Meet the four Bradford Creatives embarking on paid work placements with renowned Yorkshire festivals and theatres


Photographs left to right include, Sophie Powell, Abel Zhang, Gail Simpkins, Daniel Wykes

We’re excited to reveal the four participants on our PROPEL programme, a 50-day paid work placement that will prepare early-career producers and production managers to deliver exciting projects for Bradford 2025 UK City of Culture.

We’re thrilled to be one of this year’s successful recipients of the Jerwood Developing Artists Fund in support of our PROPEL work placement programme. We’ve partnered with four renowned Yorkshire festivals and theatres to provide early-career producers and production managers with a unique development opportunity. 

The selected participants have previously taken part in our producer and production management training programmes and are now ready to take this transformative next step in their careers with some outstanding hosts. The renowned host organisations include the North Yorkshire music festival, Deer ShedHarrogate International FestivalsSheffield Theatres; and Leeds-based live arts festival, Transform.

Our PROPEL programme will ready participants as lead producers and production managers to deliver bold new artistic work for Bradford 2025, UK City of Culture and beyond. Participants will progress from having delivered small-scale projects that reach 200 people, to projects that reach more than 10,000. This is the first of two rounds of recruitment to our new PROPEL programme and applications to round two will open in early 2024 – so keep your eyes peeled if you want to get involved!

Meet this year's participants

Abel Zhang

Abel Zhang is an experienced arts professional with a diverse background in creative production and a deep passion for promoting arts and culture in Bradford. With over 20 years of experience as an Executive Director, Creative Producer, and Freelance Production Manager in theatre and film, Abel understands the transformative power of storytelling in shaping communities.

Abel’s creative practice focuses on theatre, film, and the ability of the arts to foster connections and inspire change. His successful projects include internationally recognised films, groundbreaking theatre productions challenging conventional narratives, and introducing international theatre to China. Abel has organised festivals and forums, including the influential NOW festival in China, celebrating diversity and cultural exchange.

Now based in Bradford, Abel is dedicated to contributing to the city’s cultural growth as part of Bradford City of Culture 2025. He is involved in site-specific performances, documentaries, and producing a children’s theatre festival. Abel aims to empower local artists, foster skills development, and change perceptions of Bradford through vibrant arts and culture.

Abel’s achievements include strong relationships with European festival directors and accolades for artistic excellence and social impact. His commitment to community-building through the arts has earned admiration from colleagues and collaborators alike.

With an unwavering dedication to Bradford and its artistic community, Abel Zhang shapes the cultural landscape, amplifies voices, and drives positive change. His vision, expertise, and passion make him an invaluable asset in promoting arts and culture in Bradford and beyond.

“I'm genuinely excited about the opportunity to work with Harrogate International Festivals, a renowned cultural organisation with a rich history of exceptional events. Witnessing the impact of cultural events firsthand and contributing to their success is thrilling. I'm eager to gain practical experience in event organisation and cultural programming to produce a children's festival in Bradford. It's an exciting opportunity to learn from experienced professionals and make a meaningful contribution to Harrogate International Festivals.”

“We're delighted to be offering opportunities like this for emerging producers in the north of England. Bradford Producing Hub are doing valuable work in terms of skills development, retention and growth for the sector in the north and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

Daniel Wykes

Dan Wykes is a songwriter and stage manager currently building on experience in the events industry to work as a production manager in Bradford.

Dan has been a stage manager for a plethora of events around the country and abroad and has considerable experience in working on some of the largest and busiest festival stages in the country.

He is a lifelong writer and performer with a substantial songbook, drawing on a wide range of influences from doom metal to country, from soul and folk to orchestral.

Rooted in DIY philosophy, he is interested in community projects, events and practices that reclaim skills, time and materials from corporate consumerism.

As a musicologist, Dan investigates the role of authority in defining authenticity. He is currently looking at the importance of music in local, community settings post covid and songwriting within education and theatre as vehicles for exploring the fallout from this shared experience.

Having worked as a primary school teacher Dan is looking at ways to develop off-curriculum creative projects for young people towards developing agency and critical consciousness.

“It is my goal to become an established contributor towards Bradford's art and culture events. I hope to gain a working understanding of the role of production manager that will springboard my career into Bradford 2025 and beyond.”

“It is incredibly important to nurture and support emerging artists in our industry through practice in our organisation. Hands-on learning really helps bring the reality of the role to life and allows for a great partnership to be forged between Sheffield and Bradford. This is a great opportunity for anyone wanting to take the next step and learn more about production management.”

Gail Simpkins

Gail is a production and event manager from Bradford. 

Starting out in the events industry as a bar owner, Gail soon found herself as a co-owner of a live music venue, and quickly fell in love with both live events and the Bradford music scene. From this base, Gail spent 6 years presenting her own radio show on a local radio station and founded several notable local events, such as North Parade Street Party, Bradford Dragon Boat Festival, and more.

Gail has continued to grow her presence in the local music scene, now working with Bradford Council on Music Month, a month-long celebration of music in the district, and continuing her role as Landside Entertainment Lead & Treasurer for Bradford Dragon Boat Festival. In addition to her festival work, she is also the Programming Manager for The Underground Live Music Venue and works in freelance music management with local grassroots bands, such as Red Shakes.

“I’m excited to learn about larger festivals and be inspired by the great team at Deer Shed - and then come back to Bradford to make plans with my peers! I’m hoping to reinforce the knowledge I have and open my mind to a whole new world of ideas and opportunities that I never knew about. I'm looking forward to making new connections with the people I meet along the way, and gaining ideas for the festivals I work in as we move towards Bradford 2025.”

“Deer Shed's partnership with Bradford Producing Hub is a fantastic opportunity to nurture talent coming out of the north. The paid work-based placement we are providing for an aspiring production manager gives us the chance to support an ambitious early career professional and be a meaningful part of their career trajectory. In turn, we are also benefiting from the contributions of a capable, hard-working team member. It’s great to have Gail onboard as part of our core team over the next 50 days; she brings with her experience of festival organisation, venue management and a good knowledge of the Yorkshire events scene. We’re really looking forward to having Gail working right in the heart of the production team with us over the next couple of months.”

Sophie Powell

Sophie is a Creative Producer and artist. They work on projects and events that share stories, empower and inspire communities through visual arts and performance.

Most recently:

  • Assistant Producer for The Awakening, Leeds 2023 Signature Project
  • Co-creating a Pride festival with a group of LGBTQ+ young people
  • Managing and delivering a creative clean air project in a local primary school with Cecil Green Arts, culminating in a road closure pilot for the school and afternoon celebration of the project, involving the whole school and local community
  • Working at Equity Partnership developing a programme of creative workshops and community cinema events

Sophie’s creative practice focuses on abstract rules, pattern making and repetition, creating zines and publications and fire performing at festivals and events.

“I’m really looking forward to working in a fast-paced environment on an inspiring programme of work across Leeds. Transform is a dream job, working on a festival with radical aims, bringing new international artists to the city and an exciting participatory programme with young artists and curators.”

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Bradford Producing Hub to offer this unique producing placement opportunity to help us bring our next festival, Transform 23, to life. Sophie brings with her such a wealth of experience and energy via her previous work and training with Bradford Producing Hub, as well as a clear alignment with Transform’s fundamental vision and values. 2023 is a pivotal moment for Transform and for the city, and we can’t wait to realise our most ambitious festival yet with such an extraordinary team of people.”

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