Today’s blog comes from Bristol Youth Mayors Siena Jackson-Wolfe and Mohamed Aidid.
It is of the utmost importance that on an issue as complicated and prevalent as climate change we all work together to come up with tangible solutions.
The strikes across the world show a passion in people that is exciting and promising for our future. What we think is even more promising is the fact that this is ultimately led by the youth. The young people of the world, starting with Greta Thunberg, are standing up and voicing their opinions. Letting the world know what they want and making sure they’re heard. What is more it is working.The strikes nationally and globally have been instrumental in pushing the climate problem up on both local and national governments agenda.
However, it is now important to engage in a high-level debate and join in the dialogue with change makers to ensure that actions are being implemented. Bristol’s One City Plan has outlined Bristol’s aims in tackling this issue. When compared to Friends of the Earth list of actions that all local government should take, Bristol City Council is currently either doing or scoping all but three of them. In one case this failure to match is because the council has already got separate plans in place. For example Bristol is implementing alternative-fueled buses (50% of Bristol’s buses will be alternative fuel by 2028) opposed to Friends of the Earth’s call for electric buses.
The strike today is forecast to be the biggest one yet and this show of youth passion and enthusiasm for such a demanding issue is inspiring. However as with all causes there are still some issues.
We have the young and old coming together but now we also need to ensure a more diverse demographic is being reached to express their opinions on this issue to enable more young people to have a voice. Without this diversity the strikes fail to have the same impact in their demands as the calls aren’t necessarily representative of the entirety of Bristol’s young people.
In this strike today we both hope to see a wider spectrum of Bristol’s youth present because we cannot brush away the conversation around race and representation. We know that the youth climate strike group have been pushing for areas not before represented to be present and we hope this is obvious today.
Greta Thunberg has famously said, “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire.”
The strikes are just the start of this action and now we need to make sure we are communicating with Bristol’s change makers to help make tangible change. Our voices are important but we need to follow through and be part of the solutions.
Today’s guest blog is by Cllr Kye Dudd, Cabinet lead for Energy, Transport and Green New Deal.
Last week, I visited Thrive Renewables’ Wind Farm in Avonmouth to celebrate their 25th birthday and I also launched the City Leap prospectus: recognising the history of renewables in Bristol and taking a massive step forward for delivering a decarbonised energy system for Bristol. This is a world first. We are seeking £1 billion of investment to lead the way on carbon reduction, to help enable Bristol to be the UK’s first carbon neutral city by 2030.
Bristol has always been at the cutting edge of environmentalism, and we’re proud to carry on this tradition. We were one of the first cities to own a wind turbine or an energy company, and were the first in the UK to declare a climate emergency. Marvin has taken telling the truth on the dire global environmental straits which we face to the national stage, winning the support of 435 councils across the country both for the climate emergency declaration and for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – which will see us continue to prioritise delivering social justice and environmental justice hand-in-hand.
Friday 20th will see a national climate strike, and we are expecting demonstrations in Bristol to show solidarity with youth climate strikers, demand climate action from central government. As a trade unionist I know the importance of standing up and taking action when change is necessary. As it happens on the morning of the 20th I will be holding a gate meeting at a delivery office to encourage workers in Royal Mail to vote yes to take strike action in the forthcoming national industrial action ballot that the CWU has called.
A practical example of this would mean retraining gas fitters in engineering heat pumps and other green technology. How we engage with workers in jobs at risk from climate change, the need to tackle climate change and automation is extremely important. The Green New Deal is about offering the right economic and skills package to support the current workforce and the future workforce. It is also about looking at world of work and the time spent at work with policies like a four day working week – bringing people with us, rather than blaming them for the jobs they do. The way we tackle this is through the right national regulations, taxes, and incentives, engaging throughout with workers and their representatives, enabling people struggling to make ends meet to make greener choices.
As I said in the chamber, this is not just a nice thing to do, or the right thing to do, but key to delivering our objective. Because if you don’t bring people with you on this journey, they’re against you, which makes delivering carbon neutrality almost impossible to achieve. We need take action to make the transition to a greener economy a just one that puts working people at its heart.
