Love Parks Week

Today’s blog comes from Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities, Equalities and Public Health, Councillor Asher Craig.

Parks have been more important than ever for many people in the past year.

During the pandemic, parks were some of the only spaces where people were able to socialise safely. Access to parks is also good for our mental and physical health, with Natural England finding that 9 in 10 people agree that visiting natural spaces is good for their wellbeing.

That’s why we were determined to keep parks open during the pandemic and why we’re working on a new strategy to ensure the sustainability of our parks for years to come.

Royal Fort Gardens, Bristol.

We’re fortunate to have access to so many great parks and green spaces in Bristol, with studies finding Bristol has the largest amount of green space of any English city. In addition, we are proud to say that in 2015, Bristol became the UK’s first ever European Green Capital.

We’re committed to protecting these spaces and supporting sustainable environments for both people and wildlife. Bristol’s One City Plan includes an ambitious target of doubling the tree canopy by 2045 and supporting the return of species such as pine marten, red kite, and beavers to our natural environments by 2033.

We recognise the role parks play in responding to the ecological emergency. As a result, the One City Environment Board have developed a working group of over 30 organisations across Bristol, with an aim of taking action to restore the natural systems that we all depend on.

Parks are not only vital for nature; our city’s green spaces are used to support events, food growing and organised sport.

We understand as the weather gets hotter and the summer holidays are fast approaching, many of our parks will see a rise in footfall.

If you’re out using our parks, make sure you’re being respectful of others and tidying up after yourself. This is a simple way of helping our staff, other park users and the environment. Keep Britain Tidy have more great information on how we can all take steps to look after our parks.

There are lots of ways you can get involved with improving our parks and green spaces and we always welcome ideas – you can find out more and have your say here on our website. 

Crucially, as restriction lift, we are asking everyone to continue to follow the hands, face, space, fresh air guidance. Many more people will continue to use our parks to see family and friends, or to exercise. Therefore, it is important to reduce our risk of catching or passing on the virus by using green spaces safely.

Covid rates in Bristol are the highest we’ve seen, so let’s do our bit to keep each other safe.

Bedminster Lantern Parade

Today’s guest blog is from Ade Williams, chair of the Bedminster Winter Lantern Parade and Superintendent Pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy.

There is great power in togetherness, celebrating each other’s contribution to a joint endeavour. Yet as a society, we are faced with ever-present reminders that our communities are unfairly divided. Sadly the age at which we first experience this only continues to get younger, shattering something that is forever lost.

Over the last 18 months, many of us have discovered an awakened desire to see positive changes in our society. Sadly life with all its demands will start to rob us of the chance to pursue those changes. Do you remember saying, “When this is over, I will not go back to the old ways?”

Ade Williams, Chair of the Bedminster Winter Lantern Parade

Bedminster Winter Lantern Parade has launched a fundraising appeal to raise the £15,000 needed to deliver the tenth anniversary extravaganza, South Bristol’s biggest Winter event. As Chair of the organising steering group, I know a lot about the dedication and work of delivering this event. All the volunteers, artists, teachers, and sponsors that support children across our community express themselves, showcase, and celebrate their work together.

One of the core values of the Parade is that it is proactively inclusive. Children from the nine schools involved represent the ever-increasing rich diversity of our South Bristol communities. Some even over-representing the racial diversity and socio-economic profiles across our shared City.

One of the event’s ambitions is to tackle why some children create lanterns in school but do not participate in the Parade. We feel this is very important. Working with friends and peers to create something exciting must be matched with the joy and thrill of showcasing it. Suppose many more young people can see how much the community loves and appreciates them; the potential fruits of such life experiences can be transformational.

The Parade’s link to better health and wellbeing is an added bonus. Art and creativity are positive health and wellbeing influencers. Collective effort and volunteering increase self-worth while walking the length of the Parade will reduce your blood pressure, burn calories and increase your heart rate — likewise for dancing. As for dancing to the rhythm of the music, you have an expressive licence.

The Bedminster Lantern Parade is a transformational event. Your much needed financial support and contributions enrich our community, sowing seeds to produce a healthier, inclusive, equitable society. Building that better future is the collective effort linking us all together.

