Bradford took a major step forward in its preparations to bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2025 as it announced the chair of the board.

The Chair has been announced as Keighley’s Shanaz Gulzar an artist with extensive experience across the media landscape, from films, theatre, and television.

Shanaz has worked for many years across Yorkshire, including for Bite the Mango Film Festival, Illuminate, Bradford City Park, Impressions Gallery, Moti Roti, Yorkshire Film Archive, in a co-practice as Adept and an ambassador for the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

Joining Ms Gulzar on the board of the City of Culture 2025 are Adeeba Malik CBE the deputy chief executive of the QED Foundation who help those from ethnic minorities to find jobs and progress their careers. Sabbiyah Pervez, reporter for the BBC here in Yorkshire, Brendan Brown, Chief Executive at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust and Richard Emmott, Director of Corporate Affairs at Yorkshire Water.

Shanaz Gulzar announced as Chair of Bradford 2025 Ð a major step forward as the city prepares to bid for UK City of Culture title. Photo by Tim Smith.

While it is important to praise the appointments as a positive step for the City of Culture bid. The board is severely lacking in diversity considering it is meant to reflect the culture of Bradford.

The board is only representing a small portion of the population in the city, with three women of Pakistani heritage and three white men and two white women. The only other ‘diverse’ representation the city has on the board is Kamran Rashid who is also of Pakistani heritage. Therefore, still not fully representing every culture here in Bradford.

Where is the representation for the Indian, Bangladeshi, Eastern European, Latin or the Black communities here in Bradford?

When asked about the recruitment process when it came to appointing board members a spokesperson said.

The Board discussed the role and responsibilities of the Chair and consulted closely with stakeholders including CBMDC before undertaking a search process to identify potential candidates.

When pressed the spokesperson for the City of Culture bid said there were no plans for further board member appointments yet.

It is not only the lack of representation of the communities across Bradford that is the issue. But it is also how democratic it is to appoint members to the board. This board is going to represent the best of what Bradford has to offer. Then why have the people of Bradford not had a say in who represents them?  Before undertaking a search process, were the public consulted? Could they nominate candidates as well? There is a lack of transparency in the process.

The interim chair of the board Mary Dowson is quoted on the Culture’s website as saying:

Our UK City of Culture bid presents a brilliant opportunity for us to showcase not only the incredible home-grown talent we have here in Bradford, but to create a legacy which improves opportunities for local people and promotes the city as a fantastic place to live, work and enjoy. Over the coming year we’ll be working hard to develop new partnerships and build a strong programme for the bid to include local, national, and international events. We’re positive we can deliver a successful and spectacular year of culture in 2025, now we want the city to get behind us too.

Considering Bradford City Council are investing £400,000 into the project as part of a £1.4m package for cultural investment in the city, surely the people of the city should have had a greater say in who is on the board in order to highlight how the bid money will be spent.

But without the representation on the board level how can they showcase the homegrown talent in order to stand a chance at being the successful city?

Well, that may come in the form of the operational team of people brought in to work across the community in engaging them with the city of culture bid and to make sure their voices and ideas are heard. The team consists of May McQuade will work part time as Programme Coordinator alongside her work at Mind the Gap. Pakeezah Zahoor will work as Community Co-ordinator having previously worked for Bradford Literature Festival and for The Science Museum Group. Joining the team will be Si Cunningham, Director of Bradford Business Improvement District as well as a member of Bradford Economic Recovery Board. The final members of this team are research intern Hunnan Haider and Jack Lynch who will be Marketing and Campaign Co-ordinator, who previously helped deliver the WOW festival in Bradford.

New additions to the team to support Bradford’s bid to be UK City of Culture in 2025, L-R: May McQuade, Hunnan Haider, Pakeezah Zahoor, Si Cunningham, Jack Lynch. Photo by Tim Smith.

However, were the people of Bradford asked who they wanted to represent them on this team? As although there were adverts for paid positions for the operational team advertised online across various outlets and social media during May and June.

No such adverts for the board positions were placed though and questions remains over the representation for the city. Could there have been a greater selection to the board with a proper recruitment drive across the district? Should the city of had a say in board member appointments with a selection process open to everyone?

There have been many who have strived hard to place Bradford on the map through the reputed organisations they founded and led very successfully. One such person is co-founder of the hugely popular and successful culture and arts organisation Kala Sangam – Dr Geetha Upadhyaya

When asked about her thoughts and involvement in the bid process, Dr Geetha said that “Bradford is a treasure house unlike any other city. Be it its textile heritage or its majestic buildings or the various sectors such as the business, education, creative, faith or the multi-cultural communities, the district stands out as a rare gem which lends itself to the seamless blending of the modern ideas and techniques with the traditional and time proven ones.

“The successful outcome of the bid very much depends on the bid being one owned by the people of Bradford as it is a world in a city that has to be reflected in every aspect of the bid starting from the board, the content and plans. We need a broader vision which encompasses the future dreams woven on the rich tapestry of the past where the district is heard and seen and celebrated nationally and internationally.

“I have not yet been asked to be involved but if I am I would be delighted to give my best to make the bid a success and would do this totally on a voluntary capacity as having worked in Bradford for 25 years, I know the varied and wonderful potential of this wonderful dormant district waiting to be awakened to be celebrated”

As the Chair, Shanaz Gulzar will lead the Board and the organisation throughout the bidding process for 2025, as well as helping to develop the Board’s vision for the city. Shanaz will act as a key ambassador for the city, championing Bradford at cultural and business events across the country in the run up to the announcement of the winning city.

Speaking about her appointment Shanaz Gulzar, Chair of Bradford 2025, said:

“I am thrilled to be taking on the role of Chair of Bradford 2025, following the fantastic groundwork laid by Mary Dowson. I’ve seen the cultural sector in the district evolve and mature to the creative city and district with attitude that it is today. I know that the only difference between successful artists and everyone else is opportunity and I’m proud that Bradford has put culture at the heart of its regeneration. As well as winning the title, I want the competition to fulfil the ambition of all local people.  I’m looking forward to helping the whole district to make the most of this opportunity and to open doors to the fantastic young talent in the city. In fact, I have a duty to remove the doors completely.”

Bradford has 29 per cent of its population under the age of 20 and a quarter under 16 years old. The Chair will champion the city in its bid, but with such little representation at board level and the lack of representation from across the city, not only impacts the Culture bid, but also has a wider impact on the chances of those from underrepresented backgrounds to see what they can achieve.

The bid has made a great start highlighting the importance of Bradford with the appointments of Shanaz, Adeeba and Sabbiyah. They will no doubt be great champions of the city. But there is gaping cultural void that seems to remain unfulfilled.