It’s a brisk and sunny morning in the city of Bradford and I’m at Sunbridgewells to meet the man of the moment and the mastermind behind this incredible development, Graham Hall. By now most of Yorkshire will be familiar with the inspiring revival of Bradford’s underground tunnel system but who is the man behind this work of art and what is it that makes him tick? I’m here today to find out just that.
I make my way into Wallers Brewery and Graham greets me with a friendly grin, instantly enquiring what I am drinking. With coffee and biscuits served, we take a seat.
Graham’s love affair with property development started long ago, about 30 years to be exact whilst he was working as a buyer for a major property company, successfully purchasing over 70 houses for renovation and resale. Later on, Graham would also be involved with the restoration of several buildings throughout the Bradford area, he explains, ‘’Inveresk House was a nice project to be a part of and we completed a refurbishment here that resulted in 6000 square feet of new office space.’’
Impressively, Graham has also headed up many other projects across the Bradford district including 8 Rands Alm Houses on Whetley Hill, 8 apartments on Woodview Terrace, 3 apartments at Millergate House, a massive 24 apartments combined at Centenary House and Sunbridge House and a solicitors reformation that created 12000 square feet of office space at Vintry House, 18-24 Piccadilly.
I think it’s safe to say that over the years, Graham Hall has been one very busy man.
The development of the tunnels
It wasn’t until during the 1990’s did Graham first come across the empty tunnel system we now know as Sunbridgewells. He says, ‘’I discovered the tunnels were empty and I had this idea to store Victorian barrows there that would be used during the day in Bradford’s city centre. We consulted a chap called Steve Bateman who back then was the Conservation manager for Bradford Council and it was agreed that the barrows could be stored here. Unfortunately though for various reasons this project never materialised.’’
A few years later however when Graham was walking past the tunnel complex again, he decided to go in. ‘’I walked around the vicinity, taking photos of the underground area with my mobile phone,’’ Graham explains, ‘’I had this big idea and decided I would just go for it.’’ A plan was drawn up and over the next three years, the Sunbridgewells project started to take shape. The freehold and leasehold details were put together with over 10 different companies being consulted, investors were found, an architect to design the complex appointed and the financial and legal documents were agreed.
In January 2014, work on this magnificent project officially started and over 2,500 tonnes of rubble was painstakingly removed from the tunnels by sheer manpower and a wheelbarrow. Graham says, ‘’There has been a couple of setbacks over the years, mainly due to the complexity and the age of the tunnel system but we were proud as punch when Sunbridgewells finally opened for business in December 2016.’’
Accomplishments and compliments
The work Graham and his team have put into the tunnels is commendable and it’s obvious that he is truly satisfied with what they have accomplished here. Not only have they created the UK’s only underground entertainment venue, potentially it is just one out of the whole of Europe and they have attained a remarkable 6 award-winning accolades for the tunnels brilliant architecture. When asked what a typical day is like here for Graham, he does a half laugh and replies, ‘’Hectic. It’s all hands on deck, I do everything from the day to day running of the business, to the maintenance and even replying to email enquiries.’’ Notably, the team receive up to five of these enquiries per day.
Describing himself as both mad and ambitious Graham says what he is most complimented on is the sheer size of this project. I’m also interested to know what he’d do even if he didn’t get paid to do it. With a satisfied look, he declares, ‘’Restore some underground tunnels of course.’’
Considering the amount of press coverage that Graham has received over the last few years it is clear that none of this publicity has fazed him and he continues to be extremely approachable, hardworking and even more crucially, himself. Before I leave I want to know what Graham’s personal motto is. What gave him the motivation to keep going throughout this entire project and the recurring setbacks that would have rocked the strongest of wills?
‘’Never give up,’’ replies Graham, ‘’that’s what I tell myself.’’
As well as 7 unique bars boasting a huge range of real ales and artisan spirits, Sunbridgewells hosts plenty of promotional events ranging from live music to nostalgic revival bands.
Speak with the team about your celebration, their upcoming evenings or perhaps pay the spectacular tunnels a visit and meet for yourself the genius behind Sunbridgewells that is Graham Hall.
Written and published by Hannah King