Heading a partnership to promote development and investment in Bradford could be described as a labour of love for Pete Mills.
By Annette McIntyre
The Chair of the new Bradford District Place Making and Investment Partnership is passionate about the city and the surrounding area.
As a child he was inspired by its grand buildings and its history – and today he is no less impressed by what the city has to offer.
“I was born here 39 years ago, and my parents had a business in Bradford. We’ve had a few businesses in Bradford over the years,” he said.
“I went to Leeds University and then came back. I love Bradford, I absolutely love it. I think it’s a city that is kicked about a lot, but I think we’re on the up again.”
A former pupil of Hanson School, he studied law and worked as a corporate solicitor before going on to found two businesses. He has been involved in several others as an investor and strategic non-executive director. His current venture, a software company called Crysp is based in Salts Mill, Saltaire.
Pete said, “Growing up I always felt a great sense of pride of where I am from which was definitely drilled into me by my parents and grandparents. Walking around the City and surrounding areas, I have always felt a deep connection with its richness of history and culture.”
With his love for the area and his own successful business career it’s not difficult to see why he was appointed to lead the new partnership as it works to promote development and investment for Bradford and establish a legacy of growth and opportunity.
Growing up in Bradford Pete was inspired by the buildings and his grandparents’ stories about the city.
“I’ve always been interested in history, and I think that’s something which I love about Bradford – there’s so much of it. It’s just oozing out of everywhere really.
“One of the big drivers for me putting the new business into Salts Mill was just that innovation story of 150 years ago. A guy decided enough was enough and he was going to build something where it was clean, and it was good for people to work. He made a product that he shipped around the world from Bradford.”
But his own love for the city was not universally shared as it sometimes suffered from a bad reputation during his childhood years.
“You know I try and think back to when I was growing up and my first real demonstration of how some others viewed Bradford was when we had gone on a school trip when we were about 12 or 13.
“It was to Alton Towers or somewhere like that. And we bumped into another group of kids and I won’t say what they said about Bradford but I think you can probably imagine. I was thinking, why are they saying that – I don’t get it.
“It’s just something that this city carries around with it and I think it’s finally realised that it can do something about shaking that off.”
He also believes Bradford has been overlooked but has no doubt that is going to change – and that there is a strong desire from the top of the council to make that happen.
The new partnership was launched at its inaugural meeting at Odsal in December.
“We had over 50 people who were interested in hearing what this was about. I was really surprised in a really positive way because I thought on a Monday afternoon before Christmas what’s going to happen?” Pete said.
The launch of the partnership was described by the council as “a key milestone as relevant organisations in the district work together to take full advantage of Bradford’s City of Culture 2025 status and the vast wealth of opportunities to promote Bradford as a great place to live, study, visit, work, and do business.”
It’s something Pete was keen to be involved in.
He said: “When I saw this role I just thought I’d love to do that because it’s a way of me channelling the passion that I have for Bradford and my business background and hopefully do some good.
He went to meet Kersten England, Bradford Council’s CEO.
“When I knew she was on the interview panel I thought well ok if the Chief Executive is giving up a morning to interview people, then that’s something that’s important to her, so that made me feel very encouraged.”
When he was offered the voluntary, unpaid post it was a “no-brainer.”
The board, described by Pete as “really dynamic” is being put together from members representing businesses and tourist attractions around the city.
Speaking about the partnership Pete said: “I feel super-energised about it. It doesn’t feel like work, it’s just something I’m really interested in. I think it is a great opportunity to really help and also, I do genuinely believe we’re on the up. There are some great capital infrastructure projects that Kersten and the council are investing in and my job now is to work with these other people to put a big sign on the back of Bradford saying ‘come here with your business’.”
He says it’s early days for the new partnership and for his three-year appointment
He is hoping to establish a working group that connects up both the business side of Bradford and its surrounding area and also the “place making”, encompassing the city as a destination, with its tourist attractions, shopping and leisure.
The first board meeting was due to take place in January and Pete said its role would be to give insight to the people at the council who are developing the strategy. He wants to be transparent about the working of the board and is planning to share presentations and notes on LinkedIn.
The council is also looking at hiring an operational team to support the work of the partnership.
One of the first things Pete wants to focus on is strong communication, with robust interconnected channels to promote the good things that are happening in Bradford District.
Another thing he is really passionate about is the ecosystem supporting young people coming through and making sure they are given opportunities.
“We are a very young city, demographically really young, but I think the really big question for young people is what’s your aspiration to live and work in Bradford?” he said.
He added: “There are businesses that I’m talking to where they’re struggling to recruit and I’m thinking well we’ve got all these young people so why are they struggling. There’s something not right there.
“What do we need to do about that? The challenge there is really not delivering for young people leaving school at 15, or leaving college, or leaving university. So we need to make sure they know where they can go and they feel the aspiration to do that.”
He stressed the city’s strengths and the opportunities arising from its successful City of Culture bid.
“We’re going to get international publicity for a year building up to it, and during the year. It’s free advertising for Bradford, so how we really make the most of that is, I’m sure, what everyone’s really thinking about right now. And what will be the legacy of that.”
He believes Bradford’s many strengths include its young people, successful and growing food distribution businesses around the edge of the city, and a number of businesses, employing around 2,000 staff, directly involved in the space industry.
“That’s a massive strength to play on. Can we attract more businesses that are looking to invest in that area?” he said.
Even perceived weaknesses can be turned into strengths.
“I think if we just got in a helicopter now and flew over Bradford and we just sort of hovered over the city centre I think the first thing we would say to each other is look at all that amazing real estate. It’s beautiful.”
He said many fine buildings that would not be out of place in cities like Bath are up for sale or to let – creating a perfect opportunity for someone.
Pete is keen to hear from anyone who feels inspired by the partnership’s aims or who is working on something and wants to get in touch. He can be contacted on LinkedIn.