Today’s blog is written by Bristol Housing Festival Project Director Jez Sweetland as they start their second year of events.
When the Bristol Housing Festival was launched on the 19th October 2018 with an exhibition on Waterfront Square, Councillor Paul Smith said; “We are at the beginning of a revolution in housing design and construction.” That revolution is presented in the context of modern methods of construction (MMC) and modular housing – ways to build using new technology and engaging in our urgent need for quality, affordable and highly sustainable homes. Of course, modern methods of construction are not a panacea to the housing crisis but they have real potential to provide some of the answers and the process of innovation itself gives us an opportunity to review our processes and objectives to ensure we are working together to build the housing that the city actually needs. That’s why we are keen to look at issues such as intergenerational living and co-living – mindful that housing should also focus on the mental, emotional and physical health of the population. As a partner of the One City approach we are committed to the overarching goal that by 2050 ‘everyone in Bristol will live in a home that meets their needs within a thriving and safe community’.
These are high ideals, but to be worked out in a challenging context; the inherent complexity of housing and the urgency of the climate crisis means the need to think differently is even more pressing. Perhaps for too long we have been fed a binary diet of press cuttings suggesting ‘good housing development’, or – in the main – ‘bad housing development’. All too often the story is unhappy, either the developer is to blame for greed, or the council are to blame for incompetence. If only housing was that straightforward. We need a new narrative on housing to work together and build trust around shared objectives whilst acknowledging the realities and limitations. Modern methods of construction give us an opportunity to rethink and create those new collaborations. The Bristol Housing Festival intends to help enable the testing and learning process as that technology is deployed with an ambition of building trust between the wider public, industry and government as we all learn together.
To address the chronic housing shortages (both in social housing and in the private market), perhaps we, as the people who make up this city, also need to think more strategically. For example, should public consultations for new housing aimed at those living in the immediate locality (who will have legitimate concerns and opinions that need to be carefully considered) also be aimed at those in our city who are all too often voiceless; those that are without a home, or desperately trying to secure their first rental or purchase. We need to talk about the outcomes for all those affected, not just the ‘neighbours’, but the whole ‘village’. It’s been interesting to see the ‘YIMBY’ (Yes In My BackYard [for new housing]) campaign becoming increasingly high profile – perhaps an example of compassion and generosity to those that are without from those that have.
The experience of the last year working closely with Bristol City Council has given me great encouragement. It is heartening to see the commitment, vision and passion within the numerous teams, where officers are working hard to ‘unlock’ land for homes and to deliver great social housing, within the realities and limitations of economics and planning frameworks. Whatever your political colour, housing is and will remain a long-term priority for the city, and those officers will continue to be on the front foot. For that, I think we should all be grateful.
For the Bristol Housing Festival showcase this year we are excited to be hosting and promoting a fascinating programme of events. We are looking forward to welcoming a group of fantastic speakers and experts to Bristol alongside a host of local speakers from a variety of organisations – including some of the great stories of community led housing being pioneered in Bristol.
We will also be hosting an exhibition at the Architecture Centre from 21st October – 3rd November which will include details of projects recently approved and those planned for the not-so-distant future. Visitors will be given an insight into some of the work going on behind-the-scenes in the city and how these new housing projects are seeking to improve the lives of the people who live here.
A year on and we have been reflecting on the progress we have seen over the last year. We think it is fair to say that this ‘revolution’ is gathering pace and gaining momentum across the country and we believe that Bristol is set to be help lead on that innovation. The projects that are moving forward are attributable to the vision, talents, courage, and efforts of countless individuals and partner organisations, we have no qualms in shouting about them. Quite the opposite, we’d love you to join us in celebrating some of the highlights as we offer you an opportunity to share, celebrate and contribute to the progress that is being made by the hard work of so many.
All the details for the showcase and the series of talks are available on our website. Please do come along and celebrate with us and together we can re-imagine the future of housing.
So, a year on, a chance to pause and reflect on the progress made but also to acknowledge that we are still just at the beginning.