I’d heard Dave West’s name come up in conversation several times before taking on the Bradford Review project, but ever since that first issue it has been with an added sense of urgency…

“You’re doing a city centre magazine? Have you been to see Dave West yet?” “You really should go see Dave West.”

I decided it was time I went to see Dave West.

Our first meeting took place at Guzelian Cafe Bar in the heart of his beloved Little Germany where we’d agreed to exchange thoughts on Bradford and introduce our projects to each other. I was immediately enamoured with his eagerness to get behind the magazine and his unbridled passion for the city. The conversation led us through his numerous interests and an impressive portfolio of ongoing projects. It didn’t take long for me to start plotting an interview.

Paul Macnamara/Guzelian Pictured - Dave West in Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Paul Macnamara/Guzelian
Pictured – Dave West in Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

A few weeks later I arrived at his swanky modern apartment, a converted brass foundry in the heart of Little Germany. The setting is a testament to Dave’s commitment to Bradford and his decision to live there was directly inspired by his former role at the council.

In the 1990s I was trying to promote the concept of city living and became so interested in the idea that my wife Sue and I decided that if a developer created a city centre conversion we would move into Little Germany. When that happened in 2001 we bought the first available apartment and have lived here ever since.”

Dave’s relationship with Bradford began in earnest when he moved to the city in 1986 to join the council’s Economic Development Unit. He spent 25 years with the council, working hard to encourage economic prosperity and urban regeneration. It was a period that began with the infamous Bradford’s Bouncing Back campaign and the reopening of the Alhambra and ended against a recession-hit backdrop, characterised by the much-reviled ‘hole in the ground’. While his time with the council may have been something of a rollercoaster ride during those years Dave developed a deep love for the city that influences much of what he does today.

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“Over that period I discovered I had a passion for Bradford. Partly because I had family roots here but also through discovering special parts of Bradford like Little Germany, which made me want to give something back.. I felt I had some kind of connection with the city.”
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“Over that period I discovered I had a passion for Bradford. Partly because I had family roots here but also through discovering special parts of Bradford like Little Germany, which made me want to give something back.. I felt I had some kind of connection with the city.”

Dave is the first to admit that working in regeneration in Bradford was a tough and at times frustrating experience but is proud of his achievements during that time. Chief among those achievements was the Design Exchange, which he was heavily involved in as the design project manager. The building is now part of Bradford University’s Enterprise Zone, continuing its tradition as a place of innovation and progress in Bradford and a shining example of the type of urban regeneration Dave sought to bring to the city.

But his time with the council was not without regrets and Dave is the first to admit that they didn’t always manage to get things right. “With regards to Little Germany there wasn’t a consistency of application by the various different organisations involved in the area. My regret is that Little Germany has blossomed then faded, blossomed and faded again but never in those 25 years did it achieve its full potential. I think that’s a microcosm of Bradford in general, particularly the city centre. It’s such a special place that gets under your skin. It’s a place that you can feel very passionate about but at the same time be very frustrated by.”

I ask him why this is and where the blame lies. “Nobody has been able to put their finger on what it is that has held Bradford back, I certainly wouldn’t blame the council because I was part of it. But there are all sorts of reasons that the city hasn’t achieved what it could have done.”

Paul Macnamara/Guzelian Pictured - Dave West in Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Paul Macnamara/Guzelian
Pictured – Dave West in Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Dave left the council in 2011 and since then has thrown himself into a number of projects, all with the common aim of making Bradford a better place in which to live and work. The most significant of these projects is the Little Germany Action Group, a not-for-profit limited company that aims to promote the Little Germany area.

“I’d worked for 36 years (in local government), which is long enough for anybody. But I still felt young enough, interested and passionate enough to keep on going and try to see Little Germany reach its potential.”

“When we set up the Action Group we were in the middle of the deepest and darkest recession this country has ever known, so it wasn’t a great time to start. But I felt it had to be done because the council could no longer dedicate the resources and something needed to fill that void.”