Our initial engagement on the future of Western Harbour is now completed – although we remain open to receiving paper copies of the feedback forms.
The opportunity Western Harbour presents for Bristol is so significant because the challenges our city faces are so significant. We face a housing crisis with over 12,000 families on the waiting list and the worst affordability ratio of rent to wages of the Core Cities. Add to this the fact that our population is set to continuously grow. We must minimise the environmental impact of our city’s growth through sustainable buildings and developments that reduce car dependency. We must significantly strengthen our flood defences as Bristol faces the increased likelihood of the 1 in 100 year flood. Like other cities, our city centre retail is threatened by weakening high street sales.
All of these challenges mean we must proactively put residential, employment, retail and destination venues in the city to ensure Bristol isn’t “hollowed out”. And in the face of growing inequality and social and political division, we must make spaces for people from all parts of Bristol.
The opportunity is to build over 2,000 homes including much needed affordable. These homes would be a seven minute bike ride or 25 minute walk to jobs, shopping and entertainment in the city centre. The opportunity is to build the flood defenses into the development in a sympathetic rather than intrusive way. And it is to remove the 1960s flyovers that have dominated that part of Bristol since before I was born and to open up the waterfront as a welcoming destination for more people.
There has long been ideas for the potential of the land and waterfront – one of the most attractive areas in the city that has been lost to the spaghetti of flyovers and on ramps. But the ideas put forward have remained just that, ideas.
But we have identified a window of opportunity to make ideas real, one that we believe cannot be missed. We face the end of the life of the swing bridge and flyover and the prospect of having to spend £40m to maintain it. We could sink this money into maintaining a status quo that represents lost social, environmental and economic potential, or we can turn it into an investment that releases something better for Bristol. I believe investing in our ability to provide affordable and sustainable homes, increase active travel and reduce car dependency, defend ourselves against floods, strengthen our city centre and make our waterfront a destination for all to be the best use of scarce public money.
There have been a number of concerns raised about the prospect of change to Western Harbour. For our part, we wanted to talk with people as early in the process as possible, to get their views. That is what the past few months have been about. It’s not been a formal consultation, but an effort to ensure as many of the challenges and opportunities were presented at the very start.
The flyover has never been a popular road layout and was built when roads were king and when the city’s population was so much smaller and effective use of land was less crucial. The changes to the road and bridge are simply what’s needed to be moved to free up the land and water.
I can understand people’s concerns about change and I can see that where there has been space – due in part because we are engaging so early – that people may fill these spaces with their worst fears. But we should all be thinking more of Wapping Wharf than Canary Wharf. Last week I was at the ‘topping out’ ceremony of the second phase of that successful development that has quickly become so vibrant. It also shows what is possible with mixed communities. That development now has 256 homes, 49 homes for shared ownership and 81 affordable. And it is now a destination.
We will publish the wider plans for the housing and mixed use in Western Harbour as soon as we can and I look forward to working with communities, business and all stakeholders on the next stages towards development.
City planning can not be carried out in the abstract. Our context is that the world is changing and our city is changing at break-neck speed. The status quo is not an option and these changes demand that we act now. But we will not act from fear or on the back-foot. Instead we will be proactive and driven by our values. Our values that drive us to deliver homes, mixed communities, opening up the city centre to all, of jobs and a vibrant city centre, an inclusive economy and by our commitment to build a carbon neutral city are at the heart of these plans.
Today’s blog comes from Hannah Spungin, Programme Manager for the Operations team in Bristol City Council’s Energy Service.
This morning, we partnered with the Mayor and colleagues in Public Health to put on a Hot Coffee, Hot Topic session. The event promoted the Warmer Homes Advice and Money (WHAM) service and explored how we can support residents on low-incomes living in cold homes.
We know that living in fuel poverty can have an impact on mental health as individuals stress about high fuel bills and the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma. By partnering with Lynn Stanley, Senior Public Health Specialist in Public Health and the Thrive Bristol program, we hope to link fuel poverty initiatives with an opportunity to improve mental and physical health in Bristol.