Join us here: https://www.lanternparade.org/

Visit Bristol!

Today’s guest blog is from Matthew Tanner MBE, Chief Executive of the multi-award winning SS Great Britain Trust, President of the International Congress of Maritime Museums, Director of Visit West, and Trustee of Bristol Old Vic.

Matthew Tanner, SS Great Britain Trust

Bristol is a city bursting with creativity and innovation, famous for its art, science, music, carnivals, nightlife, and food, and of course for its iconic links to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is a vibrant and exciting city, and a place which is a destination for visitors from across the UK, and in more normal times (if you can remember those) internationally too.

I call it ‘Brunel Country’, of course, and the visitor economy in the Bristol region is one of the biggest in the UK. Tourism in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire region is worth £1.4 billion a year to the local economy, and supports over 29,000 jobs. That is more than Airbus and Rolls-Royce combined.

Nevertheless I fear we do tend to take our tourism and culture sector for granted. If we could only see our cultural attractions and hospitality industry housed in one large factory in the city then of course we would all know and value it as a major employer and source of cultural and economic wealth for us all. Instead it’s made up of a wonderful myriad of small, diverse, and often quirky businesses scattered across Bristol.

Culture is a key driver for tourism and the visitor economy, but it is important not just for its significant economic impact, it is integral to placemaking – what makes a place distinctive and special, bringing richness and enjoyment, building curiosity and connections, and supporting wellbeing.

A major recent development has been the combining of forces of Destination Bristol, the tourism support business for Bristol, with its counterpart Visit Bath, to form a new organisation, Visit West. Bristol and Bath together are an amazing set of destinations and cultural attractions worth £2.33 billion every year and supporting some 45,000 jobs. A critical mass like this propels our part of the world to be the fourth most visited city region in the country.

Brunel’s SS Great Britain

In the pandemic people have faced profound challenges, and our cultural sector and visitor attractions have also been hit hard. This is a crucial summer for the future of many of the member organisations in Visit West, big and small. To ensure that they are able to survive, to continue to provide significant economic benefits, supporting inclusive and sustainable growth within Bristol and beyond, then we must all visit them. It’s a fun day out, it’s time with family and friends, a unique experience, whatever it gives you we must indeed cherish this industry – use it or lose it!

Bristol and Unite – a unique combination for hope

Today’s guest blog is from Brett Sparkes, Regional Officer at UNITE South West.

Brett Sparkes, Unite the Union

In the last six weeks or so we have seen the very best of our hope and desire for success. The England men’s football team  had us all believing “it was coming home”. But despite the best performance for over half a century, what has grabbed the narrative has been the ugly and frightening  racism and hate. I am no football pundit, and have the soccer skills of a haddock, but I can imagine the bravery required to step up to take a penalty when the whole nation is watching.

The disgusting abuse and threats directed at Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, and Marcus Rashford were not a surprise to me. Elements of the media and some politicians have  spread both covert and overt messages of hate for many decades, not only directed at people of colour but at many people with protected characteristics.

According to the Office of National Statistics, recorded hate crime in England & Wales has increased from 40,000 in 2012/13 to 105,000 in 2019/20, an increase of 162.5%. And that is only the recorded incidents!

Recent years have only made  hidden hate more visible and emboldened the hate-mongers, including on social media but also in public and at workplaces

So can we be optimistic that we can beat the scourge of hate, the plague of racism? I believe we can. Despite what we see around us we as a society are on a progressive curve. Take LGBTQ+, in just a generation attitudes towards the members of this community have changed significantly. Openly gay, lesbian and trans people are accepted by my children’s generation, a vast improvement to people’s attitudes compared to my South London Comprehensive in the early 1980s.

Yesterday we took another small but significant step towards our goal of eradicating hate from our society. Mayor Marvin Rees and Steve Turner (Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union) signed the Unity over Division Charter.

With the Mayor signing our charter, Bristol City Council has committed to working with Unite to continue to build more inclusive and harmonious workplaces. Both the Council and Unite will appoint inclusion champions, to collaboratively monitor, facilitate, and promote workplace inclusion.

