Ninety two balloons were released in the middle of Manningham,
Bradford, last month, one for each ethnic community in the
That’s 92 ethnic groups in a city of fewer than 500,000,
whose racial divisions exploded with such ferocity last summer that
they are still clearing up the mess.
A city whose potential for a rich cultural diversity seems to
have been squandered by years of self-imposed segregation, and
whose people, according to a report last year by former Commission
for Racial Equality chief Sir Herman Ousely, have been left “in the
grip of fear”.1
But it is also a city that is keen to put racial disharmony
behind it, that wants to be known more for Bronte and Hockney than
for burning and looting, and that is energetically promoting its
bid to become the European Capital of Culture.
So, along with Burnley and Oldham, which were also hit by
inter-racial turmoil in 2001, Bradford is having to take a hard
look at its education system, its housing policies and its youth
According to A Place for Us All, a recent report by the
Commission for Racial Equality, youth services play a major part in
providing the kind of “social seam” that brings together young
people from different ethnic backgrounds and encourages greater
respect for different cultures.2
But how exactly does one create a multicultural youth project in
an ethnically divided city where schools practise what Ousely
described as “virtual apartheid”?
According to Kerr Kennedy, who manages Bradford’s
Voluntary Youth Organisation Network, the challenge is not
necessarily as difficult as it sounds.
“Obviously if you are running a very regionally based project on
an estate in north Bradford you’ll be dealing with mainly
white kids while in the inner city areas they will be mainly Asian.
But there is a recognition among youth workers and young people
themselves that there needs to be more integration, and there is a
lot of good work going on to achieve that.”
Kennedy, who has been working in Bradford for eight years,
claims that despite the disturbances, ethnic tensions between the
city’s young people are easing. He points to a number of
projects that have managed to bring together young people from
various ethnic backgrounds.
These include the Youth Development Partnership which is
establishing multi-racial teams of local young people to act as
role models and peer educators, running sports, health and
sustainable regeneration programmes. There is a pilot anti-racist
peer education project that aims to recruit young people to combat
racism in their own communities.
Kerr is also on the management board of the Bradford Connexions
programme that was launched on 2 September. Connexions is cited in
the CRE report as providing a means to combat racial discrimination
in recruitment by providing mentoring and work experience
opportunities for young people from all parts of the community.
“Although Connexions is all about helping the individual, and
it’s too early to say what effect it will have, I’m
keen to make youth work a central part of the programme and
hopefully it will help to bring people together,” says Kennedy.
The positive picture of youth work in Bradford painted by
Kennedy has been backed up by a complimentary Ofsted report on the
local authority’s youth services. It is, however, somewhat at
odds with the situation uncovered by Adrienne Katz, chief executive
of Young Voice, who spent time in the city last year interviewing
“There are, undoubtedly, some wonderful projects going on in
Bradford,” she says. “But often they are the small-scale schemes
that offer much more intimacy than the broad-brush youth work
programmes. What they do is great but they only reach a small
number of people and they don’t have the funding to
She cites a recent project run by the council’s
Countryside Service that achieved great things in improving the
independence and self-confidence of a small group of young Asian
women. “There were 14 women, 11 of whom went on to university. Yet
the project couldn’t get funding for another worker,” says
Indeed, funding problems such as these prompted the CRE report
to call for youth services to be given statutory status.
One of the more depressing findings of Katz’s research,
published earlier this year in the report Thwarted Dreams,
was the disturbing degree of despondency among Bradford’s
young people.3 Fewer than half of the students
interviewed felt they would achieve their goals. They were less
satisfied than the national average with their careers advice, and
more than twice as likely to say “I don’t have the
Of particular concern was the level of racial harassment and
violence the young people experienced on the streets.
“We found that while bullying within schools was close to the
national average, outside of school, the level of street violence
was much greater,” says Katz.
For these young people, whose every day experience remains so
far removed from the ideals of racial harmony, there seems little
hope that multiracial youth projects can have much of an impact on
their deeply entrenched suspicions.
“Young people often see these projects as window-dressing or
superficial and totally at odds with what they experience on the
street,” says Katz. “You get the sense of moral indignation
ratcheting up and that’s what leads to racial
Katz urges a “more subtle and cohesive” approach to addressing
racial tensions. This would involve schools staggering their home
time so that everybody isn’t let out onto the streets
together, school liaison officers to help increase the influence of
parents, and inter-racial activities that go beyond the “usual
“We need more than just football teams. Putting on a play
together might be a better way of bringing people together.”
A number of such cross-cultural activities have been organised
by Bradford Council’s youth service. One recent trip saw 100
young people from Bradford West being taken to see the hit film
Bend It Like Beckham. Other events include a community
leadership scheme concluding with a three-week expedition to
But perhaps the most ambitious undertaking was signalled by the
release of those balloons in Manningham. This was to celebrate the
launch of the Bradford-Keighley Youth Parliament, an initiative
designed to give the young people of the Bradford more influence
over their services.
According to Bradford Council’s youth issue co-ordinator,
Norrina Rashid, the parliament will provide a forum for young
people from a range of different ethnic and social backgrounds to
discuss the issues that really matter to them.
Rashid hopes that the parliament, which holds its first
elections on 24 September will prove to be a more effective way of
encouraging young people to talk over their differences than some
of the less subtle initiatives used in the past.
“I was there in the 1980s when we were bussing kids from one
youth club across town to meet kids from another and hoping they
would get on. What a fantastic idea that was. But this is not like
that. The young people don’t feel like we are pushing them
together and hopefully disaffected white kids will realise they
have a lot in common with disaffected Asians.”
1 H Ousely, Community Pride Not
Prejudice, 2001, from
2 Commission for Racial Equality, A Place
for us All, CRE, 2002, from
3 Young Voice, Thwarted Dreams,