Since publishing the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) chapter on Fuel Poverty in December 2018, the Energy Service have also been working collaboratively with colleagues across the city to implement the chapter’s recommendations and tackle fuel poverty. The expansion of the Warmer Homes Advice and Money (WHAM) project is an example of a step we have taken to increase collaboration and create a single-point-of-contact service to better support those in fuel poverty.
WHAM is a multi-agency partnership between the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Talking Money, WE Care Home Improvements, Citizens Advice, Bristol Energy Network and North Somerset Council, funded by Bristol City Council. The organisation’s caseworkers provide advice on energy and finance (i.e. income maximisation and budgeting), while arranging for the installation of energy efficiency measures.
Our next steps include developing an action plan for reducing fuel poverty. Alongside a commitment to make Bristol a carbon-neutral city, the One City Plan includes the target that nobody in Bristol suffers from a cold home because of fuel poverty and/or the absence of insulation and heating by 2030.
Utilising the One City approach, the action plan will be governed by the Health and Wellbeing Board, with input from the Homes & Communities and Environment boards. The action plan will be produced by the No Cold Homes steering group, which is a collection of organisations in the city who take an active role in helping to alleviate fuel poverty. We will be hosting an event in early November as an opportunity to bring together agencies from across the city, to determine potential actions to be included in the plan to be published in early 2020.
This morning’s session included heart-warming discussions of clients who benefitted from support through WHAM and conclusions that more joined-up conversations regarding fuel poverty and poverty, in general, need to be had. As we’re steadily approaching the winter season, we are keen to get the conversations started and actions in place. If you are interested in finding out more or being part of the conversation, please contact Hannah Spungin at . email@example.comThis morning’s session included heart-warming discussions of clients who benefitted from support through WHAM and conclusions that more joined-up conversations regarding fuel poverty and poverty, in general, need to be had. As we’re steadily approaching the winter season, we are keen to get the conversations started and actions in place. If you are interested in finding out more or being part of the conversation, please contact Hannah Spungin at Hannah.Spungin@bristol.gov.uk .
2008 Zero Waste Week has helped individuals, businesses, schools, universities
and community groups reduce their landfill waste, save money and preserve
At a time when we are all becoming more aware of waste and our own
environmental responsibilities the movement has mushroomed. It began with 100
participants and it has reached over 56 million people just 10 years later. This
national award-winning campaign has even been recognized by former Prime
Minister Theresa May (who of course was famous for recycling her EU withdrawal
bill multiple times). You
can join the mailing list to find out more about how it can help us all as individuals,
at work or as we engage through schools or community groups.
has led the way on this issue, with the best recycling rate of any of the
English Core Cities. Award winning initiatives such as the ‘Slim my Waste’
campaign have captured the public’s imagination, and led to a direct increase
in food waste being recycled.
But we know we can do more, and Zero Waste Week is a great opportunity to highlight our own responsibilities as individuals and as organisations. It can be a challenge to engage our residents with their recycling and it is sometimes a struggle to create a buzz. So we also need to produce tangible, solid results through education, investment and improved services as we strive to lead the conversation.
This is why
we have invested in a new efficient, sustainable, safer and reliable fleet of
recycling vehicles for Bristol Waste. They will help drive recycling rates
while reducing other environmental impacts.
transform the Avonmouth “tip” into a Household Reuse and Recycling Centre it
shows how we have to change the mind-set to one of the potential of our ‘waste’
as a ‘resource’. The improved site will include a reuse shop, selling pre-loved
items from the waste stream. (Please
check the website
for the changes in opening hours while the upgrade takes place).
And of course the Hartcliffe Way Household Reuse and Recycling
Centre is moving forward. This will deliver our pledge to make it easier for
people in the South of the city to dispose and recycle household waste in an
easier, more accessible and environmentally sustainable way.
Zero Waste Week’s mission is to
empower us all to think again about what we call ‘rubbish’ and think of it
instead as the valuable resource it really is. They encourage us all to make
those small changes that can lead to more sustainable consumption patterns. They educate so that we can easily and
effectively reduce landfill, save money and participate in the circular economy
– in line with the UN’s
Sustainable Development Goals.