The Charter also commits the council to training staff around its Equality and Diversity policy, which will be annual reviewed, and to provide materials to promote equality in the workplace – as well as condemning examples of hate crime and discrimination, particularly in Bristol.

By agreeing to confront hate in all its forms, bringing people together and giving them the true story instead of the media’s spin we can make a better Bristol and a better world.

Working together, Bristol and Unite can make a real difference in combatting hate. Together we can rid hate from our workplaces, as well as our pubs and social clubs, our communities and from our terraces.

Let’s make hate a thing our children will only read about in their history books.

Tolpuddle

Today’s blog is from Nigel Costley, South West Regional Secretary of the Trade Union Congress. Nigel also sits on the Bristol History Commission.

On the third weekend in July, before the pandemic, hundreds of trade unionists and their families would head off to the Dorset village of Tolpuddle for a festival to celebrate a key episode in winning rights for working people – and have a great party.

In the early 1800s public unrest over poor wages, unfair taxes, enclosures and voting reform burst out through riots and machine wrecking, including here in Bristol. The ‘Swing Rebellion’ saw farm workers smashing new threshing machines and burning ricks in their demand for more than the starvation wages they received. The violence was supressed with brutal force.

With this fresh in their minds farm workers around Tolpuddle started to form a trade union – a peaceful and legal means to combine in mutual support – to protect themselves from further pay cuts. The local landowners and employers panicked and demanded that the Home Secretary stop this dangerous development.

On his advice they arrested the leaders for administering a secret oath and six men were quickly tried and sentenced to seven years’ transportation into the slave colonies of Australia. With no means to pay for their return, the men feared they were never see home again and the families were left in absolute destitution.

The fledgling unions rallied to their cause with public meetings all over the country and a huge petition – not surpassed in size until the recent anti-Brexit petition. An enormous procession marched through London demanding their freedom and the right to organise in a union. If it was unlawful to take a secret oath, they asked why freemasons, Orangemen and others including members of the royal family were not arrested.

Funds were raised to sustain the families.

The government backed down and the Tolpuddle Martyrs were brought home with free pardons.

Today, workers still have to meet together in secret to protect themselves from bad employers. Care workers in Bristol have been sacked and disciplined for complaining they are not getting sick pay when forced to self-isolate. In the coming days others will be under pressure to work despite being in close contact with covid-19. But with the backing of a trade union, workers have secured safer workplaces and better conditions. It was unions that brought us the weekend and paid holidays.

So this weekend in July the village of Tolpuddle will again be alive with a procession of banners, great music, debates and speeches – only this year it will be filmed and streamed online for all to see free of charge on www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk

Marvin will join the launch event on Friday evening.

We must build back a better and fairer society after the pandemic and in so doing build on the sacrifice of those Dorset farm workers.

Levelling up

The Prime Minister has today set out his ambitions for ‘levelling up’, with the stated aims of improving services and boosting community pride across the UK, seeking to create a more balanced economy. We agree with the ambition to give everyone the chance of a good job on decent pay, and are determined to make Bristol a true Living Wage City – where poverty pay is a thing of the past. Increasing access to opportunity no matter where you live is at the heart of our approach in Bristol and something we should all be working towards as a country.

Levelling up will only be successful if it targets those living in deprivation –  it is vital that ‘levelling up’ policy impacts the communities and groups that need it most.

We encourage Government to focus on the challenges of poverty, social mobility, inequalities, and on the groups most affected by these challenges, that the pandemic has further entrenched. If Government takes too much of a blunt, North versus South approach, those poorer communities, often hidden and invisible across our country and in our major cities, will continue to miss out and get left even further behind.

Bristol is an example of this complexity. We have a fantastic story to tell – a £15 billion economy with sectors of high growth and opportunity. And yet we are one of the most unequal cities in England with six areas in the top 1% most deprived in the UK and 20% of our children at risk of hunger every day. Writing off deprivation in Bristol just because we live further south than, say, Birmingham, would only see more Bristolians fall further south of the poverty line.