The group is made up of Dave and several other business stakeholders with an interest in the area who give their time up to attract funding and deliver good things. These have included a business directory, website (www.littlegermanyaction.org), window displays and hanging baskets, environmental improvements, art installations and marketing – all designed to attract people to live, work, visit and invest in Little Germany.

The biggest influence on the area in recent times has without question been the Westfield site, which will finally open as the Broadway Shopping Development later this year. Dave acknowledges this could have a huge positive impact on Little Germany.

“Little Germany has been isolated from the rest of the city centre for years. Everybody in Bradford is delighted that the Westfield development is happening and I expect the positive effect of that to ripple up the hill. It is already starting to happen and we’ve noticed lots more developers taking an interest now that the economic climate is improving.”

Dave has already been in talks with Westfield to discuss how the centre will fit into the local environment and is pleased with the plans, particularly those to open up Well Street as a welcoming street that’s used by the public. “The big test will of course be when it opens and we will see how that linkage re-connects us with the rest of the city.”

Away from the Little Germany Action Group Dave is also an active member of a number of boards, committees and local interest groups including Kala Sangam, Forster Community College, The Bradford Cathedral Fabric Committee, Bradford YMCA, Bradford Live, Bradford Bronte Rotary Club, Bradford Breakthrough, Bradford Matters and the Bradford Property Forum. It’s a heavy workload but one that Dave is more than happy to commit to.

“When I left the council I was open to all kinds of opportunities and when people asked me to get involved I willingly said yes, and I don’t regret that at all.”

With so many organisations battling for influence in the city I wondered if there could possibly be a conflict of interests but Dave reassures me that is not the case.

Paul Macnamara/Guzelian Pictured - Dave West in Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Paul Macnamara/Guzelian
Pictured – Dave West in Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

“I think there’s been a criticism that there are perhaps too many organisations trying to lobby for improvements in the city centre. But I think the people involved in these organisations all care deeply about the future of Bradford and are doing it because they care about the place. I don’t think you can ever have too many people like that and I would urge anyone who does care about Bradford to get involved and help in any way they can. However I can understand from the council’s point of view why it might be difficult to figure out who to listen to.”

This brings us to Bradford and its reputation, which appears to be on an upwards trajectory, albeit from a difficult starting point.

“I’ve been around Bradford for 30 years and now it’s the best atmosphere about the place I have ever known. I remember getting involved in a project around 15 years ago which tested people’s perceptions of Bradford in South East England. There were two types of reaction, one was a negative reaction and the second – which was more worrying – was no perception at all. People having no idea at all what Bradford was all about. I think that is changing for the better and I think the first people to win over are Bradford people themselves.”

“We all love Bradford but we all like moaning about it as well and that has got to change in the future.”

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“We all love Bradford but we all like moaning about it as well and that has got to change in the future.”
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It is an interesting observation and one that many Bradfordians will be encouraged to hear. So what would a utopian Bradford look like in 10 years time and how do we get there?

“The key to any city centre in the world is jobs. If you start to improve people’s economic wellbeing they will then start to require more of the good things that Bradford is short of. Such as quality living accommodation, shops, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues.. you name it, it will all come.”

“It has started to happen already and that consistency of approach needs to be maintained until the place is really operating properly.”

Of all the projects ongoing in Bradford that Dave is involved in, it is without doubt the Odeon that will have the biggest bearing on Bradford’s future.

“Bradford has got to improve its evening economy and what better way of doing that than opening a 3,500 seater live music venue? If we can get that going through Bradford Live with the help of Bradford Council that would make a huge difference and I would be proud to be part of that.”

Bradford Live won the bid to take on the Odeon project last year with an ambitious plan to turn the building into a dedicated live entertainments venue and restore it to its former glory. With an opening date planned for 2018 I asked Dave how the project was progressing.

“Bradford Live is at a very crucial stage right now. The fact of the matter is that it will not stack up as a viable proposition without support from public sector funding. I’m not saying local government funding, but organisations like Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts Council and a variety of public sector organisations. The key to that is for Bradford Live to work hand-in-hand with the council to secure that funding. 2015 is a key year for us and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Lets hope the collective spirit that helped get us this far can see the city deliver what will be a fantastically unique and long overdue institution.

 

 

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