Diversity makes for a rich tapestry

Posted on the 10th September 2019

Nabeelah Hafeez, Project Manager of the Bradford Stories Festival at the National Literacy Trust, reflects on the importance of representing the diverse stories of Bradford communities in local arts and culture for building greater understanding and cohesion.


What is the Bradford Stories Festival?

The Bradford Stories Festival is a celebration of the people, places and stories at the heart of Bradford’s communities. Launching on 10 October, the arts festival will help schools and communities curate and present their own stories in exhibitions, celebrating different cultural backgrounds and traditions through visual arts, performance, photography, story writing, poetry and song.

Local school children will also have the opportunity to take part in various creative workshops – such as calligraphy, photography, drumming and poetry – to help inspire their own projects.

The festival aims to provide schools and communities with the language and communication skills they need to tell their stories in a powerful way, capture the essence of different cultures and heritage backgrounds, and build community cohesion using the arts as a creative platform to bring people together.


Why is it important to celebrate Bradford’s rich cultural heritage?

As an independent artist, I was supported by cultural arts organisation, Kala Sangam, and their creative director, Alex Croft, to launch my first photography exhibition, ‘Through my Father’s Lens’, in 2018. Using my father’s 1970s Pentax camera, I was able to follow the experiences of migration from the first generation of Pakistani migrants captured by my father, to the second and third generations of Pakistani diaspora communities in Bradford.

I found a strong sense of home and belonging in the story told through the camera lens. It helped me appreciate the wonderfully rich history of the different communities that call Bradford home, and that, as well as my own story, there are so many others that need to be told and celebrated.

The diversity of the people, places and culture in Bradford is something that is a symbol of strength and great pride. Despite the many struggles, setbacks and cuts to local services that we’ve experienced, communities in Bradford always find ways to overcome challenges and find hope in togetherness and shared learning. Having the ownership and ability to tell our own stories with integrity and honesty is incredibly powerful and key to deep and lasting cohesion in the city.

Bradford has a lot to celebrate when it comes to our arts, culture and heritage. Bradford was the world’s first UNESCO City of Film, gaining international recognition for our rich film heritage. It is the birthplace of artist David Hockney, with his work displayed in Salts Mill and Cartwright Hall art galleries. It is the home of leading intercultural arts organisations, such as Kala Sangam, and is giving rise to some wonderful grassroots arts organisations, such as Common Wealth Theatre, Speakers Corner, Bread and Roses, BrickBox Art and, of course, Theatre in the Mill. We also have the incredible annual Bradford Literature Festival, which celebrates the written and spoken word and is one of my favourite programs to attend.


What is the purpose of the school engagement programme and how will it benefit pupils?

The festival will act as a catalyst for activity in schools, engaging students in literacy, enhancing their learning experience and enriching the curriculum. Students will experience a showcase of songs, poetry and performances to help them boost their storytelling skills. They will also take part in taster workshops to help them create their own pieces – from poetry and performances to artwork and photography – for mini festivals and exhibitions in their school that celebrate their stories, experiences and heritage.

Children benefit from an active learning environment, a rich curriculum that engages them with the world around them, and the diversity of the communities in Bradford and beyond. Combined, this helps to create strong willed, critical minded, confident young change makers. We will use the arts to engage children and young people in direct conversations about their culture, community and history, whilst giving them the vital literacy skills they will need to thrive in an integrated multicultural society.


What can we expect at the festival launch on 10 October?

The setting for the festival is the incredible Kala Sangam, an existing art space in a stunning Renaissance building which already celebrates and supports grassroots arts and creativity in Bradford.

Throughout the day, school students will take part in taster workshops and panel discussions, and will engage with exhibitions and artworks from artists and groups including Three Faith Forum, Biasan and Mahmud Manning.

There will be an exciting Diversity Show, celebrating a range of stories from local Bradford communities through song, dance, poetry and performance, and we will be delving into the rich history of the city’s faith communities through ‘The Living Library’, a library of individuals and inspirational faith leaders from Bradford who will talk about their own personal experiences.

We are also launching the very first Young People’s Interfaith Faith Trail, a collaboration between the National Literacy Trust and Bradford Cathedral, providing young people with the opportunity to take part in a learning tour of Bradford’s faith spaces to deepen their understanding and build resilient communities of hope within Bradford.

The Bradford Stories Festival will also host talks and discussions, put on stalls, have a celebration of music, poetry, song and dance, and showcase diverse stories from Bradford communities through exhibitions.


The Bradford Stories Festival takes place on Thursday 10 October 2019 at Kala Sangam in Bradford.  

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