Si Cunningham, Bradford Civic Society speech

This week, I’m delighted to have been elected as the new Chairman of Bradford Civic Society, with a pledge to make our group one of the most celebratory and forward-thinking societies in the UK.

I first got involved with the civic movement back in 2014 when I read an appeal in our local newspaper for younger members to come forward. I soon discovered a small, but incredibly dedicated, group of unapologetically proud Bradfordians who love their city, and want to make it a better place. It’s been a privilege to work with our outgoing Chairman Alan Hall (who is stepping into the role of Vice Chair) to learn more about Bradford, and to help develop a new identity for our civic society, a 75-year-old institution I’m now honoured to lead.

In my first speech to our members, I used social media to illustrate how Bradfordians view their own city. What do they love? What concerns them? What are their hopes for the Bradford of the future?

The living time capsules of Twitter… Facebook… Instagram… allow us to see life through the eyes of the most diverse range of people, and pinpoint exactly where they’re documenting their time. On social media, more pictures are taken in our magnificent City Park than anywhere else in Bradford – literally thousands of snaps, updated daily. I was able to show our members just a handful of the many happy memories being made in one of Bradford’s greatest civic amenities.

So I come to Bradford Civic Society with a desire to celebrate more of what we already have. Showcasing and highlighting our spectacular architecture will be an important part of my Chairmanship, and I hope to forge greater links with our city council’s conservation team to encourage visitors to “look up” for Bradford and be proud of our heritage.

I am also proud to be part of a civic society that represent the youngest city in the UK – indeed, we’ll be the youngest in Europe by 2020. And with that comes innovation, entrepreneurialism and creativity. You only have to look at our new Sunbridge Wells development (nominated for a Civic Voice design award) to see what can be achieved with a bit of vision, and our burgeoning creative community is fizzing with civic pride that must be put to good use.

But let’s acknowledge our challenges too. There are too many empty shops in Bradford and too many unanswered questions about what will happen to our city centre as a result of dwindling footfall and significant retail shift.

We cannot force the hand of the council’s decision makers one way or the other, but we can become a more effective voice for the people of Bradford.
Our recent debate on the future of Darley Street (our forlorn high street) in collaboration with Bradford Politics in the Pub showed how we can inspire Bradfordians to have more of a say in how their city develops. So I want us to keep these conversations and lively debates going.

And finally, I want to speak out against the mediocrity and bad design that has plagued our city centre in recent years.

I believe there is a strong case for our civic society to take ownership of this important issue by launching our first-ever Bradford Design Awards. Let’s recognise and reward those who are making a positive contribution to Bradford’s built environment, while offering guidance and advice to those who are falling short.

With passion and pride, and by making new friends both within and beyond the district, Bradford Civic Society can be real guardians of everything that’s great about our city.

But let’s be bold and ambitious too. Because to look at those thousands of pictures of City Park – that thriving civic space being used and enjoyed by all – it’s clear to me that when Bradford thinks bigger, it gets better.