As individual householders, if there are things in your bin that you
don’t know how to eliminate, or if your Zero Waste lifestyle is causing stress,
threatens to overwhelm you or causes you to feel guilty, you can join the
programme and contact the Zero Waste team for 1-2-1
I am dismayed and angered that Government has moved to shut down Parliament in order to push through its Brexit plans – potentially taking us into a No Deal future. Bristolians are represented in Parliament by four MPs who have now had their voices, and by extension our voices, silenced.
This sits in a wider failure. Over the last three plus years, Governments have failed to engage with political leaders outside of Westminster as to what was needed from any negotiations. People are always shocked when I share that during his two years as Brexit Secretary, David Davis did not once come to discuss Brexit with the Core Cities, which represent some 19 million people in their greater areas and around a quarter of the national economy.
What has fermented is a Brexit crafted in the dark backrooms of Whitehall and corridors of Westminster, with no reference to the rest of the UK – regardless of how places and people voted in 2016. But it is local councils like ours who are putting in place the emergency plans. It will be left to the local authorities to pick up the pieces if the UK leaves the EU with No Deal, as Keir Starmer (Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary) and I saw first-hand when we visited companies and citizens in Bristol last week and heard their concerns.
It has been frustrating hear of the huge sums of money spent on failed ferry contracts and “tally ho” publicity campaigns – money that we could have invested in mental health, house building, and low carbon transport solutions. At the same time local government has continued to have austerity imposed upon us, resulting in a the loss of government funding of 60p in every pound since 2010.
The entire bandwidth of Government has been consumed by Brexit, with all that bluster seemingly doing nothing to stop the slide towards No Deal – which Parliament has already ruled out. At the same time the Climate Emergency, housing crisis, and migration crisis have meant local government has needed an engaged Government that is visionary and leading rather than reactionary and pandering with slogans rather than solutions.
It’s is a false promise that 31 October will draw this to a close. If we leave with a No Deal we will face the costly and all-consuming task of rebuilding an architecture to cover trade, migration, defense and alliances, and, of course, how to protect peace in Northern Ireland.
What we really need is for the Brexit debate to leave Westminster and come to the cities, putting local government at the forefront of planning. In the coming days, I will be further working together with other party leaders from Bristol.
Today’s guest blog is from the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Asher Craig, who is responsible for communities, equalities and public health
As one of only four cities in the UK to achieve a Silver award, Bristol is now making a bold bid for Gold standard, aiming to become a Sustainable Food City (SFC) by the end of 2020. ‘Going for Gold’ involves a city-wide effort to make lasting improvements to the way we grow, buy and eat food in Bristol.
Our Going for Gold (G4G) bid will establish Bristol as both a national and an international leader in sustainable food. We want the whole city to rally together and take action – with citizens, organisations and policy makers all working together to reach Gold.
There is a collective energy calling for food that’s good for people, our planet and our city to be made available to everyone in Bristol, and because it matters to our health, our economy, our resilience, our environment and to our children’s future. In a city where 24% of children are living in income deprived households, we must tackle this challenge.
The food system is responsible for some 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to eating less meat, reducing food waste is ranked as the third most effective action to address global warming.
We also know that around two billion people across the world lack access to nutritious and healthy food. Food systems all over the world have fostered ultra-processed food (fast food), and people choose these because they are cheap. But they are not nutritious or healthy.
Cities have become an important agent for change, and for the first time 54% of the world’s population lives in cities, with this expected to rise to 70% by 2050.
Concerns over post-Brexit food costs and security of supply suggest that re-localising our system will help us to secure the livelihoods of food producers, as well as increasing the UK’s future resilience. We need to find local solutions to global challenges.
To help us accelerate our G4G ambitions, I will be exploring opportunities to collaborate with the newly opened World Sustainable Urban Food Centre of Valencia (CEMAS), for which I had the honour of representing Bristol, at their opening ceremony held in the Spanish city, last month.
Valencia is the new international hub for best practice in food sustainability systems and is dedicated to managing and sharing the knowledge, to help guide other cities – like Bristol – towards successful, sustainable food systems.
Cities all over the world are now attempting to develop food strategies and take action – Bristol is already recognised for its positive work, and now G4G will help further the city’s reputation, with its citizens reaping the benefits.
