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Empowering communities to make changes

Bradford District Council has been leading a programme to improve community cohesion and engagement and reduce inequalities. More than 70 individual projects have been launched and 25,000 people engaged in the process. This case study forms part of the health inequalities hub.

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The district of Bradford has one of the most ethnically diverse and youngest populations of any council district in England. A third of local people are from ethnic minority groups with a fifth of Pakistani origin. Close to a third of the population is under 20.

Over the past two years the council has been leading a programme to improve community cohesion and engagement and, in the process, reduce inequalities. More than 70 individual projects have been launched and 25,000 people engaged in the process.

The importance of involving all  

The Bradford for Everyone programme was launched in March 2019 and runs until 2022 after the district was chosen to be one of the government’s five integration areas. The programme is led by the stronger communities team at Bradford Council and overseen by an independent partnership. 

It focuses on four key areas: 

  • Getting on – addressing factors affecting economic participation and language skills 
  • Getting along – promoting greater interaction, dialogue and understanding between people from different backgrounds 
  • Getting involved – generating and connecting people to opportunities to participate in community and civic life 
  • Feeling safe – tackling hate crime and the fear of hate crime 

The programme, which received £3.6 million funding from central government, is based on a “test and learn” approach and has more than 600 organisations engaged in its network, the Partner Forum. The forum runs four times a year and is aimed to stimulate collaboration, innovation, share good practice and learning and to have conversations that matter to our workforce and communities. 

Programme Lead Zahra Niazi said:

We want to re-balance the power in the district, while creating space for voice, influence and representation from all communities. To bring about change you cannot just focus on a particular ethnic group – you have to involve everyone.

We have a very diverse district and there are many different groups that face disadvantage and often are overlooked. For example, we have a large white working class British community that suffers from poor health and lack of meaningful opportunities.”  

One of the key projects, which underpins much of the work, has been the creation of a network of ambassadors. There is a core group of 32, representing the broad range of communities in Bradford from young to old and across different faith groups. 

They include everyone from a 17-year-old British Pakistani student, a visually impaired young woman and an Indian-born psychiatrist to a retired teacher who has lived in the area all her life. 

The ambassadors work alongside the programme team and play a key role in co-designing and evaluating the projects that are funded as well as helping review and having input in to key council strategies, such as the anti-poverty strategy. 

Loirane Hughes, who is one of the ambassadors, said it is allowing people from all sorts of backgrounds to make a real difference. “We are empowered. We are in a position to make a change and to be part of the decision-making.”

An example of a project the ambassadors have helped to shape is the Citizen Coin app, which is designed to encourage volunteering and reduce reliance on support such as food banks.

It allows volunteers to earn credits which they can then use for discounts or free products, such as school uniforms or hair cuts, from retailers that have signed up to take part. The app has had more than 600 downloads since it was launched last year and has 75 retailers on board. 

A diverse range of projects 

The work has led to a wide range of other projects too. Some are aimed at celebrating diversity and encouraging greater understanding of people from different backgrounds. 

The People Library is an example of this. It is an ever-growing collection of human books with people from diverse backgrounds sharing their stories online and face to face. 

On a more hyper local level, funding has been used to support a wide range of groups from a LGBTQ+ community gardening project, recycling old tech and skilling up refugees and those seeking asylum, teaching young people to build online games, arts and cultural activities to sporting opportunities.  The prerequisite on all of them is about making connections between people from different backgrounds. 

Meanwhile, other schemes are designed to directly reduce inequalities by improving employment practices and health and wellbeing. These include the community champions project which was launched during the pandemic in partnership with 49 voluntary and community sector partners in response to growing concerns about vaccination take-up particularly among ethnic minority groups and those with disabilities. 

A volunteer team of 250 community champions was recruited to address vaccine hesitancy in their communities, tackling disinformation and promoting the vaccine programme by taking steps such as filming themselves taking the jab. The champions have engaged with over 5,500 and were able to reach people that practitioners and professionals found difficult in engaging with.

As with all the projects, the aim is to create sustainable projects that carry on long-term so the focus of the champions is now changing towards mental health and healthy lifestyles.  

Another project is the inclusive employer toolkit. It was created by the Grant Thornton consultancy group with input from the Inclusive Employers Network and the Yorkshire Building Society.  

More than 40 employers have joined up and are able to carry out audits of their policies and processes and receive advice about creating the right culture to encourage diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace. They also get access to an inclusion executive coach to provide advice and guidance. 

Ms Niazi added: “The aim has been to build an evidence base of what works and what doesn’t, be bold and innovative – we’ve been able to try things that we would not normally have tried before and to break down the invisible divide between different communities that increases those inequalities.” 

Maturity and strong leadership ‘marks Bradford out’

Zulfi Karim, President of the Bradford Council for Mosques, said the work being done by the council is really important: “What marks Bradford out is its mature and strong leadership in terms of the relationships that have been developed with inter-faith groups. For example, I was immediately invited on to the COVID gold group at the start of the pandemic – sitting alongside the emergency services, the NHS and the council. 

“That reflects the trust that has been built up over the years and it meant we were able to make good decisions that saved lives. For example, we stopped having people meeting and coming together in places of worship before the very first lockdown happened to slow the spread. This was a really big decision – something that has never been done before. 

“As the pandemic progressed we worked closely on other issues, promoting testing and vaccination. It was not just the COVID champions. My burial leaders and grave diggers were among the first to get the vaccine and they helped encourage take-up in our communities. 

“But there are huge challenges going forward. COVID has laid bare he huge health inequalities we face and that is related to other factors – the housing you live in, having access to the open air and green spaces and the sort of work you do. It is why building on the work being done through Bradford for Everyone is so incredibly important.”