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It is the civic duty of business leaders to make their cities better places to live

5 min read

True North

It is the civic duty of business leaders to make their cities better places to live

As part of our True North report, Pete Mills Chair of Bradford District Place Making and Investment Partnership calls for Bradford’s engagement in its collective success.

As a proud ‘born and raised’ native of Bradford, I have witnessed its journey through various phases of growth, challenge and transformation. My connection to this city runs deep. Aside from a brief stint in Leeds, Bradford has been home for my entire life.

Over the years, I have come to understand the intricate dynamics that shape Bradford’s identity and its untapped potential. I believe that this holds lessons that can be applied to many places across the North.

In co-founding my current venture — Crysp, a compliance management platform — I wanted to do my bit to support businesses in Bradford. We set up at Salts Mill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that symbolises the history of the city.

 

The precedented culture of civic duty in Bradford

Salts Mill was founded by an entrepreneur, Titus Salt, in the mid-19th century at a time when the average life expectancy in the city was just 18, due to high rates of infant mortality. He designed a purpose-built model village, Saltaire, which — like Bournville in Birmingham (as designed by the Cadbury family) — aimed to improve working conditions, raise aspirations and simply offer a better life for people in and around Bradford.

What remains as true now as it was back then, is that entrepreneurs and businesses have a civic duty. It cannot be that leaders only think about the bottom line. Making an impact is just a part of the job.

Bradford has had its fair share of challenges. Yet I am confident that our history serves us well, with a rich heritage and architecture that in my view, can only be rivalled by the likes of Bath, Edinburgh and the City of London.

 

A manufacturing hub with diversity of thought

The city is currently undergoing an infrastructure regeneration, with compulsory purchases of 1960s and 70s buildings which will be turned into more than 1,000 affordable homes with a vision to retain our young talent. We have the youngest population in the country — vibrant, multicultural and tolerant. That has always been central to the identity of people within Bradford, enriching our community and offering diversity of thought like almost nowhere else.

It gives us great capacity for innovation, with Bradford becoming known as one of the country’s leading advanced manufacturing hubs, particularly in terms of the space industry. The city also boasts significant capabilities in AI, with substantial investments being funnelled into AI specialisms at the University of Bradford. Additionally, we have a strong heritage in food distribution, with major national players in this industry.

 

Representing the city through the District Place Making and Investment Partnership

I chair the city’s District Place Making and Investment Partnership, so I am privileged to contribute to Bradford’s future narrative and supporting its growth. Central to our mission is empowering young minds to recognise that Bradford offers a platform for their aspirations — with a message that you can be a success here.

Our board is made up of more than 20 members, each representing different facets of Bradford life, from tourism and infrastructure to education and commerce. We are fostering extensive community engagement, giving every voice an opportunity to shape Bradford’s narrative.

A robust ecosystem is taking shape, attracting both private enterprise and investment. Bradford’s selection as the UK City of Culture 2025 has injected fresh energy. The accompanying funding of £10 million opens doors to even more ambitious projects that will redefine our city.

 

Redefining Bradford’s narrative

One lesson we have learned is the power of owning our narrative. We are not trying to replicate Leeds or Manchester — our strength lies in our unique identity. And the strength of the North as a whole comes from the individual assets of each place. For Bradford, those assets are our cultural heritage, vibrant tourism and global accessibility through Leeds-Bradford Airport.

My call to action for Bradford’s citizens and businesses is one of engagement. There are more than 500,000 of us here and each individual’s role — no matter how seemingly small — contributes to our collective success.

As a father of two daughters, I am committed to providing them with a city they can be proud of — one that nurtures their dreams and offers the potential for a fulfilling life and career. They, of course, will have their own choice to make about whether Bradford is the right place for them, but all I can hope is that this city is perceived as a realistic option for all young people to thrive.

As we head towards a more exciting, prosperous and purposeful future, we hope to not only redefine Bradford’s narrative but also inspire other regions to harness their unique strengths and craft their own success stories.

Download the True North report and join the network.

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