The last thing we need is for regions or areas to be set against each other, dictated by competitive funding pots from Whitehall, which inevitably will result in the very people who stand to benefit the most missing out. In recent years, that Bingo-style approach has set hungry children in Bristol against hungry children in Plymouth, and pitted homeless people in Bristol against homeless people in Manchester: for the Prime Minister’s pledge for ‘levelling up’ to be ‘win-win’, we need fundamental change.

What is required is a national approach that recognises that our focus is addressing the big challenges of the day – including the climate and ecological emergencies – in a way which takes all communities forward and provides ample opportunities for everyone.

The Prime Minister  emphasised the role of local leadership as part of ‘levelling up’ places. What local leaders need the most is predictable funding that best enables ourselves and city partners, like our local NHS, charities, and businesses, to come together around long-term plans. The UK is one of the most heavily centralised countries in Europe – that has been known for far longer than I have been Mayor, and even before Boris Johnson was one. For ‘levelling up’ to be truly effective, I would urge Government to release more funding to local places, then step back and help create the space for us to take the opportunities we know we can deliver.

Jiu Jitsu for everyone!

Today’s guest blog is from Luke Chamberlain, who I met at Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu during a recent visit to Southmead.

Gracie Barra is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and self defence martial arts club for children and adults in the heart of the community. Gracie Barra Westbury is the embodiment of the “Jiu Jitsu for everyone” motto, with over 200 members ranging from 3 to 60 years old.

Men, women, boys and girls from all walks of life come together to enjoy this incredible martial art, developed to enable the smaller, weaker practitioner to overcome the bigger, stronger individual. Training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the perfect way to empower yourself, gain confidence and get in shape amongst a community of positive and supportive teammates. 

With over 30 classes per week spread across 7 days, including kids, adults, beginners, advanced, competition training and open mat sessions, there is something for everyone regardless of your age or experience.

The club is run by me and my brother, Clayton, both lifelong martial artists and students of world champion and head of the Gracie Barra organisation in Europe, Professor Victor Estima. Training since 2009 and having competed on the international stage, we have developed a strong reputation in the Jiu Jitsu community, which has lead to us receiving the honour of being promoted to their current ranks of black belt (Luke) and brown belt (Clayton) by their renowned Professor. 

After opening in May 2017 starting in David Lloyd Westbury on Trym, the club fast outgrew it’s training space and relocated until finding a home in its current venue, The Youth Centre on Greystoke Avenue, a fully renovated space large enough to sustain the club’s ever expanding member base and timetable. 

Amongst our many successes on the competition scene through the efforts of both kids and adult students: from local level, securing best academy at the Bristol Open to national level, winning gold at the British Championships, and all the way to an array of medals at the European Championships. What the club regards as it’s biggest achievement is its community of members and families that have supported the club during the challenging times of the last year. Without this commitment to each other and the common goal of sharing the benefits of Jiu Jitsu with as many people as possible, Gracie Barra Westbury would not have become such a success. 

One of the club’s main goals has always been to make roots in the local community spreading its message of Jiu Jitsu for everyone. This goal has recently been further realised with coaches taking women’s self defence sessions at both Redmaids’ High school and also girls groups within the youth centre itself, helping to empower young women to navigate the world with confidence. 

Moving forward and working closely with local charity, Southmead Development Trust, plans are in place to take the club into a purpose-built academy. There, we can continue to provide the best possible service for our members and further serve the community by offering sessions to more local groups that could improve their quality of life and enjoy the many benefits of training Jiu Jitsu and learning self defence.

Get in touch now for your own two-week free trial.

#WeAreBristol – we all have a part to play

Bristol’s covid-19 Local Engagement Board includes representatives from the city council, public health, our NHS and social care, local businesses, trade unions, charities, the police, and faith communities. Following yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister about changes to national restrictions from next week, together with One City partners, we have issued the following statement.

COVID-19 has affected us all. The shocking arrival of this global pandemic turned our lives upside-down, and its impact on our physical and mental health, our families and friends, our employment, our education, finances and our fun has been so much deeper than we imagined possible at the outset. And it’s not over. Each and every one of us now has to consider how to manage the virus, as we learn to live with it for some time yet.