To gain Gold SFC status, we need to take collective action in six key food action areas:
Reduce food waste;
Grow more nature-friendly food in the city;
Support the food community;
Promote food equality.
Working together, we can create measurable and sustainable change to the city’s food system by targeting these six key areas.
As part of the bid for Gold, we also need to demonstrate that we are a national exemplar in two food action areas. We have chosen Reducing Food Waste and Catering Procurement (how we source and purchase food and catering contracts).
We are aiming to become a Zero Food Waste City by reducing and recycling our food waste and improving our catering and procurement processes through increased uptake of recognised procurement accreditations, as well as buying more from local food producers.
We want big and lasting changes to our food system in Bristol, ones that will make a positive difference to our communities, our environment and our workplaces. Visit our interactive Going for Gold website https://www.goingforgoldbristol.co.uk/ where you can log your food actions and help Bristol Go for Gold!
The Government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policy, designed to co-opt
public services and others into immigration enforcement, has been controversial
from the moment it was announced in 2012. I have been one of many people to
publicly oppose the policy. I have done so on a local, national and international level,
pointing out the ways it demonises people without immigration status whilst
also punishing those with the right to live in the UK such as the Windrush
So you can imagine my surprise when I read in
the Bristol Cable that Bristol City Council was apparently
refusing to join with other Local Authorities in taking a stand against the
Hostile Environment as manifested in the Rough Sleeping Support Service. The
article claims that unlike 11 other Councils, Bristol is “participating in the
programme”, which is “using homelessness charities to pass rough sleepers’
personal information directly to the Home Office without their consent”.
Sadly for the Bristol Cable, but happily for Bristol’s rough
sleepers, this claim is wildly, and wilfully, inaccurate. Before publication of
the article, Bristol City Council were asked for a statement on their
relationship to the programme. That statement, in full, read:
City Council has not made referrals to the Rough Sleeping Support Service
(RSSS) and would only work with them in order for people to be housed more
quickly by reducing delays in obtaining settled status.
council’s view is that referrals should only take place after an individual has
firstly received legal advice from a registered OISC (Office of the Immigration
Services Commissioner) and has given their informed consent.
UK citizens who are sleeping rough can spend months or years waiting to hear
back from the Home Office in order to resolve their status and we are
continuing to work with a range of local and national partners, including
central government and our commissioned partner St Mungo’s, to find ways of
supporting people to move off the streets regardless of their migration
does this compare to the 11 Councils who are lauded for taking a stand against
the scheme? Helpfully the Cable article provides a link to a Guardian story on this, which explains that “It is
understood that 11 councils, including Brent, Croydon, Enfield,
Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Liverpool, Newham, Oxford and Rugby,
will not share the personal data unless explicit consent has been given.”
So the thing that
marks out these 11 Councils in their opposition to the programme is a
commitment that they will not share any personal data unless explicit consent
has been given. As the BCC full statement says, that is exactly the position in Bristol. In fact, BCC’s position is
even stronger, with the additional provision that a referral should only happen
after an individual has received proper legal advice.
But rather than
report the truth, that Bristol City Council are in fact leading the way on
opposing the Hostile Environment, the Bristol Cable journalist Adam
Cantwell-Corn decided to selectively quote from the Council statement, leaving out the critical sentence about
requiring informed consent. He then supplemented this with some hostile
quotes from an opposition politician, and ‘hey presto’ – news.
environment is one of the most damaging public policies of our time. It is
therefore critical that people are properly informed about it, and are able to
direct their rightful indignation about its impacts on the poorest and most
vulnerable at those who are truly responsible. By misquoting the Council in
order to falsely damn it, Adam Cantwell-Corn has done everyone a disservice. He
has misinformed the people of Bristol about a critical issue in our society. He
has eroded trust in the Council and its efforts to support rough sleepers off
the streets. And by directing anger away from the Home Office and the
Government, he has left those impacted by the Hostile Environment further away
from the solution they need and deserve.
At time of writing, Adam Cantwell-Corn is claiming that because the Council
statement said that referrals “should only take place” with informed consent,
this marks them out against the 11 other Councils. Such pedantry hardly merits
a response. He has also criticised the Council for not making a public
statement, despite the fact that I have blogged here within the last month
about the need for a ‘complete rethinking’ of the Hostile Environment.
