Giving People the best start in life: University of Bradford’s Professor Neil Small to deliver interactive ‘Healthy City’ talk at Bradford Cathedral.

The next talk in the ‘Flourishing City’ series of events at Bradford Cathedral will focus on the subject of ‘Healthy City’. Presented by Professor Neil Small, Professor of Health Research at the Faculty of Health Studies at the University of Bradford, it will look at the impact of austerity, diet and the environment on those living and growing up in the city and will consider how we can work together to improve health. Ahead of the talk, which takes place at the Cathedral on Monday 8th July at 7pm, we spoke to Professor Small about his background, his research in Bradford, and what you can expect from the talk.

Professor Neil Small

Could you tell us a little about your background?

I’m a sociologist by background. My interest is in health inequalities: why some people are healthy, and some people get sick. I’m particularly interested in how we shape our health service to address healthy inequalities. So, I have a twin interest: one is understanding them, and the other is how we can do things to address them, which is the gist of what I’ll be talking about at the ‘Flourishing City’ talk.

My research is on the ‘Born in Bradford’ study, which has been going for about twelve years, and is following about 13,500 families in Bradford as their children grow. The children are all in school now, some getting ready for moving to secondary school. We’re looking, through ‘Born in Bradford’, at the things that are keeping them healthy and what may impact their healthy adversely. I want to take the lessons of ‘Born in Bradford’ to understand what is going on in this city and to give us pointers on how to do things better.

The sort of lessons we learn in Bradford are the sort of lessons that can be transferred to cities across the country and across the world who are facing the same sorts of challenges of inequality, austerity, and the impact of the environment on health.

This is timely for ‘Born in Bradford’ as we’re beginning a new programme in the autumn called ‘Act Early’ which will be looking at the sort of things we might do in a city like Bradford before things get too bad. Can we do things about the environment where people grow up, about the pollution that they’re exposed too? Can we improve healthy choices around eating, can we facilitate exercise and open and green spaces that they feel safe to access? Can we plan our health services in such a way that they promote health, rather than having health services that respond to ill health when it presents itself? We’re going to be working with the health service and local government and with Bradford Cathedral and a range of voluntary and faith-based organisations, and with commercial concerns in the city, and with colleagues in other cities, like London, about whether the lessons learnt in Bradford can be transferred to the situations that are rather similar in the capital, particularly in Tower Hamlets, in East London.

The ‘Act Early’ programme will begin in the autumn and it’s going to last about five years and it will be a really exciting opportunity to think about health in this city. What we know about health promotion and health improvement is that it works better when we can get everyone involved, when people can participate, and particularly when people can share what works for them and what they think will work for their communities. This is an opportunity to encourage people, both to hear about what we’ve got going on, but also to share what they think the main problems are and what the solutions might be.

Does Bradford’s elements of poverty make it a good case study to take to other locations, like Tower Hamlets?

Yes, it does. Many cities have big inequalities, and they’re growing in the UK, and are greater in the UK than many comparable countries. We come very low on league tables in terms of measuring inequalities. Someone on the radio this morning compared it to Eurovision, that we’re very far down it!

Cities are places with considerable differences between the wealthiest and the poorest. Bradford has big differences; it has a very mixed ethnicity, as many cities do. That makes it a good place to study. It’s like all modern cities: a mixed Ethnic picture with lots of migrants coming in. Pretty much all cities across Europe are like that. The other thing about Bradford that, over many years, it has recognised the challenges it has got with health, and there’s been a real mobilisation of people across the city, to appreciate that working together is the best way to address these things. It’s an exciting place to be a health researcher. On the one hand it has all these challenges, but on the other it has all these resources and all the recognition of the importance of working together, and we want to take these good stories of Bradford, alongside the challenges that Bradford has, and say that we can take out a message of what we’re doing here to the world.

‘Born in Bradford’ has made a fantastic contribution, both to the city and to our understanding of child health across the country, and through our collaborations across the world.

Do you see the sort of lifestyles playing out in the City across the smaller area of the campus?

The University of Bradford campus is an interesting place, in the sense that it’s a green space in the heart of the city. Most of our students come from Bradford and West Yorkshire. They often stay in the local area, so are both the former children and the future workers of this city. If we can get them to think about their own lives and their own potential contribution to a healthier Bradford, we can make a real difference. The University is a resource for doing things in the city. We do need to do things about diet in the University. It’s a bit disheartening when you see the arrival of fast-food outlets [delivering to] the University, and the sort of things that aren’t good for people’s health, but we can see the positive things from mobilising students.

We’ve been good at this University in terms of engaging with the local community, for example around the sorts of challenges of racism in the city. Working for a peaceful city is something the University has done for many years. We can also work for a healthier city too.

With the changing political landscape, will this topic be of importance for the foreseeable future?

Health and the wellbeing of our children is central to all political agendas, as it is to people’s personal concerns. We have been living for a long time in conditions of austerity, and austerity impacts adversely on the health service’s ability to address inequalities. In times of austerity inequalities increase. We need to recognise the great advantages of planning across all the things that impact on people’s health, so we can combat the effects of austerity, and we need to argue for the kind of health service that will meet the needs of all the population; one that will not just promote health and sustain health but will reduce health inequalities as well.

Looking at the European dimensions, we’ve learnt so much from collaborating with colleagues across Europe, particularly through ‘Born in Bradford’ where we’ve looked at the sort of things that are going on in children’s development in cities across Europe, and we’ve been a leader in that. I hope that in the years to come we can continue to collaborate with colleagues in Europe and learn from what they are doing. There has been some fantastic work on addressing inequalities and mobilising people, in cities in Holland for example, with lessons we can learn, but also to take what we learn from Bradford and cities across the UK and share them with our colleagues across Europe. I hope our future will retain a culture of collaboration across Europe as it has been in the past, and we can overcome some of the barriers that we might come across when we’re no longer so integrated with the institutions of the European Union.

What do you hope people will get from the talk, and take away from it?

This is under a series of talks called ‘Flourishing City’ and we need to look at what a Flourishing City involves. It’s axiomatic that a Flourishing City needs healthy children as they are the future of the city. Lots of people stay in Bradford; the city doesn’t have a huge amount of movement outside of the city. These are the children growing up now who’ll be the future Bradfordians, shaping the city. The better start in life that they get the more we can carry that good experience into the future, but health is the product of all the things that go on in somebody’s life. It’s not just about the medical care that they get. It’s about the environment that they grow up in. What we need to do is bring everyone together and ask what is impacting on health and what is producing ill health in the children of the city, and what we can do to address that. What I want to do is to contribute to a debate that’s going on across the city about how we can work together in a way that promotes the future well-being of the city, in this case through the health of its children.

What I want to do is share thoughts about what we’ve done; share thoughts about what’s working elsewhere; and to encourage people to share their thoughts about what the most urgent health issues are and about the ways that we might work together to address those issues.

Flourishing City: Healthy City will be held at Bradford Cathedral on Monday 8th July at 7pm. Free tickets can be reserved at or you can turn up on the door.

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