Encouraged by the grandson of Joe Corina, a frequent campaigner at Bradford’s old Speakers’ Corner - the exact location of which is uncertain but which disappeared after the second world war - SCT commenced its consultation on the prospects for a project in the city in the summer of 2012.
SCT will be working with the Workers’ Educational Association which has developed a course designed to help adults not only to acquire speaking skills but alsoto use them in campaigning, influencing decision-making and bringing about change in their communities. So while the WEA will be helping local people to acquire the skills they need to express their ideas and opinions confidently and effectively, SCT will help create the platforms on which they can exercise them.
A Great Industrial City
Bradford in West Yorkshire is one of the UK’s great industrial cities. With a population of just under 300,000, it is the country’s fourteenth largest urban centre and, with British Asians making up around a quarter of the community, one of its most ethnically diverse.
But within two generations, the local availability of coal to power the furnaces introduced by the Industrial Revolution, sandstone to build new mills, water to feed the production process and canals to transport raw materials to the mills and from them the worsted cloth for which Bradford became famous made the city the wool capital of the world. By 1850, boosted by immigration from Ireland and Eastern Europe, its population had grown to almost 200,000.
But while the industrial boom brought with it great wealth, celebrated philanthropy and fine Victorian buildings, Bradford also gained an unenviable reputation as the country’s mostpolluted and unhealthy town with rates among the highest for infant mortality and lowest for life expectancy. These conditions played a key part in the development of the trade union movement and the birth of the Labour Party.
Though the textile industry has been in decline since the second world war, the divide between rich and poor is still evident with affluent suburbs and market towns within Bradford’s metropolitan district ringing inner city communities suffering some of the country’s highest levels of deprivation and an infant mortality rate still twice the national average.
Economic diversification has seen some success with the development of financial and corporate sectors. Yorkshire Building Society and Provident Financial are based in the city and the supermarket chain Morrisons, founded in Bradford in 1899, has its head office there.
Bradford is also now a significant tourist destination. The National Media Museum hosts the celebrated annual Bradford International Film Festival and is the most visited museum outside London. In 2009 Bradford was designated the world’s first UNESCO City of Film.But the decline of traditional industries and, in recent years, the impact of the recession have caused both economic problems – perhaps best symbolised by the huge vacant building site in the heart of the city which has been awaiting the development of a major shopping centre for six years – and social unrest which manifested itself most dramatically in the riots of 1995 and 2001.
Nevertheless, Bradford is a city of initiative, imagination and optimism which is perhaps best expressed in recent times by the creation around its magnificent Victorian Town Hall of City Park, a great mirror pool with constantly changing fountains which attracts local people and tourists alike.
SCT’s consultation with the representatives of local organisations and individuals has revealed considerable enthusiasm for a Speakers’ Corner project in the city and it is hoped that a local Committee can be formed later in the summer.
It is hoped too that further research will reveal the historic location of Bradford’s earlier Speakers’ Corner though, while many local people are aware of its existence, at least four locations have been mooted as its original position.
The Bradford Telegraph & Argus recently reported reader Neville Cox’s belief that it was in Broadway. Others favour a site at the bottom of Ivegate and others still spaces further along Tyrell Street or the other side of the Town Hall.
There are also rumours of a ‘Speakers’ Stone’ removed as long ago as the 1920s to Lister Park where it has remained hidden for almost a century.
At the beginning of September a Speakers’ Corner Committee was duly established and it promptly set about organising a programme of activities for Local Democracy Week (15-21 October) details of which will appear below in due course. Following the Leicester model, the Committee decided to call the initiative Bradford Speaks and the Committee in Sheffield decided to do likewise. Thus was born a national brand!
Bradford Speaks chair Mary Dowson, said:
“It’s more important now than ever that everyone gets the chance to speak about the things that matter to them and also hear about what matters to others. That’s why we’ve come together to help create this opportunity for Bradford people. It’s their platform and we’re really looking forward to hearing what they’ve got to say. I’m sure there’ll be serious issues to discuss but I’m equally sure there’ll be humour too.”
Bradford Speaks – The Programme
Despite the showers, members of the public joined representatives of some of the 15 local organisations and community groups behind the Bradford Speaks initiative at its launch in the city centre on 16 October.
Following brief speeches by Mary Dowson, chair of Bradford Speaks, Council Leader David Green and SCT Director Peter Bradley, around 20 people took the opportunity to address their fellow citizens for 60 seconds on subjects close to their hearts from a temporary Speakers’ Corner on Tyrrel Street (outside Hand Made in Bradford). as a central feature of a programme of debate and discussion to mark Local Democracy Week (15 to 21 October).
In his opening remarks, Cllr Green said, “I think it is a great opportunity for people both to be able to stand up and speak about issues that are important to them and issues they think are important for the Bradford community. Another advantage is Bradford Speaks will give people confidence in themselves” and local people of all ages and backgrounds took him at his word with subjects ranging from pensioners’ rights to the importance of free speech, from the need for more youth facilities to a primary school pupil’s favourite book (one of the Percy Jackson novels), from Bradford’s architecture to unemployment.
