Sunday, 11 October 2015

Bradford, West Yorkshire

The first time I went to Bradford was on a Saturday in the 1970s, driven by my Dad in a mustard yellow van.  Bizarrely he wanted to show Bradford to me and my brother as it had a large Asian community and looked so different to other places – apparently the advertising hoardings were even in Arabic.  As we lived in Cheetham Hill at the time, my brother and I were well versed in multiculturalism so it wasn’t a big deal.  However I think my Dad was having a culture shock moment and was fascinated by it all.

We’d already visited some of Bradford’s suburbs for the blog including Shipley, Saltaire and Keighley, but never quite got around to the city.  Having had a drunken conversation at a “do” recently with someone who works in Bradford, I knew I had to go and see it for myself.

Getting to Bradford from Manchester is straightforward – M60, M62, exit junction 26 onto the M606, exit junction 3 onto the A6177 and headed down the hill towards the city centre.  I had no idea where to park, so when we got to the city centre we parked at the NCP on Hall Ings Road and paid £6 for 3 hours parking.  The place was less than a quarter full so you’d think they would do a weekend rate.
Two things hit you when you walk into Bradford: the architecture and the people. 

Firstly there is the City Hall, which is one of those wonderfully impressive gothic Victorian civic buildings, built at the height of its economic success in the 19th century.  As it was a Saturday I wasn’t sure if I could go in to check out the inside, but given there were lots of people outside in fancy outfits, no doubt this place is busy at the weekends with weddings.
Outside the City Hall there was a big family event happening and the place was packed full of people.  The kids were trying out all the activities like trampolining and climbing on a mobile climbing wall, although one of the most popular was kids playing with large cardboard boxes.  Kids are like cats in many ways as you can buy them something nice, but they will have more fun playing with the packaging it came in.

Wandering through Bradford, it’s always good to look up and see the fine architecture.  If you look at the shop fronts you will find many of them are rough and ready, but looking up you will see what fine buildings they are.  It would have been interesting to see these buildings in their heyday, although you can tell many of these buildings have been cleaned up over the years - there are vast swathes of pigeon-proof netting protecting the buildings from bird poop.

The Alhambra Theatre is another building of note in Bradford.  You can’t miss it with its domes and columns – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theatre like this.  The white and blue colour scheme just makes the place pop out against the surrounding Yorkshire stone buildings.  I wonder if the inside of the theatre is as distinctive as the outside?
Another thing you will notice walking around Bradford is that it is built on a hill.  You almost have to invest in sturdy walking boots to hike up the steep hills.  I’d been told there is a new development happening in Bradford where they were renovating the tunnels into shops and bars.  I tried to find them, but I believe at the time it hadn’t opened.  I think they are supposed to be focusing on getting new and young businesses into the area.

The shops in Bradford are not that exciting – your usual high street names.  We did manage to find a side street with some independent bars and shops, which seemed to be looking at the Northern Quarter in Manchester for inspiration.  There was one place that did beer and vinyl records, which sounds like the perfect combination.

As with most northern towns, there is a market hall.  Sadly it wasn’t the most exciting of places as many of the stalls had closed down and the others that remained open were selling the usual market stall fodder.  I do think if the market hall had more light and was redecorated it might attract more people.
We obviously checked out all the charity shops and they were probably some of the busiest places in the city centre.  Whilst most were not that exciting Neil managed to find some vinyl records.  My favourite shop was the Oxfam which had a great bookshop on the first floor.  The good thing about Bradford being a university town is that you do get a better quality charity bookshop.  I ended up buying a Mitford Sisters book as I started reading it when Neil decided to go through their large music section.

We grabbed some fish and chips at “The In Plaice” (terrible pun I know) opposite the City Hall.  The food was fine and it seemed to be really popular with the locals.  We also grabbed a 99 cone at an ice cream van that was doing brisk trade at the family fun day.  We had tried getting an ice cream at an ice cream and milk shake place, but they were giving us the hard sell (it’s ice cream for goodness sake!) and we left.  Sometimes a nice Mr Whippy is all you need, rather than a vast selection of ice cream that often looks better than it taste.

If you visit Bradford, a visit to the National Media Museum is a must, especially if you have kids.  Neil has an interest in old TV programmes and so when he saw all the BBC stuff, he took lots of pictures.  It’s quite a dark museum with all the audio-visual exhibits which could be a bit claustrophobic at times.  Obviously, as with all museums these days, they had a good cafĂ© and gift shop.  However, my favourite exhibit was the computer section.  In the floor they had a glass display of the timeline of personal computers.  My only disappointment with the display was that they didn’t include a Commodore 64, which was my brother’s first computer.  Honestly it was THE personal computer of the 1980s – the gaming industry was started through that machine. It really is amazing how computers have transformed our lives over the past 30 years, and I don’t think we really appreciate how radical their impact has been.
At the beginning, I mentioned the two things you notice about Bradford are the architecture and the people.  Bradford is a deprived city and much of this deprivation is written across the faces of the people who live here.  At the family fun day there was a massive turn out and when I started looking at the people I realised there was a big turn out as the event was free.  There were families who were clearly on benefits and this was all they could afford to do with their kids.  There were many people who were of indeterminate ages as they looked old, but dressed younger than they looked - some hard lives have been lived here.  I was genuinely surprised not to find as many Asian people in the city centre as I’d expected.  It had been Eid, so possibly people were with their families at home.  However it’s possible that many keep to the suburbs, as I’ve been told there are many thriving shopping areas that cater for the community outside of the city centre.

Bradford was an experience and certainly one of the most deprived city centres I’d been to in a long time, despite the regeneration that has gone on.  There is so much to do and I can understand why people I know who work in the city are keen to see it flourish.  I do hope the new development with the tunnels gets off the ground and triggers some much needed economic growth. Having been to Leeds I do understand how people and money tends to gravitate there rather Bradford, which is a real shame as there is potential.  Fingers crossed that the good people of Bradford have the energy and motivation to make great things happen here in these trying times.