Social distancing blog: Day “lost track”

Although we are now out of the 14-day isolation period, like most people my family and I are now social distancing for the foreseeable.

To be real about it, it is challenging staying in the home. We have started to fall into a rhythm on home schooling. Last night I was talking with a friend who is a teacher. I asked them how on earth teachers can cope with a class of 30 kids, working at different levels and prone to distraction and chat? I only had to manage a mixed ability class of three, over whom I have ultimate parental authority. And together with my wife we have a parent child ratio of 2:3.

April 2, 2020 is the fortieth anniversary of the St. Paul’s uprising. I began the day by watching Lawrence Hoo’s “Uprising 2020”. I recommend it. It’s part of our story.

This crisis is testing everything about our way of life. And it’s exposing the ideology that has severely undervalued the importance of government and the public sector in general, and local government and society in particular. It is the public sector we are now depending on for the basics.

It feels a bit as though national government is now trying to reap where it has not sown after ten years of austerity. We have had decade of disinvestment in the very health, education and governance services we are now depending on to lead and serve us through this crisis. The family of policies called Austerity was dressed up as economic competence. But coronavirus exposes them as a dogmatic determination not to understand the importance of the public sector as fundamental to the resilience of our social order. Disinvesting is actually like gambling or going without insurance. It’s fine, until you hit the crisis.

Some people made much of the Prime Minister conceding this week that there is such a thing as society. What we also need is a similar Damascene moment recognising the importance of our public sector – local government and public health alongside the NHS, youth services, our police – and putting real money into them. When all else falls away, we find many of these workers are our nation’s backbone.

This investment of cash needs to be accompanied by a commitment to devolution of power and leadership. National government is important. It must provide a framework. But micro-managing the country from Whitehall is an old model of leadership in a modern world. Understanding the diversity of our local populations, and developing solutions that are culturally intelligent cannot be done satisfactorily from the centre. National government must understand – and invest accordingly – in the critical role of local government as leaders and shapers of place, not merely delivery arms of national government.

It’s imperfect but the image I use to describe the relationship is that between someone drowning (national government) and their would-be rescuer (the national network of local governments). The first thing national government must do is recognise there is a rescuer and then cooperate with the rescuer. Stop panicking. Stop trying to control a situation they cannot control. That doesn’t mean submit. It means listen and cooperate. The danger is if they don’t, and they start thrashing about, they foil the rescue and risk taking the rescuer down with them.

This crisis is not welcome. But among the things we take from it must be a reappraisal, and new plan, for the place of the public sector in the post-Covid-19 world.

Self-isolation: Day 11

We’ve unleashed ourselves on DIY. I’ve worked with the kids to stitch together the torn safety netting that surrounds the trampoline. We built a table out of scrap wood and leftover screws. I put my drill in my boy’s hands and watched him grow in confidence. I was on good form until I drilled into a wall and there was a pop and a flash of light. The lights went out. Sinking feeling, although I suspect I should be thankful I survived.

I’ve been trying to give my kids an insight into my childhood. We watched The Count of Monte Christo. The 1974 film is on YouTube. I’d built it up as a great story – as it is. Although not quite as good I as I remembered it to be when I watched it with my Nan sometime in the 1980s. The boys tolerated my enthusiasm and lasted the whole film.

It was great to hear the accounts and see the pictures of the food being delivered to the most isolated and vulnerable of those being shielded. And the #WeAreBristol spirit is really being experienced. Thousands of people signed up on the Can Do Bristol website ready to go when called on. Some of them were there packing the food parcels that were then distributed by other volunteers including taxi drivers.

Also, my thoughts recently have been for those in the global south, countries who don’t have the scale and reach of European and North American healthcare services. A couple of nights ago I had a WhatsApp call from Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the Mayor of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Yvonne was in Bristol in 2018 for the Global Parliament of Mayors and we are among the ten Mayors on the Mayors Migration Council.