The Speakers’ Corner launched a programme of debate and discussion which ran throughout and beyond Local Democracy Week and it was supplemented by an initiative by the Bradford University’s Theatre in the Mill which offered members of the public the chance to have their ‘60 seconds’ recorded for broadcast by the local radio station Bradford Community Broadcasting.
A number of events took place in different venues throughout the city, ranging from a workshop led by the Workers’ Educational Association to explore the strength of democracy in the UK today to a discussion in which John Wilson of Wilson Solicitors challenged the legal status quo and invited members of the public to join him.
And on 7 November, a hustings organised by partners including JUST West Yorkshire gave BME communities and organisations the chance to quiz candidates standing in that month’s elections for West Yorkshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner.
The Bradford Speaks programme is the first step in a longer term plan to create a permanent Speakers’ Corner in Bradford’s city centre and a programme designed to provide opportunities for local people to express their ideas and opinions and get involved in debate about the issues which matter to them.
Further meetings will take place in the hope that progress can be made over the winter months.
Joe Corina – A Hero of the Old Speakers’ Corner and an An Inspiration for the New
It was Joe Corina the younger and his memories of his grandfather who first inspired SCT’s interest in Bradford. A man of principle and an inveterate campaigner, Joe the elder said of himself: ”I will never join a political party because I will never give up the right to think for myself.” As Bradford prepares to recreate its old Speakers’ Corner, it’s fitting to recall the tribute paid him by Peter Holdsworth in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus.
“His critics called him a nark, a faultfinder, an agitator, a big-head, a trouble-stirrer…How wrong they were! Francis ‘Joe’ Corina, of Bradford, who died aged 72 in September 1976, had the most unshackled mind of anyone I’ve encountered.More than professors, schoolmasters and priests, he it was who, through example, taught me better than anybody how to think for myself – and how never ever to accept any creed, philosophy or political dogma without analytical questioning.Miraculously (and how FJ Corina would have challenged that word) he didn’t achieve thisfrom a university rostrum or in the calm of a tutotrial study. No, his major platform was at the old Speakers’ Corner on the Broadway carpark – and it could tough and rough at times. Scorn and derision were not uncommon among his audiences. Neither were loud-mouths. But I never heard anyone get the better of him – not even a procession from a nearby church who tried to drown his words by banging a big drum.
Joe was, simply, a fighter for enlightenment. Among those whose struggles this remarkable humanist aided were the National Secular Society, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the anti-fluoridation campaign.And if by no means did and many of his other admirers always agree with him, Joe Corina, who could be brilliant in formal debate and when defending a point in a civil court, would never have demanded otherwise.
As was emphasised at a memorial meeting for this prolific letter writer and most courteous of fdree thinkers “he cared for his fellowmen”. You can’t have a much better tribute than that.”
Creating a New Speakers’ Corner
At its January meeting, the Speakers’ Corner Committee considered a shortlist of seven locations drawn up by the Council’s city centre management team and unanimously decided on New Market Place as the site it would like see provide the space for Bradford’s new Speakers’ Corner.
According to John James’s History and Topography of Bradford, published in 1841, “the New Market-place, the property of the Lord of the Manor, was opened in September 1824…Although it occupies a considerable area, and there are two bazaars, numerous butchers’ shops and two butter crosses and a green-market, yet it cannot be concealed that it is neither sufficiently capacious nor convenient for a town the size of Bradford”.
Interestingly, James goes on to record that in the following year another local landowner tried to remedy the market’s lack of capacity by creating a new one nearby but “it was discovered, after some litigation, that the Lord of the Manor was, without any doubt, alone entitled to the profits of the market, and the plan of forming of a market-place in the Hall Ings was given up.”
In many ways, the New Market Place - at the junction of five pedestrianised streets – seems an ideal location for a Speakers’ Corner. Close to the sites of a number of Bradford’s historic Speakers’ Corners, the area is much used today, particularly by street preachers. The ornate lampost which is the main feature of the square is the centrepiece of a plinth which bears the coats of arms of Roubaix in northern France, Verviers in Belgium and Monchengladbach in Germany and Skopje in Macedonia with which Bradford is twinned.
New Market Place Passes The Test
The proposed site for Bradford’s new Speakers’ Corner passed with flying colours when students from the University of Bradford’s Peace Studies Department took to their soapboxes on Monday 22 April to test its suitability in terms of acoustics, sightlines, open space and footfall.
The MA students who had recently completed a course on Cities In Conflict drew on their studies to address the question, ‘What Makes a Good City?’ highlighting the lessons Bradford could learn from cities around the world but also what it could teach them.
Led by Professor Jenny Pearce and warmed up on a chilly April afternoon by a little musical entertainment, students from Sudan, Japan, Mexico and Libya as well as the UK spoke eloquently and often movingly about the problems faced by cities affected by war, drug crime and religious conflict as well as Bradford’s resilience in overcoming its own divisions and conflicts.
It is hoped that signage can now be provided to identify the space as a Speakers’ Corner and that a series of events can be organised for the summer months.