Eeeh bah gum, Bradford's glum

The worried city council has hired a top spin doctor - just to cheer up the locals, writes Ian Herbert
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THEY'RE a miserable lot in Bradford. Ask anyone there what they think of the West Yorkshire city and the answer will be dour and modest: "Eeeh lad, it's not what it was." Which is why the council has hired a spin doctor - not to promote the joys of Bradford to outsiders, but to cheer up the locals.

The theory is that if Owen Williams can make Bradfordians feel more positive about their home, it will thrive and become more attractive to tourists. After all, what is the point in the 31-year-old marketing whizz-kid trying to convince the world that there is more to Bradford than curry houses and the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television if the natives are miserable - or "reet sloughened" as they say in the old West Riding?

Rumour has it that Williams is to be paid pounds 70,000 a year, a considerable salary in a city that has lost 63,000 manufacturing jobs since 1961 as well as its position as the wool-production capital of the world.

"There's a culture of not being too confident of who you are," says Williams. "We just need to find the things that are good in this place."

He has a mountain to climb as high as Ilkley Moor, which is over 1,000 feet. The surrounding area is known to the tourist board as Bronte Country, after the sisters responsible for such paeans to misery as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

You might think Bradford City's astonishing success in reaching the footballing Premiership would be a cause of great rejoicing, but the response has been surprisingly subdued. When Blackburn Rovers achieved the same, its locals were in heaven and the old mill town became a household name overnight - but sales of season tickets were sluggish at Bradford City even before the season started, despite the forthcoming appearance of big names like Manchester United. Sports shops in the centre of the city are just as likely to sell replica shirts in the colours of Leeds United, the team that represents Bradford's great rival.

"For a long time, Bradford has been in the lower regions of football, enabling Leeds to capture the emotion," explains Mr Williams. "It will take time."

To those locals (and there are a lot of them) who are of a gloomy disposition, even the recent switching-on of the Christmas lights offered reasons to be downcast. The ceremony was performed by an actor from Emmerdale, the television soap that used to be filmed in the nearby village of Esholt. It was one of Bradford's proudest exports until the entire production moved to Leeds, the city which seems to gets all the breaks in Yorkshire.

Before he can start work, Mr Williams must first serve his notice at an advertising and marketing agency based, it almost goes without saying, in Leeds. His private-sector accomplishments have included making people feel better about the local train operator, GNER, and persuading them to visit the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds, which has spent the summer under threat of closure. He is currently promoting the virtues of Wisdom toothbrushes' new Wibbly Wobbly Bellies brand, but believes Bradford has potential too, if it remembers how much there actually is to smile about.

Bradford is doing well in rugby league as well as football, and the Bulls were runners-up in the Super League this year. Other local boys-made-good include artist David Hockney and Ken Morrison, whose stake in the Morrisons supermarket chain he began from a converted local cinema 38 years ago is now worth pounds 900m.

The task is made more complex by the ethnic diversity of Bradford which is as great as can be found in any city in Britain. About 15 per cent or 71,000 of Bradford's residents are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin. Usha Parmar, managing director of Sunrise, the Bradford-based Asian radio station, says these communities have their own social problems to sort out before they can embrace Bradford fully. "They have a tendency to sweep things under the carpet. I have my reservations about what an all-embracing message can be in the short term."

Mr Williams believes ethnicity can be a virtue. "More than anywhere else in the UK we have the potential to be genuinely cosmopolitan," he said. The colour of his own skin and his comparative youth may help, be believes.

His masters in City Hall mean business. They appointed a former professional footballer as their pounds 101,000-a-year new chief executive in April, five months before announcing the city's virtues at a media launch in London. A new cabinet council structure will soon streamline council decision- making. But a new inner glow is no guarantee that Bradford will beat its Yorkshire rivals in the pursuit of economic prosperity.

Sheffield has appointed a pounds 60,000 head of communications too, and wealthy Leeds has announced it expects to create 50,000 jobs in a booming financial services sector over the next 10 years.

And the poster site outside Bradford's premier attraction, the Photography, Film and Television Museum, is presently devoted to attracting visitors to the National Railway Museum. Which is in York.



n Spiritually enlightened: one of the few church-run pubs in the UK, the Cock and Bottle, stands in the shadow of the cathedral.

n Student paradise: a recent survey found it to be the cheapest place in the UK for student accommodation.

n Curry houses on its tourism map: "ethnic tourism" includes Flavours of Asia tours of mosques, curry houses and cloth shops. Work has also started on a pounds 4.5m National Millennium Faith Experience celebrating the city's multicultural faiths.

n The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television might be a mouthful but it's the most popular national museum outside London and should help Bradford's attempt to be Britain's next European City of Culture.

n Bells are ringing once again in the Italianate City Hall clock tower, inspired by the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. They were decaying until overhaul in the city's

1997 centenary year.


n Third from bottom of football's Premiership and the team lost 2-1 to foes Leeds five weeks ago.

n Minor riots on 5 November proved some parts of city are still socially explosive.

n While Leeds boasts Harvey Nichols, Bradford's best department store (now gone) was called Brown Muffs.

n Leeds/Bradford Airport faces competition from the UK's newest airport at Sheffield and plans to build Yorkshire's biggest yet near Doncaster.

n Leeds enticing Emmerdale away from Bradford.