Monday 27 December 2010

A tough year in Bradford.

Its hard to admit it, but this has been one of the toughest years Bradford has had to face. The murder of three women and subsequent trial of Stephen Griffiths may seem like a less shocking event than the Valley Parade fire, or the Bradford riots in 1995 and 2001, but it some ways it has been more disastrous. It has cemented in the minds of detractors of the city that Bradford is simply going from bad to worse.

Cities are about perceptions, there is no getting away from it. Not only is Bradford marred in the national image, but for many local people, this has also been a year when the city centre has felt depressing. Well known shops and restaurants like Probyns, The Love Apple and the Cocina have gone to the wall, and the repaving of the city has not led to a surge of investment. There was a moment of respite when the council gave in to popular demands and put a temporary garden on part of the Westfield site. But the badly planned and unwanted ripping up of the city centre has made parts of Bradford feel like a permanent accident site.

The election in May of a Tory Government will have a devastating impact on the city, and record public sector job cuts have already been announced. The public transport system is in a shambles, the health sector is under threat, and SERCO are still succeeding to run our education system into the ground.

The two visits by the English Defence League in May and August left a bitter taste in Bradford's mouth, as did the councils poor handling of the situation. Luckily, the people of Bradford (especially the women and Muslim youth) showed that they were made of stronger stuff than the EDL thought, and another riot did not happen, despite the huge provocation.

The city has had to deal with another major blow to its heritage as several beautiful and historical parts of St Lukes Hospital were pulled down to make way for a carpark. The only new buildings that have gone up were the Provident HQ, built on profits taken from the odious practice of doorstep lending, a nice little earner during a recession; and the Jury's Inn, an unwanted new hotel which finally forced the city's leading historic hotel, the Victoria, to go into administration.

So where is the hope? Several schemes come to mind, the first being 'Inn Churches' where hundreds of Christians from scores of denominations have come together to respond to the growing plight of homeless people in the city. The response of the local Muslim population to this years flood crisis in Pakistan has also been heartening. The fact that the Street Angels project has carried on working on Friday and Saturday nights in the city is still impressive.

It is in the people of this city that I find hope. Not our politicians, not our 'leaders' but our people. Despite our local and national governments, despite poor civic leadership, the citizens of Bradford still come up with the goods. They protest at Topshop and shops selling Israeli products. They occupy the university admin floor to resist fees increases and organise events to hear the stories of those seeking sanctuary in our city. They organise 'Free shops' and creative 'Zine' Fayres.

If the 'big society' agenda of this government of millionaires is simply an excuse for more privatisation and cutbacks, then in Bradford and beyond, it is our creative and resilient people who will organise the 'big fightback' of 2011. That is something we not only have to be hopeful about, that is something that we have to build and organise ourselves.

As a priest, I want the churches to wake up, and fulfill the powerful prophetic voice they have. Let us pull down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly! Lets turn a tough year in Bradford into a terrible year for those who have shown nothing but contempt for the people of this city. Let us be part of the coalition of resistance that will tear this present government apart.

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