Community Forum, Bradford, July 2019

Alex Brazier, Executive Director for Financial Stability Strategy and Risk, reflects on a recent visit to Bradford, West Yorkshire, involving a Community Forum at the Bradford Faith Centre and a visit to the debt charity, Christians Against Poverty

Bradford is a city with a proud heritage. Its Victorian buildings are testament to its days of enormous wealth, generated from its central role in the Industrial Revolution that transformed the UK economy.

And its richly diverse population is testament to another feature of modern Bradford: its status as a City of Sanctuary, a place that for generations has welcomed refugees from across the world.

Modern Bradford is of course facing challenges that are both economic and social. However, just as previous generations in the city devised innovative solutions to address the downsides of industrialisation, my visit showcased two fine examples where local institutions are stepping-up in response to these challenges.

My day started with a visit to the Bradford Faith Centre. Shadim Hussain and his fellow board members at the Faith Centre explained about the crisis services they provide – including food and funds for some of life’s most basic essentials – for those who often have little or none of either. 

I then got a chance to hear from a group of the centre’s service users, including refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Sudan, about their experiences since arriving in the UK. 

Their testimonies were truly humbling and they spoke passionately about the positive role the Faith Centre had played in their hour of need. I was also encouraged to hear how the centre has linked up with local businesses to provide employment and training opportunities for many different families.

Those I heard from explained how a sudden change in their circumstances, brought about by a range of factors, had left them in need of a lifeline.

That lifeline is often a financial one. So it was useful for me to understand those issues. 

They had all taken the time to share their stories and it was a real insight into how organisations like the Faith Centre exist to provide such essential support.

Someone described the centre to me as their angel in their hour of need. It is a remark that will stay with me for some time.

My second destination was Jubilee Mill, one of scores of old industrial buildings scattered around Bradford that remind us of its heyday as the centre of the global wool industry. 

Whilst many of those buildings today sadly lie in a state of disrepair, Jubilee Mill has been reborn as home to Christians Against Poverty (CAP), a national debt charity.

Our host Dawn Stobart talked about the extreme cases of distress the charity encounters through its network of volunteers attached to churches around the UK.

These are people who are so mired in debt that they have long stopped opening the post or even, in many cases, opening their door to strangers. Their kitchen cupboards are often bare and some lack such essentials as a bed to sleep on.

Again, I heard how it is typically a sudden change in circumstances – be that to do with family, ill health or the loss of a job – that leads them down this troubled path. Problems mount and soon these individuals face financial difficulties on top of everything else.

I met some of the frontline workers who talk to those at various stages of their journey towards becoming debt-free again. I learned how the charity works proactively with lenders and creditors to help get debts into a state where they can begin to make progress. 

Some of the insights were encouraging: I was told banks and building societies are making much more effort to understand these issues and work proactively with CAP, affording more time and understanding to those facing such severe problems.

But Dawn told me that the demand for CAP’s services is steadily rising: all of their hundreds of centres around the UK are operating at capacity with growing waiting lists. Partly that reflects the increased awareness of their service but at the same time the need is also rising.

These Community Forum events are designed to give a voice to those who want to discuss their concerns or circumstances with the Bank of England. From the refugees at the Faith Centre, to those facing some of the most severe debt problems in the UK, whose issues were articulated by the staff at CAP, I think my visit to Bradford certainly did that.

The Bank of England can’t in itself address many of the problems I heard about. But it will help me and my colleagues to better understand the breadth and complexities of the lives that people in our country are living, almost all of which have a financial dimension.

In doing so, I hope these insights will help us make better-informed policy decisions.

I am enormously grateful to Shadim Hussain and his colleagues at the Bradford Faith Centre for hosting us and the individuals who contributed their time to participate. And I thank Dawn Stobart and the team at Christians Against Poverty for hosting such an insightful visit to Jubilee Mill. Thanks also to our Agent for Yorkshire, Juliette Healey, for accompanying me and for taking part in our discussions.

This page was last updated 26 July 2019
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