I asked her how they were coping. As things stand there are just over 4,000 confirmed cases on the African continent, with South Africa being worst-affected. Sierra Leone is one the few countries on the continent to as yet have no recorded cases. Mayor Yvonne has already taken strong action restricting movement and restricting trading times among other things. As here in Bristol, people are social distancing and self-isolating. She is offering real leadership.

But my thoughts have revolved around the numbers of people whose health resilience has been undermined by poverty. Those living in conditions where physical distancing is nigh-on impossible, such as shanty towns and refugee camps, and those who have absolutely no alternative other than to work because there is no safety net. For many, the coronavirus crisis is another major crisis on top of the other major crisis.

My hope –  and I believe it is an opportunity –  is in our ability to understand that we have not reached the other side of this crisis when we in Bristol/the UK alone gets there. It is not until the whole world gets there.

Firstly, this is the morally strong position to take. Secondly, it’s an understanding that reflects enlightened self-interest. This incredibly infectious virus has reached across the world in no time. Unless we come up with a global solution, we will remain vulnerable to it and/or potential mutations. Thirdly, Bristol is a global city with around 180 countries of origin with immediate family and friends stretching across the planet. We are a people of English, Welsh, Sierra Leonean, Somali, Ugandan, Sudanese, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, American and Polish heritage. What matters there is real, and matters to people here.




Self-isolation: Day 6

We’ve had a crash course in home schooling. It’s not easy. Trying to get my head around and balance the curriculums of a 12, 9 and 4 year old. Then trying to make the work tasks interesting. Trying to make sure they actually do them. Trying to make sure we are not asking too much or too little.It’s an adjustment for the children.

Remote friends only, or through a window. A highlight was my daughter in the back garden having a shouting conversation with her friend two doors up. It was a real injection of something new into our “routine”. Not to be overly dramatic, but I think I got a little insight into the way Edmond Dantes must have felt when he connected with fellow prisoner Abe Faria in Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo.

The homeschooling has had to fit with my wife’s study and teaching (she is teaching online fitness classes at the moment) and, of course, being Mayor. Communications with our teams, partners and national government has been constant. I have set up variously in our front room, kitchen and the boys bedroom for the ongoing stream of conference calls, Zoom calls, Skype, Facetime, vlogs and TV and radio interviews. Among the major challenges has been holding together the immediate need to tackle the virus but not to lose sight of the need to plan for economic and social recovery over the next 12, 24 and 60 months.

We (humans) are going through a period of great readjustment in our sense of self. I think it’s driven by our need to come to terms with the fact that we do not have absolute control over our experience of the planet. That needs to be qualified because many people live an existence where their life chances are determined by factors outside of their control. This is most obviously the reality for the poorest in the global south, but it is also true for people in the poorest communities of Europe and North America. But even in those circumstances, we have the sense that some people, somewhere, in some meeting could make a decision to sign a peace treaty, stop selling arms, stop polluting the environment, distribute mosquito nets, cancel debts, trade fairly, divert money from arms to primary education and vaccines, or introduce a new piece of technology.

The sheer sense that someone somewhere could make the decision, even if they don’t, gives us a sense of humanity’s dominion.But what we are forced to confront in the coronavirus is a fact some would say we had lost touch with: that there are things on our planet that can shape our lives that, once unleashed, no people anywhere can control. This is cause for a timely adjustment of our collective sense of self and our relationship with the planet. Our future must be more humble and respectful.

Big Tidy

steve-pearceToday’s Guest blog is by Cllr Steve Pearce, cabinet member for Waste, Commercialisation and Regulatory Services.

Before many of us became confined to our homes, you might have noticed our “Big Tidy” project, part of the Mayor’s Clean Streets initiative. You have probably seen the custom-liveried vehicles that service the project.

