• Saturday, May 25, 2024

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‘Bradford is a rough diamond that’s beginning to be polished’

The city with strong south Asian presence has caught the attention of Hollywood and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey

Bradford was named the UK’s City of Culture in 2025

By: Nadeem Badshah

A CITY which has one of the country’s largest and youngest south Asian communities has become a hotspot for Hollywood producers and music chiefs.

Bradford in Yorkshire, famous for its textile mills and the setting for Riz Ahmed film Four Lions, was named the UK’s City of Culture in 2025 by the government.

The Brit School – the college in south London whose alumni includes Amy Winehouse and Adele – has put forward a bid for a northern outpost in the city. A new 4,000-seater music venue is set to open in the former Odeon Theatre.

Anita Rani, co-host of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, who was named as the University of Bradford’s new chancellor in March, said, “Bradford has so much to offer culturally. It cultured me and I think it needs to shout about it.”

Richard Warburton, artistic director at Theatre in the Mill, based on the University of Bradford campus, told Eastern Eye: “Is there anywhere more exciting than Bradford to be, if you’re an artist right now?

“On top of 2025’s City of Culture, we’ve the Odeon being transformed into a Live Venue the city’s been craving and a city park that’s going to be hosting some epic events and world-renowned film and TV being captured on each corner.

“Bradford has always been a place that’s made its own work, its own way, but now we could realistically claim to be a city that anyone who’s an artist might want to relocate to.

“Anita Rani officially installed as the university’s new chancellor, an amazing appointment that is already inspiring the students to dream big.”

In February, US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey was spotted in Bradford to film Netflix blockbuster Six Triple Eight, about the only all-black, all-female unit serving overseas during the Second World War.

Zayn Malik

Warburton added: “There are opportunities pouring out of every corner and over the next few years people will be waking up to the fact that Bradford is an international city welcoming and presenting incredible culture in all its forms and guises.

“If I were wanting to relocate or grow somewhere, I’d be hard pressed to find reasons why not Bradford. If, and by the time a Brit School might have been located here, I don’t think anyone will be scratching their heads as to why.”

Bradford has had a chequered reputation. The crime rate, at 179 per cent above the national average, is one of the worst in the country and it was the scene of riots between Asian and white youths in July 2001.

It also has one of the youngest populations in Europe after thousands of people came from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to settle after the war to work in the city’s textile mills. Some 8.3 per cent of people in Bradford reported being born in Pakistan according to the last Census compared to 7.7 per cent in 2011.

Imtaz Khaliq MBE, a leading tailor and bespoke designer from Bradford, said the city has always had creative people and nurtured talent. She told Eastern Eye: “It is multicultural and we inspired each other; our different views mean that collaboration and cooperation are part of the creative process.

“My memories are that the architecture, mill town history and eclectic style of the inhabitants inspired me.

“I was a child in a time that was exciting and I’m glad that Bradford is at the forefront of this yet again for the next generation.”

Khaliq added: “My dad was a businessman when Bradford needed TLC after in the 1950s up until a few years ago.

“His generation gave birth to a driven youth.

Imtaz Khaliq MBE

“We aspired with our parents hard work. The Brit School will thrive in there.”

Mahendra Patel, an honorary University of Bradford professor, was born and bred in the city as a second generation British Asian.

He said: “What I’ve seen over decades is it has moved to a level beyond my imagination. Acceptance of multiculturalism and how these communities have rubbed off on the local white population.

“And these communities continue to accept the diverse culture, food, the Punjabi bhangra music, people are embracing that.

“From the singer Zayn Malik coming from Bradford to the city’s Diwali celebrations. I am looking forward to that continuing fusion in music and art.”

Shanaz Gulzar, chairwoman of the City of Culture bid and a local artist, believes rising rents in London, Manchester and Leeds can work to its advantage with the potential for empty shops to be converted into artists’ studios.

She said: “Bradford is a rough diamond that’s beginning to be polished. But I don’t want it to lose all its edge.”

Gulzar added: “I am a Keighley girl and if you said to me at 16 that I’d be doing something like this, I couldn’t have possibly imagined it.

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