse for a year before founding The Brick Box in 2010.

“I was away from Bradford for 20 years in total and coming back I feel like there is a real cultural renaissance taking place here.”

She said the ‘hole in the ground’ which blighted Bradford city centre for years affected the psyche of the citizens.

“The Bradford from my childhood was always so busy and bustling, there were so many shops and always so much going on.

“It was like a huge hole ripped out of the heart of the city and I think it affected our sense of pride but now that’s been replaced with The Broadway shopping centre and the City Park has been built and it feels like the city has been reborn.”

For Eleanor, culture is not just about entertainment, it has a fundamental role in promoting the well-being of people.

“All kinds of arts and creativity are important whether its poetry, dance, drawing, writing or music. I have worked with homeless people who felt intimidated by the arts but then they have started to express themselves through different mediums and it has made a world of difference to their well-being.

“The arts and culture really can have a profound effect on people.”

Now Eleanor is firmly behind the City of Culture 2025 bid.

“It feels like the right time for this to happen. We can and we will win the title.

“This bid is a chance to galvanise the 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.”

She said that Bradford was already rich in cultural expression.

“There is so much going on here already like the thriving DIY Spoken Word scene where people often talk about difficult personal experiences and are able to express their vulnerability creatively with support from each other.

“There’s also a really strong emerging music scene with upcoming young artists like jazz pianist and composer Finlay McTaggart .

“Finlay has had support from Bradford’s ‘old guard’. It’s really good because it reminds me of when I was growing up and how the more experienced older folk would support and nurture the younger generation.”

She said Bradford was well-known for its ‘DIY’ culture. “We just get on with things here. There are established institutions like the Theatre in the Mill and Kala Sangam which is great, but there are also many grassroots gatherings which enable artistic expression and talent to emerge organically.”

Much has been made of the economic benefit to the district that winning the title of City of Culture would bring but for Eleanor it is not just about the money. “Bradford winning the City of Culture title will be a huge boost for the city in so many ways. We are in the process of getting our confidence back - there are signs of that everywhere you look.

“The next step will be harnessing the collective power of our city’s imagination. Then there will be no stopping us. Through the power of imagination we can craft a vision of something new, something different, something better and when you combine creative ideas and a vision of something different, change starts to happen.

“Culture really has the power to build bridges between people as well as helping people on a personal level. It really does have the power to change lives in the most extraordinary way.”

As Einstein himself would say, imagine that.

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