This is a much needed multi-disciplinary and multi-agency approach to bringing back the sparkle to Bristol’s streets and neighbourhoods. We have been clear from the very start that in “Big Tidy” we want to have a strategy that brings together and co-ordinates resources. It’s a huge effort: litter-picking, street-sweeping, graffiti and fly-tip removal combined with investigation, enforcement and legal support (both in-house and contractors).

big tidy van

This built on community engagement and communication through both social and main stream media. We’ve used community payback, the private sector and voluntary activity supported with help from other public agencies such as Network Rail. Services arrive simultaneously or in quick succession and in a carefully planned way so as to maximise impact; both in terms of visibility and effectiveness.

before and after 2

Big Tidy kicked off properly in September last year and has arrived ‘noisily’ and successively in Lawrence Hill, Easton, Eastville, Filwood, Hartcliffe & Withywood, Hengrove & Whitchurch Park and Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston. It will shortly be in Cotham, before moving on to Central, Ashley and Bishopston & Ashley Down.

before and after 1Beyond Bishopston and Ashley Down, the current programme stretches past summer and on into the autumn but it won’t stop even then. To those eagerly waiting its arrival in their own postcode, I’d say this: “be patient; we’re expecting to get to you, too.”

The coronavirus emergency is sure to have an impact on how the project gets delivered but my commitment to helping Bristol to ‘clean up lovely’ remains sincere even if the current emergency throws a temporary spanner in the works!

big tidy 3

So, let’s put some numbers next to some of these activities. In the five months to the end of February, over 1,000 graffiti jobs have been pro-actively completed; nearly 350 legal notices or warnings have been issued; the team has pro-actively cleared over 100 fly-tips with over 70 investigated; 60 community payback jobs have been completed.

big tidy

In all, over 320 streets have been improved, over 200 residents surveys have been completed, more than 260 businesses engaged, 1,800 letters and flyers delivered with over 400 face-to-face engagements. 46 Community Protection Warnings were issued in Filwood and Hartcliffe alone for waste in gardens.

big tidy 2

With the team having dealt with 1,000 graffiti jobs, one thing of note is that most shop fronts on Stapleton Road are now graffiti free; enforcement officers actually caught two taggers “in the act” and there is now a police officer in post, dedicated to tackling graffiti.

It’s a great start, but we’ve much more to do.

Watch this space, stay safe and keep well. 

Self-isolation – Day 2

Spent the morning navigating the latest announcements while trying to get on top of our children’s school work. Helping them to adjust has been a challenge. We’ve all had to be gracious toward each other. Not always successful.

My brothers and sisters have been sharing ideas to keep the cousins busy and motivated. This includes a dance competition for the children courtesy of shared short films on WhatsApp. One of my sister’s lives in Zurich with her family. They are also isolating – and dancing! 

I have a conference call with government at 2pm with the latest information for local government leaders. We’ve presubmitted recommendations. The first that local government get advanced notice of major announcements. The second that they make a time to review the command structure, to review how things are working. It’s at the local level that announcements are/must be made real. Policy makers must understand the challenges facing implementors.

I have been reflecting over the last few days just how humbling this situation is. Humanity has put landing craft on Mars, scaled the tallest mountains, built machines that have enabled us to explore within a second of the Big Bang and established ourselves the species able to dominate every life form on the planet. And then this invisible, impersonal, unconscious thing comes along and leaves us with few responsible options other than to stop seeing each other. It humbles an economic system that’s become the measure of all things and takes our jobs, stops us riding buses, closes down our sports and festivals.

We will get through this. Our hope is real. But we will have a new – hopefully deeper –  understanding of ourselves and the way we have organised our world.

Bristol's Coronavirus Response – Volunteering

During these uncertain times our number one priority as a city must be to ensure support is in place for our most vulnerable citizens – whether that’s through council services or community-led help.

In recent days and weeks it has been truly heartening to see the strength of our community spirit in Bristol, with so many people stepping forward to help others. We are blessed by the swell of support and volunteerism we’re seeing across the city.

To help coordinate the city’s volunteers and the many volunteering opportunities we are recommending that people sign up to Can Do Bristol – a council-backed listings website with details about where help is needed and how to get involved.