The lifting of the majority of legal restrictions in England does not mean that the risks the virus presents have gone away. This next step marks a new chapter in the government’s national response to the pandemic, a step in which we are all being asked to weigh up our vulnerabilities, set against the risks we’re prepared to take. And not just our own – we have responsibilities for others, as employers, carers, educators, parents, and citizens who care about one another.

Case numbers in Bristol are currently very high. The situation globally remains precarious. Thanks to the vaccination, fewer people are seriously ill in hospital, but many people are unwell, and many of those people are young. An increasing number of people are reporting the effects of ‘long COVID’. Our frontline NHS and health staff are still under considerable pressure and our businesses and social enterprises, are still at risk of closure. For people who have not been doubly vaccinated, the risk of contracting the virus remains high, and even for those who have been, getting ill with the virus can be a very unpleasant experience. Over the winter, we are likely to find ourselves additionally vulnerable to other illnesses such as flu.

What does this mean for us all, when we’ve had to sacrifice so much already? For some, our losses include our nearest and dearest. We’re tired, frustrated, fed up.
Now, more than ever, we need to do everything we can to look out for one another. To dig deep and find more of the empathy and compassion that so many of us have shown for one another through the last long, hard, eighteen months. We must remember that one person’s freedoms represent another’s risks.

We must, therefore, put empathy, understanding and common sense at the heart of our individual choices and collective decision-making. In the face of changes that will come with the easing of legal restrictions, we must respect one another. The behaviours we’ve adopted over the last eighteen months not only help us to protect ourselves, but also to protect other people.

We recommend wearing a face covering in indoor spaces such as on the bus or in a shop, to show your respect for others, including frontline workers. Please continue to wash your hands, give people space, open windows when you can, and choose to leave crowded places if they feel uncomfortable. Please use regular rapid tests and get your vaccinations. Please continue to isolate if asked. We must all continue to do what we can to limit the spread of the virus and look out for those around us.

Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to protect our city.

We all have a part to play. We are Bristol. And we are kind.

Three lions

Photo credit: Reuben Dangoor (Instagram)

The sad reality is that as Marcus Rashford lined his penalty up, I was thinking not only about the European title, but the potential racial backlash that might occur if he missed. My fears were somewhat eased when Italy’s second penalty taker, Belotti, missed. Rashford missed. I was concerned, but all was even.

Football has never been just a game and never been only confined to the ninety minutes on the pitch. The meaning of football cannot be understood without understanding the social and political world around it. And football is connected to the nation’s soul – all at the same time revealing, expressing and shaping it, lifting it up and pulling it down. 

The England team made their way through the Euros in this context. It’s a context that included unequal media treatment to black players, such as Raheem Sterling, and years of tumult on questions of identity, race and belonging, more recently brought to the surface through events such as Brexit, the Home Office’s hostile environment, Black Lives Matter, and the Windrush scandal. And we had the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister not merely failing to defend, but excusing the behaviour of England “fans” who booed the multi-racial England teammates as they together took the knee against racism.

As Sancho stepped up, my anxiety rose again. Two black players missing would be too much of an opportunity for the overt racists and keyboard warriors. My heart sank as Donnarumma made the save.

Of course I was feeling gutted at the prospect of not tasting the England victory that was in our grasp. But my fear of that loss began to be overtaken by my concern for the socio-political storm Rashfod, Sancho and other people of African heritage would be subject to through the racist backlash that would follow an England loss. That shift in emphasis wasn’t my choice. It was a natural fear.

Then Pickford saved. Hope! Saka steps up. Sadly my gut reaction was to wish it wasn’t him, as the stakes were so high. Remember, it’s not just the European Championship at stake. It’s the consequences of the potential backlash if three black players miss penalties following two white players scoring. Donnarumma saves and I know what’s coming next.

This is a learning moment, should we choose to take it, should we choose to hear it. The insight is just how precarious “belonging” is for people of African and Asian heritage. It can always be questioned. Sometimes the questions are overt and sometimes subtle. But we all know they are there. It makes my own belonging feel “qualified”. 

