“That was a quick year,” a close friend said to me as I prepared my speech to hand over the presidency of Bradford Chamber of Commerce this week.
It’s been two years. Two years!
Perhaps the sheer number of changes – changes which have made this world unrecognisable from July 2019 when I became president – are the reason we seem to have skipped a year.
Those closest to me will know how I thought long and hard about the commitments required to become vice president and then president.
But what I didn’t see coming – and did not plan for – was a pandemic which would change everyone’s lives and the business landscape, for ever.
And in 170 years of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Covid transformed the role of president – and the organisation – into something it had never before been.
What makes the Chamber truly representative of local business is its appointment of business people at the helm – its presidents, vice presidents and chairs are active business people who are living and breathing the needs of its membership.
Which meant that as Bradford’s president from 2019 – 2021, I was also experiencing the anxieties caused by Covid and tackling the challenges of running Approach through lockdowns, tiers, restrictions and many, many complications.
Add to this heady mix, in the last two years we have seen West Yorkshire devolve from central government meaning for the first time, we have autonomy over how we spend £38million a year on skills, infrastructure, housing and transport.
And on the 31st January 2020, we left the European Union.
Events which significantly impact on national, regional and local businesses and events which, no matter what the planning or expectation, cause unseen challenges which can, at times, feel overwhelming.
But through it all, the Chamber has offered consistency and stability. With its own workforce to manage remotely, events to take online and new technologies to incorporate, we’ve continued to inform, advise, guide and be a constant companion for our members through the highs and the lows of an extraordinary two years.
As president, I introduced a new business support toolkit in September 2019 and planned a series of topics I considered of importance to business. But needs change significantly, and two years later, 1,000 businesses have accessed 19 pieces of expert advice we’ve collated from members, focusing on the increasing demand for advice on property, staff wellbeing and IT.
The highs of the last two years include being a part of the team behind the Bradford Manufacturing Weeks initiative which, in four years has provided more than 12,000 manufacturing experiences for the district’s young people.
Contributing to the evolution of Raising the Bar, an arm of the Chamber with a dedicated team which works to support businesses in making a positive social impact.
Providing income and recognition for Dance United Yorkshire, a charity which delivers intensive dance courses for young people and adults to help them build trust, self-esteem and confidence has been deeply rewarding.
And meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to Bradford and discussing the impact of Bradford Manufacturing Weeks on our school children’s career opportunities.
As businesses ‘in recovery’, we may not be quite there yet and all the planning in the world won’t stop the unexpected. But as the last two years has shown me, in times of crisis, we must take a day and a week at a time, never overlook the distance travelled (it’s always further than you think) and while planning can help, the real skill is adapting, being able to change direction and accept that sometimes, there are things you just can’t change.
Before I go, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to vice president during my term – and now president – Vicky Wainwright, whose knowledge of Bradford and shared passion for the district has provided me with a solid sounding board. Vicky has become a good friend and a fellow Bradford ambassador. We’ve experienced a true partnership and for that, I’ll always be thankful.
I’d like to give my sincere congratulations to Vicky and to Mark Cowgill of Exa Networks on becoming Bradford Chamber’s new president and vice president – you have an exciting, challenging and rewarding time ahead and I’ll be here in the wings as a sounding board if ever you need it.
It has been an absolute pleasure representing and working with our district’s businesses. While I continue to be an active member of the West & North Yorkshire Chamber board, my two years as president has reinforced my belief that the Bradford business community truly is a place of friendship, support, ambition and strong values.
Here’s to another 170 years of Bradford’s Chamber of Commerce leading, representing, championing and supporting, business.