You’ll also find details of the Coronavirus Response Fund, managed by Quartet Community Foundation, for those who would like to donate money to help the city’s most disadvantaged communities in the coming months. Organisations running volunteer programmes will find advice from Voscur on the site about best practice and how to keep volunteers, and the most vulnerable, safe.

As communities come together to help one another, please keep an eye out for those who see this uncertain time as an opportunity to gain only for themselves and take advantage of the situation. If you are concerned about an adult with care and support needs who is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing abuse please do not hesitate to contact Bristol’s Safeguarding Adults Team by phone 0117 922 2700 or submit a safeguarding referral online.


Like many others, my family and I have self-isolated from today.

We’re all in this together and it’s vital that public health guidance is followed to protect the most vulnerable. Self-isolating, limiting social contact, washing hands and cleaning surfaces – these are the tools we have to combat this outbreak.

I will remain in self-isolation for 14 days and work from home as many others are already doing across the city. I am in constant phone contact with officers, city stakeholders and Cabinet colleagues (including a conference call with my entire Cabinet today) and will continue to keep the public informed of the evolving situation in Bristol. I am grateful to all the people who are stepping forward to pledge their support across the city and I urge everyone who can and wants to volunteer to sign up to Can Do Bristol’s coronavirus response page so we can make sure you are delivering the biggest positive impact possible.

I thought it would be useful to keep a bit of a record of my family’s time in isolation.

I want people to know they are not alone. I was surprised I felt a little bit stigmatised. I had to remind myself, this is the new normal, that we haven’t done anything wrong. That’s the message I want to share with others. This is what we have to do.

It was quite a confusing decision for us, actually. Every cough and sneeze caused questions. But I have this approach to life that says “Ahh, stop moaning, there’s nothing wrong with you”. So my wife and I had a conversation about where we set the bar for stepping into becoming the “self-isolated”. It’s not an exact science, and I can’t remember the last time I heard a cough. But we’ve arrived at this place now.

Now we face the many challenges of managing and educating our children, managing ourselves in a confined space and managing our work. I also have to think about my Mum. I had to have the conversation with Mum about going into self-isolation to safeguard her health. Today I talked with my brother about the conversation he had with his Mum.

We planned our first full day at home and put together a mini timetable while we await resources to be sent from their schools. For my eldest (12yrs) we’ll be getting on top of homework and watching a documentary on the crusades (his history project). We’ve found some great maths and English resources on the BBC website for my second (9yrs). For my youngest (4yrs) we’ll do some maths with the abacus and practice some writing. Then I had a warning from a friend who home schools not to have too high expectations for my education regime! 

We’ll also be getting a few press-ups in…

I’ll share more insights over the next fortnight.

World Social Work Day 2020

Today is World Social Work Day 2020. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the great work of our social work colleagues across Bristol and around the world. We’re grateful to have so many dedicated and passionate people making people’s lives better, particularly during times like those we are facing, where the vital support our social workers provide for those most in need is even more critical.

Today’s guest blog comes from Nyasha, a recently qualified social worker at Bristol City Council.

I came into social work because I wanted to do more to protect and support the most vulnerable children in our society. I loved the idea that I could work with families to help them change the trajectory of their future by supporting parents to make certain changes or to understand the risk of harm to their children.

I previously worked as a family support worker but I always knew that I wanted to do more. I started my career in social work through the training programme, Step Up to Social Work. This was an amazing experience. The programme was busy and challenging at times, but it was worth it. I had two placements at Bristol Children’s Services both of which taught me a range of skills, which I use in my current role.

The beauty of social work is that there isn’t a typical day. Each day is different and brings its share of triumphs and challenges. Most of my time working in the safeguarding unit is spent supporting families. My working day can vary significantly and range from a child-in-need meeting, to making home visits or responding to new referrals. This is the nature of the job, we might have things planned in advance, but at times there are crisis situations that might need immediate action.