That doesn’t translate into a loss of patriotism amongst our communities. We can see that in the dedication the boys have put in to getting England to the final. But it can produce a sadness. It sends a message that there is an element of belonging in England that must be earned, maintained and then validated by people whose belonging is an unquestionable birthright.

This last point is experienced through the positive interventions of people like Gareth Southgate, Gary Neville, and Alan Shearer. They are allies and their condemnation of the overt racism is absolutely welcome. But the sad reality is it is also needed because the cover they provide carries a power that cannot be matched by people such as Ian Wright or John Barnes, simply because the white players enjoy an unquestionable birthright.   

We must be careful that the effort to comfort the victims and condemn racism does not turn into a dismissal of the potency of the voices of the racists. A “sticks and stones” level argument isn’t good enough. We have to ask honestly, as a nation, to what extent the backlash we are witnessing is the expression of a hateful culture held by a few mindless individuals, or to what extent its origins are to be found in somewhere deeper in our national soul.

At its worst, retail politics and journalism play to a market it believes is out there. On Monday, England player Tyrone Mings tweeted:

Former Conservative cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said:

Let not rush to move beyond the tension and discomfort at the price of learning something more profound about ouselves.

Support Don’t Deport

Councillor Tom Renhard

Today’s blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes and Labour Councillor for Horfield.

This marks my first blog and I am pleased to be able to focus it on such an important issue.

My background is in housing and mental health campaigning, helping to build power for some of the most disenfranchised people in our communities. Ensuring the voices of those with lived experience are enabled, heard and embedded within all that we do is vital. For that to have even a chance of happening, there needs to be trust.

24 July marks the ten-year anniversary of Bristol’s status as a City of Sanctuary, a city that’s committed to being a ‘welcoming place for all’. We’re immensely proud of this, and Bristol’s recognition as an open, inclusive, supportive, city.

It’s a mindset that is often in stark contrast to the current Government’s, which was reiterated on Tuesday. Bristol City Council voted to pass a motion that commits the Council not to follow the Home Office guidance that uses rough sleeping as reason to cancel someone’s leave to remain in the UK.

This guidance requires the Council and its partners to refer rough sleepers to the Home Office and other relevant authorities, which could result in them losing their leave to remain, and consequently being deported from the UK.

It should go without saying that myself, the Mayor, and the rest of the Labour Group found this guidance hard to stomach. Bristol is renowned as being a welcoming, progressive, city and this guidance could not be in starker contrast to that.

As well as being callous, it does nothing to help tackle homelessness in Bristol. We need people at risk of homelessness to have the trust and confidence to approach the Council and its partners for help – why would any of our migrant community do that if it puts them at risk of being deported?

We’re proud to pass this motion in favour of the #SupportDontDeport campaign which has been championed by Homeless Link. If someone calls Bristol their home, they should be able to access the same support mechanisms as UK-born citizens and not face the threat of deportation – I don’t think this should be a controversial point.

Our administration has been working to tackle homelessness by addressing the causes of homeless and we’re succeeding. We’ve overseen an 80% decrease in the level of rough sleeping, and this is no doubt in part due to the fact we’re improving access to support services, building social housing, and supporting people on low incomes.

As well as addressing the causes of homelessness, over the last years we’ve worked to improve conditions for rough sleepers. We’ve worked with Bristol churches through the One City Plan to open Winter Night Shelters, opened St Anne’s Shelter with St Mungo’s and started the Warm Winter Coats initiative.

We appreciate though that there’s always more work to be done. That’s why we’ve recently launched Bristol Street Outreach, a seven-day-a-week rough sleeping service, particularly focused on engaging with people who have been rough sleeping for a long time.

Passing this motion compliments the work we’ve been doing to tackle homelessness in Bristol, so I’m glad it had the support of some other parties.

Going forward, we’ll continue to tackle the causes of homelessness by accelerating our housebuilding programme, improving our homelessness support services, and by continuing to support the worst-off. We will also continue to speak out where we need to. This will give those who rely on us to be, or amplify their voice, the trust and confidence that we are on their side.