Today’s blog marks
the one year anniversary of the Children’s Charter and comes from Tanisha
Gupta, an intern at the Mayor’s Office from Yale University, who has been
supporting the development of the Charter for the last nine weeks.
Today marks a special anniversary for our city because we are
celebrating one year since the launch of the Bristol
Children’s Charter. Since that bright, blissful Bristol Playday on College
Green last year when the charter was first announced, the city of Bristol has united
to prioritise the rights and needs of all of its children and young people.
Bristol Children’s Charter is an unabashedly aspirational commitment to our
city’s future. We want each child to have the resources and opportunities
necessary to make a positive impact in this world. That means we need to ensure
each child’s basic rights are met. We are committed to ending child poverty and
hunger, and are ambitiously working to ensure children live
healthy lives with high-quality nutrition, access to wellbeing facilities and
services, and safety from all forms of violence and abuse. We aim to provide children with access to clean and safe
homes and neighbourhoods in a city with sustainable, affordable and connected
infrastructure, that allows them to benefit from Bristol being a leading
cultural, social and sporting city. We pledge all children will have access to
a quality education that develops their potential so they have skills for life
and for decent, productive work.
But we want to do more than just provide children and young
people with basic necessities. In fact, we must
do more if we truly want to set them up for success. That is why we pledge to
guarantee children have the skills to thrive in an ever-changing digital world
and have the opportunity to learn about and participate in the global
community. It is why we ensure children have the opportunity to influence
leaders and contribute to the city they live in, and in return ensure the city
supports not only children but parents, carers and families as well. And that
is why we make these pledges to all children and young people, regardless of
their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities, or any other characteristic,
so as to protect and provide for the most vulnerable people to reduce the
inequalities that exist.
In the past year, we have made significant progress towards
achieving our goals. We have had a five-fold increase in the number of
organisations signing on to the Children’s Charter; currently, 100 organisations
from education, sport, housing, the voluntary sector, social care, childcare,
health, environment, nutrition, public safety, law, and business sectors have
committed to the pledges of the charter. More organisations are expected to
sign on in the coming months.
We have also passed policies in Bristol City Council relating
to children and young people’s education, homelessness, safety, health and
wellbeing and special education needs and disability (SEND) provisions to guarantee
we are making progress towards delivering our goals. Many other policies
relavent to the charter are being considered as I write.
We have hosted two successful Children’s Charter events,
established our presence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and launched this
blog as our main channel for information on the charter and our work. Thanks to
all of this work done by the city to prioritise children and young people, the Local
Government Association (LGA) Labour Group
named the Bristol Children’s Charter as the first innovation in its list of
“100 More Innovations by Labour in Power”.
So what’s next? We have just gotten started; while we made respectable
progress this past year, there is plenty that we still need to do.
We must continue to strive to make our city’s future better
than its present, and to do so we must continue to listen to and provide for
our young people. At the heart of this work lies the distinct recognition that local
government alone cannot accomplish the hefty feats put forth in the Children’s
Charter; the city as a whole must come together to work towards a brighter
For this reason, on our one-year anniversary we are launching
an “Offers and Asks” section
to facilitate communication between signatories and encourage broader cooperation
on charter pledges. Each signatory of the Bristol Children’s Charter joins a
larger consortium of organisations in the city that are working together to
prioritise the rights and best interests of all children and young people. Our
new “Offers and Asks” page will enable you all to reach out to each other for
advice and help, share best practices, and collaborate on campaigns and events
in the future.
On a more personal note, the one-year anniversary of the
Children’s Charter brings to close an important chapter in my life, as my
internship in the Mayor’s Office is finishing tomorrow. For the past few
months, I have lived and breathed the Bristol Children’s Charter, devoting my
time to working for children and young people in the city. I am in awe of the palpable
passion of the charter’s signatories and salute this city’s ability to unite
people together for a greater cause. Though I am not a native Bristolian
myself, I at times feel more connected to this magnificent city than I do to my
So this one-year anniversary celebration is a collective one;
I thank each and every one of you for the role you have played in getting the
charter to where it is today, and the role you will play in supporting the
charter in the future. This is just the beginning, and I look forward to the
development of the Bristol Children’s Charter going forward.
