A BRADFORD collective is aiming to improve an inner-city area by injecting it with vibrant artwork and creative displays.

People Make Place wants to uplift the Oak Lane area of Manningham and transform it into a ‘creative high street’, working in partnership with local residents and businesses.

The project – led by local artist Emma Hardaker – wants to improve an area which some members of the community feel has been left behind.

It began after People Make Place secured council funding and invited locals to have their say on what changes they would like to see.

“Oak Lane was an area we thought could benefit from having some positive energy put back into it,”, said Emma.

“We spoke to locals, who said they felt the area had been neglected ever since the riots and needed some love and attention.

“Our team has done community engagement work to add some colour and vibrancy – not just for the visual aesthetic, but also to improve community cohesion and elevate people’s pride in the area.

“A lot of this has come directly from locals and it’s great to have them involved.”

Some of the initiatives carried out as part of the project have seen local artists team up with businesses to paint their shutters, while children from local primary schools have visualised their ‘high street heroes’ in interactive artwork displayed in the area.

“Working with landlords and business owners, shutters have been painted with artwork which have deep stories behind them,” Emma explained.

“It not only promotes the artist, but also the business.”

Colourful designs and patterns have been hung on lampposts around Oak Lane, while local artist Naureen Hafeez has printed her illustrations of fairy tale characters – who have been portrayed as being of South Asian heritage – to encourage representation and celebrate diversity.

“These designs and murals will give the road a bit of a spruce,” said Emma.

“We’re also working with The Brick Box collective, who are bringing Oak Lane into bloom, and have been working with various community groups to create planters for locals to put outside homes and businesses.

“Another strand of the project is working with businesses to host street food events, and we’ve also been working with Jamil Food Store, who, every Tuesday, have a market selling everything at half price. It started in lockdown as they knew the community needed affordable food, but it has continued post-Covid.

“We’ve been going along and hosting activities alongside them. The other week we were there giving out chai and chatting with the community, asking them what they’d like to see.

“Loads more ideas are now coming out of those conversations.

“When we started this, we didn’t want to ‘artwash’ and come in and plonk a load of stuff in the area. We wanted it to be organic.

“We’ve spent a really long time working with the people who live here and we want to make sure our work is really embedded.

“It does take time and it’s a slow process, as people can naturally assume there’s an ulterior motive – it just takes time to build that trust, but it has been an amazing and unique experience.

“We’ve had to adapt and figure out what works best, it’s been a process for everyone involved.

“We’re also starting to get local people ringing us with ideas. We’ve just recently put question marks on the road with QR codes, where people can scan and give us feedback directly.”

Emma added that, after speaking with locals, many in the area feel like it is still reeling from the effects of what happened in 2001.

“A lot of people said there wasn’t a lot of work done to support them after the riots,”, she said.

“Sometimes it can be hard to know if there’s an element of nostalgia involved – some people remember the area in a way it maybe wasn’t. But we work with people who have lived in the area since the 1980s and they have a vision of Oak Lane being a thriving place back then.

“Crime and unemployment is a problem. Unemployment is only going to breed crime and anti-social behaviour.

“There’s also a little bit of tension between younger and older generations, and that was one of the reasons we wanted to work with younger people on this project and inspire the next generation.”

Looking ahead, the project is planning a street party to bring people together, and is also working with the Millan Centre and the Meridian Centre to bring other projects to the area.

“We also want to create a map of the area featuring all the artwork and businesses, and hopefully drive footfall back into Oak Lane,” said Emma.

“What’s amazing is you have Lister Park, Cartwright Hall and Lister Mills in the area. These are hugely historic places which a lot of people miss.

“But having artwork along the road might encourage more people to notice.

“What we envisioned has drastically evolved over time, but that’s why it has been super exciting.”