The best part of my job is the relationships I build with the children and young people I work with. They are the only ones who can tell you what their lived experiences are truly like. It’s important we listen and whenever possible I try to encourage children to be involved in meetings either by attending or telling me what they want to say.

As a newly qualified social worker, there are lot of things that I am still learning and having a team where there are other social workers with experience and knowledge means I am supported along the way. I always say, no one else knows what it is like to be a social worker unless they are a social worker too. At times it can feel as though you’re always in a race with time and there are not enough days in the week. We often have many competing demands due to the nature of the work. Having said that, the point we say goodbye to children and their families because we are no longer needed, makes it all worthwhile.

To anyone considering a career in social work, I would say do it! It has lots of challenges and can be very stressful at times, but it’s so rewarding. When we see children thriving and doing well within their families, we know we’ve done a good job. I would also recommend shadowing a social worker to get a better understanding for the job, as there are many misconceptions of the role. Next month I would have been a social worker for one year and I can honestly say that I love my job.

Bristol’s response to Coronavirus – update 17.03.20

To keep you updated with what the Council is doing to handle the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, I will be putting out a series of regular video updates on what is going on both nationally and locally for us in Bristol and how the city is responding.

My latest video is based on the most recent government guidance and I would encourage you to share it with all those you know who are living and working in Bristol.

You can get further guidance on the Bristol City Council and NHS websites by clicking the buttons below.

If you want to volunteer to assist in the city’s response to the outbreak, please register your interest with Can Do Bristol by clicking the button below.

If you want to donate to the Quartet Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund, click the button below and select ‘Coronavirus 2020 Response Fund’ from the drop down menu.

Rise Up – Exploring Forum Theatre

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities.

It has been an exciting two years for the Community Development team, who have been working across Bristol alongside local people, partners and workers to grow community-led social action and local democracy.

Finding new ways to tap into local knowledge is vital, which is why we have been working to create new spaces where residents can explore the issues in their neighbourhoods and talk about the things that matter to them.

The Forum Theatre was funded by Bristol City Council as part of our commitment to community cohesion and nurturing resilient communities. It is about creating a safe space where communities can talk about the things that are most important to them, respecting different points of view.

Forum Theatre is run by Bristol-based mental health and performance charity Many Minds and black women’s playback theatre company, Breathing Fire. The project uses interactive performances, which allow the audience to be part of the conversation and engage with the issue being performed.

Violent crime, family breakdown, anti-social behaviour, racism and stigma were just some of the themes explored in RISE UP, two Forum Theatre performances created by residents of St Pauls and Hartcliffe about their personal stories and experiences.

The reaction from the communities has been overwhelmingly positive. More than 40 people participated by contributing stories in dedicated workshops or by performing, while over 70 people came to watch as part of a participatory audience. Alex, who lives in St Pauls and took part in the performance and had this to say:

I’m a musician and have played in bands and performed all over throughout my adult life. I have lived in St Pauls for around 17 years in and around the party and drug scene there. That’s when I became heavily involved in hard drugs and the lifestyle that comes with it. The getting, the selling and using and all the crime that came with it. My life spiralled out of control to a point where I had two choices either end my life or get a life.

Since making the choice to turn things around I have been involved with music and drama projects around the city. It has been an opportunity to be heard by people who can create system change and look at blockages in our communities.

We’ve been really pleased by the response to the project so far. You can see a short film about the two performances and find out more by visiting: 

Building on this success, two more performances will be taking place in Knowle West and Lawrence Weston. If you live in Lawrence Weston or Knowle West and want to have your voice heard in your neighbourhood then please do consider taking part. You can contact Olivia at Many Minds ( / 07843 210272) to find out more.

This is just one example of how the council is taking an Asset Based Community Development approach to empowering neighbourhoods. Beyond Forum Theatre, the team have been working with local people to improve community green spaces, as well as supporting a thriving voluntary sector and engaging communities in helping us to improve local libraries.

We want make sure that your stories and experiences, in all their diversity, are reflected in the work we do. After all, it’s the people of Bristol that make it such a special place to live, work and study.