(Pic by Tom Hunter)
I was having a chat to a couple of my friends the other day about the Odeon, who have picked up information about it 2nd or 3rd hand. They both think it’s a shame to see it go but as it’s just an eyesore now, they just think that we should accept that times change and let the new development begin.
I think this is a pretty common attitude, and I can’t say I blame people. If you don’t spend hours on the internet reading about the Odeon campaign, or know someone involved in the campaign, you won’t really know WHY people want it saved, or have an idea of how strong some of the arguments are. For me, and I think for a lot of people, it’s about democracy and respect for the City of Bradford and its citizens.
I explained to my friends that if the majority of people wanted it knocking down then I would respect the choice of the majority – however the majority appear to want it saving – 2000 objections to the demolition were placed to the Council, and only 2 people supported the demolition. There is a thriving Bradford Odeon Rescue Group and Save The Odeon facebook group, both full of people who want justice and to save their City’s heritage, both growing all the time, as are the paper and online petitions and support from everyone from policemen and reporters to council workers and street cleaners, from Asians and whites alike, and from children, teenagers and 20-somethings, through to pensioners and everyone in between. The www.savetheodeon.co.uk website, containing campaign ideas and information, is getting bigger every day.
When one looks at why the people who want it demolishing are of this opinion, they either believe what they have been told in the local paper (who stand to gain with the Odeon’s demolition)– and in my experience these people change their minds when the facts are explained – or have vested financial interests in having it demolished (councillors, developers, quangos, local papers). The process of consultation and objections required when applying for planning permission have been ignored, and people have been told by the council that the Odeon is a shell inside and only fit for demolition (photos show this to be far from true). The decision to grant permission for demolition has not been a transparent nor a democratic one, and ignores a huge strength of feeling from the residents of Bradford.
What concerns me about this, is that many Bradfordians feel their city has lost its heart and soul. Many beautiful buildings have been demolished, not to be replaced by “new heritage” – new beautiful buildings that a new generation can grow up with and want to fight to save – but by soulless concrete blocks, that are themselves facing welcome demolition only 30 years later. The planned development for the Odeon site is another such concrete and glass office block, unwanted by locals who want to feel pride in the rich architectural heritage of their city. 15 acres of the city centre has lain for the last 5 years as a wasteland after planning permission was granted for developers to demolish existing buildings and build a shopping mall. The demolition of those buildings went ahead, but the developers pulled out of the new mall due to lack of investment – well before the recession. The council has done nothing to either force a useable development, or heed the calls for the best to be made of a bad job and convert the site into a park or greenspace.
Even attempts to decorate the ugly maroon hoardings that still bear the developer’s propaganda by locals with imaginative and heartfelt art, have been hurriedly scrubbed away. This is not a council that respects the need of the city to have a soul, or for its citizens to be able to believe in their city and its leaders, to feel proud of their city, that it is the heart of a community. We don’t need to go too far back in time (2001 in fact) to remember that a lack of sense of community, pride and understanding in Bradford’s uniquely diverse population can be used to stir up hate and violence. Whites, Asians, and other ethnic minorities alike are on board with the Odeon campaign however.
Bradford residents that I have spoken to (and that’s quite a few) are frustrated that their city has the reputation of being soulless; “a sh*thole”; a dirty, derelict mess. But as one twitterer posted: “ Bradford’s known for all the wrong reasons in the UK. In the twitterverse, it’s @BradfordOdeonwho’s making it known for all the right ones”. The Bradford Odeon has become a symbol of Bradford: of its architectural and cultural heritage (The Odeon is the last remaining 1930s super-cinema in the country and is still a thing of beauty 80 years on, like the remaining Victorian architecture that can still be seen in varying states of repair in the city; Bradford is also the 2009 UNESCO City of Film); of the need for transparency in the democratic process and for trust in the city’s leaders; and for respect for the city’s people and spirit.
This is not about sentimentality – I personally do not believe that because I went to see a film there once, or that the Beatles once played there, these are good enough reasons alone to save it. If the building was truly derelict and beyond saving then I would (sadly) wave it goodbye. This is not about opposing business or regeneration – if we trusted the council to support business or regeneration in a way that is sensitive to the city then we could be confident of our voices being heard and we could be confident every possibility had been exhausted before demolition was considered, and that a thoughtful replacement would be build, completed, and used. This is not about not fear of the future – I know no-one who wants Bradford or the Odeon to stay as they are – we want to see the city living and breathing again, with the Odeon being used sustainably as a building that everyone can use and be proud of.
This is about respect (for the city and its citizens), democracy and community pride. For me, the Odeon campaign aims to save Bradford from soulless & corrupt regeneration. To quote from the online petition “This city has suffered 5 decades of bad planning by a council that neither listens nor cares. The Odeon is now a symbol of citizens sick of being treated as if they were worthless.”
It’s time to listen to what people want and to work together to achieve aims that everyone can be proud of.