The September meeting of Bradford Civic Society welcomed Dave West – of not-for-profit group Little Germany Action – to discuss the future of Bradford’s historic merchant quarter.
We asked: “Can Little Germany ever thrive?”
Dave delivered a frank and insightful talk, with a good amount of discussion and debate enjoyed by our assembled members afterwards. It was great to hear about the history of Little Germany Action’s formation, and we look forward to working with the group in future – particularly exploring how we can do more to promote the area’s historical importance.
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of areas covered by Dave and things we discovered along the way…
1. About one third of Little Germany is currently empty
This was pretty amazing to hear given the area’s potential, but Little Germany Action have crunched the numbers and, based on extensive land registry documents, have found that a significant number of former warehouses are still empty. About a third of buildings are currently offices, a third are residential and a third are empty. In 1986, three quarters of the entire district was thought to be empty.
2. The Broadway has helped Little Germany… sort of
Dave West was very positive about the impact of The Broadway, pointing out that the building it replaced (the so-called ‘banana block’ on Petergate) was a huge barrier. Interestingly, that building had foundations built to support a 17-story tower – which would have obviously dwarfed Little Germany. It was also commented on that, at one point in the 1950s, Little Germany was considered as a potential route for the Shipley-Airedale Road, so would have been flattened altogether. It was acknowledged that the vast majority Broadway shops fronting onto Well Street are currently unoccupied, which is not particularly helpful.
3. There are precisely 150 hanging baskets in Little Germany!
Little Germany Action supply and maintain them all at a cost of thousands of pounds every year, and seek funding by knocking on doors of residents and businesses. Little Germany Action also provide decorative vinyl artwork for empty building windows, to avoid the need for unsightly ‘for sale’ and ‘to let’ boards.
4. Little Germany will be a big part of the new BID area
Many audience members at last night’s talk expressed concern that there are virtually no events or festivals in Little Germany anymore, and marketing is very limited. In response to this, Dave suggested that the proposed Bradford Business Improvement District could help with this kind of thing. One suggestion was for a regular outdoor market on Well Street, although it was acknowledged that this might have a negative impact on the ‘top of town’.
5. A lot of people still aren’t sure what’s in Little Germany
One audience member said they had never visited the rather brilliant Kala Sangam [the South Asian arts centre in the former Post Office building] because they didn’t know what the name meant. They weren’t aware that there’s a great café in there, but would be more inclined to visit now that they actually know what’s there. Another member also pointed out the number of good cafes and restaurants on offer in Little Germany that are relatively underused.
6. Traffic is a big headache for residents and businesses
It was revealed that a lot of people who leave Little Germany do so (anecdotally) because of anti-social behaviour and dangerous driving. While Little Germany Action have taken great strides to combat the former (with secluded corners and alleys blocked up, and improved lighting), the latter remains a big problem. It was suggested that the council might want to look at how to improve the traffic situation in Little Germany in the near future.
7. There are no takers for the proposed hotel on Well Street
Despite having planning permission, no operator has shown interest in opening a hotel inside the grand 5-7 Well Street building. Since the introduction of permitted development orders, there’s been more of a trend for buildings being converted into flats – mainly of the one and two bed, and studio variety. There was a consensus in the room that while more city living is to be encouraged, small, poor quality flats are of very limited benefit to Little Germany.
8. We’ll be seeing more art and sculpture soon
Dave West talked us through some of the more interesting pieces of art that have popped up over the last year or so – including the magnificent David Hockney sculpture on Peckover Street, made using 250,000 nails. Each sculpture has a Bluetooth transmitter, which links to a free app for visitors to download and use as an interactive guide to the areas works of art.
9. The old Kirkgate Market is now in Little Germany
Yes, you read that correctly! Dave West found a significant amount of decorative stone from the demolished Victorian Kirkgate Market building. These stones are now on display in Little Germany.
10. To build communities, you need facilities
While it was acknowledged that Little Germany hosts many attractive properties, there’s a clear lack of community facilities – such as good schools – in the city centre. One solution, as suggested by Bradford Civic Society’s Vice Chair Alan Hall, could be to encourage Bradford College or the University to relocate one of their departments to Little Germany. As Alan points out, “The most prestigious school in the Umea in Sweden is housed in the former Erickson computer HQ. Why not locate a school in an existing building in Little Germany?”
11. Twitter has some grand plans for Little Germany
During the talk, we asked our Twitter followers what they’d like to see in Little Germany. Suggestions included: A film and TV studio… Offices and more restaurants… A relocated Peace Museum… A new history guide or permanent exhibition… An end to ‘one bed flat conversions’… More design studios… Pennine Radio (once again!)… and – quite specifically – a new branch of Ziferblat.
We’d like to thank Dave West for his time, and to everyone who joined us for last night’s talk and meeting.
Next meeting: Tuesday 14 November, 7pm at the Midland Hotel, with guest speaker Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe – Leader of Bradford Council.