There’s nothing like a crisis to test the character of an
individual, group or place. And it’s hard to imagine a bigger crisis than being
told that you’re going to have to leave pretty much everything and everyone you
love, just as you’re trying to prepare for the biggest exams of your life.
That was the situation facing Stiven Bregu when he received
a letter from the Home Office shortly before his 18th birthday
telling him that he was facing deportation from the UK. Stiven’s story was
already full of upheaval. Born in Albania, his mother handed him over, aged 13,
to people traffickers to escape an abusive situation at home. At the end of an
arduous journey through Europe, he was dumped by the side of the road in the
middle of the night in a town on the outskirts of Bristol. Speaking just enough
English to find his way to a Police station, Stiven was eventually taken into
foster care in the city.
What happened next is nothing short of remarkable. Mastering
English in just six months, Stiven quickly settled into school and two years
later performed so well in his GCSE results that the Bristol
Post wrote a story about him. He was accepted onto the City Leadership Programme,
set up to support high potential young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
And as he approached the end of his school career he won a prestigious
apprenticeship offer with the Wealth Management firm Rowan Dartington.
Stiven’s future looked bright. Having been welcomed and
supported in so many ways, he was looking forward to the opportunity to give
back to the city he now called home. We can only imagine how he must have felt,
just a week before his first A Level exam, when he was told that his application
to remain in the UK had been turned down. The argument from the Home Office was
that on becoming an adult, it was no longer ‘in the public interest’ for Stiven
to be allowed to remain in the country.
In desperation, he turned to those who had supported him so
far in his journey. His school, St Mary Redcliffe, started a public petition
calling on the Government to allow him to stay. It went viral, attracting
almost 100,000 signatures in just a month. When it came time for his appeal
hearing, Stiven and his lawyer were joined by an extraordinary team of
supporters. Travelling to Newport to speak in his defence were his Head of Year
at school, his care worker, the Deputy Mayor of Bristol Asher Craig and the
Executive Chairman of Rowan Dartington, Graham Coxell. Stiven’s lawyer said she
thought the judge had probably never seen anything like it. Evidently this
remarkable show of support paid off, for just 10 days later Stiven received
news that his appeal had been successful and that he was to be given leave to
remain in the country. “We won the appeal, so I’m definitely staying here. It’s
absolutely amazing”, Stiven said. “I just want to say a big thank you to
Stiven’s story is one of determination and success against
the odds. But it’s not just a story about him. It’s also a powerful example of
how a city can take in a vulnerable young person and nurture them. From his
foster carers to his care workers, from his school leaders to the wealth
management company – time and time again people in Bristol have gone above and
beyond in standing up for Stiven and giving him the platform to succeed. When
the news broke of the successful appeal, the Bristol Post’s headline said it
for Bristol as Stiven wins his fight to stay”. At a time when hate crime
has spiked in the UK and it feels like the nation is wrestling with its
identity, the groundswell of support for a young boy from Eastern Europe has
been a reminder of who we can be at our best.
Stiven’s ordeal has also provided a stark reminder of the madness of our asylum system. The timing of the Home Office decision to deport Stiven, coming just as he was preparing for his A Levels, is emblematic of the complete lack of humanity in the way immigration decisions are made. The decision itself, claiming that it was in the ‘public interest’ to send Stiven out of the country after years of investment in his education and care, is questionable on every possible level. The only saving grace is that the appeal judge was able to finally see sense and recognise Stiven for the asset that he is. Sadly, however, Stiven’s situation is one that is experienced by so many other young people who arrive in the UK as unaccompanied asylum seeking children, not all of whom end up with the powerful supporters that Stiven had.
So there are lessons to learn for everyone from the remarkable story of Stiven Bregu. The brokenness and inhumanity of an asylum system that’s not fit for purpose. The incredible resilience of a young man with a very bright future. And the character and welcome of a city that takes care of its own, wherever they might have been born.