Author Archives: marvinjrees

Taking on the Climate Smart Cities Challenge in Bristol

If there is one thing we rise to in Bristol, it’s a challenge. As One City, we need to urgently tackle the climate and housing crises we find ourselves in. As the first city in the UK to declare a climate emergency and an ecological emergency, and as a city committed to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we are delighted to have been chosen by Nesta Challenges and UN Habitats as a Climate Smart City for focusing on finding innovative ways to deliver affordable, low carbon housing.

The aim of the challenge is for partners to support innovators in developing, testing and scaling cutting-edge solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as well as delivering a significant social impact to local people. In January, applications were sent in from cities all over the world, with only four being selected. Makindye Ssabagabo in Uganda, Botoga in Columbia and Curitiba in Brazil will be joining Bristol in the next stage. Each city’s challenge will be formally launched by Nesta and UN Habitat at a World Expo in Dubai in October 2021.

 There is a lot to do before then so the City Office, in partnership with Bristol Housing Festival, Bristol City Council, and other city stakeholders, has already started work around defining the detail of the challenge for Bristol. As a city, we will look at devising a model of housing development that brings collaboration to the forefront whilst also making it financially viable and sustainable for the future.

At the end of last week, a two-day ‘Discovery’ workshop was held to look at our specific locale, our history, our communities, the environments we have as well as other key aspects that make sure Bristol’s needs are being considered from a number of perspectives.

Following the immediate feedback from those that attended, we will now undertake wider stakeholder engagement with city partners, before a second workshop in July where the challenge brief will be finalised before the official launch of the project towards the end of the year.

The time for change is now and being part of the Climate Smart Cities Challenge, enables us to bring new ideas to the table which will help decarbonise our affordable housing, from a grassroots level, and through a One City approach.

To find out more about the Challenge go to: Climate Smart Cities Challenge — Bristol Housing Festival

Sands United Bristol FC

Today’s blog is from Sands United Bristol FC, to mark Sands Awareness Month.

How long does a football match last? 90 minutes, 120 with extra time. Think of all the things that could happen within that time – your team could reach a cup final. What about off the pitch? You could sit with friends and family and watch a film.

For some though, during the course of that football match their world will be turned upside down. Every day in the UK nearly every 2 hours a family is faced with the devastation of the death of their baby before, during or shortly after birth.

SANDS is the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support charity. It exists to support anyone affected by the death of a baby. Here in Bristol, there is a local Sands support group – Bristol Sands (Bristol.sands.org.uk) who provide that support in a variety of ways. Sadly though, men can often feel isolated and feel that there isn’t support there for them. However, in Bristol there is a unique avenue of support for any man affected by such a loss – Sands United Bristol FC.

We are a football team providing support on and off the pitch. Founded just over 2 years ago it gives men (mainly dads) an outlet for their grief. An opportunity to be around other men and share stories and support each other through tough times – either face to face or using WhatsApp. We are a part of the Bristol Sands support group and are one of 30 Sands United FC teams around the country.

Every player in the team is a part of a club that nobody wants to be a part of, but a club that has the highest cost of membership.

We’ll never know what interests our babies would’ve had as they grew up. For example, would they have been into playing sports. A couple of times a month, at training and in matches, we have a go at answering that question and we play with our babies and for our babies. Each player in the squad plays with a shirt that has very personal meaning to them. It carries their babies name or names and a squad number chosen for them.

We aren’t interested in your football ability, we aren’t interested that the last time you played football was at school (and that’s more years ago than you care to remember!!), we aren’t interested in your level of fitness either.

The football team is only interested in one thing – that you are looking for support!!

If you’ve experienced the death of a baby and are looking for support then please just search for ‘Sands United Bristol’ on any social media channel, or go to our website sandsunitedbristol.com

As one of our players once wrote ‘We play for the best worst team in football’.

We are Sands United Bristol FC

Housing rights

One of my priorities as Mayor is for more people in our city to have a stable, secure home. We’re delivering this not only by bringing forward the new homes that Bristol needs, but also through our work to stamp out illegal evictions in our city. It’s a practice that we want to see ended in Bristol.

Tenants and lodgers have legal protection against harassment and illegal eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This means that to evict a tenant from a property, landlords must follow strict procedures. If they fail to do so, they can be guilty of a criminal offence. This includes if they do not give tenants the correct notice to leave the property, or if they harass tenants to make them leave.

Despite there being a ban on evictions in place during the pandemic, it is estimated that more than 90,000 people in the UK have been threatened with homelessness, with more than half having lost their accommodation. And it is likely that the scale of illegal evictions taking place across the country is underreported.

As a Council, we are committed to working proactively with tenants and landlords to maintain tenancies, and when appropriate, to prosecute where there are cases of harassment and illegal eviction.

In order to prosecute cases of illegal evictions, the Council must consider whether it is in the public interest, and the standard of evidence must be sufficient to meet a criminal standard of proof. This is why we advise residents to write down the details of everything that happens including dates, times and what was said; to encourage your landlord to confirm anything said verbally in writing; and to try and have someone with you to give you support and be a witness.

Our Tenancy Relations Team work closely with the Police to investigate and take legal action if necessary. This work has included providing the Police with an aide memoire for officers to use if they attend incidents related to tenancy disputes, and officers from the team are engaging with the police to offer training to call handlers and officers.

We know, however, that agencies in our city have an important role to play and there is more to be done to empower tenants, advise landlords on their responsibilities, and to take enforcement action when illegal evictions occur. The council, police, letting agents and support agencies all have a role to play in ending illegal evictions in Bristol, and in pointing people to services where they can obtain legal, financial or emotional support.

That is why I am pleased that Councillor Tom Renard, our new Cabinet Member for Housing, with considerable experience in campaigning for tenants rights, is taking on this important portfolio within the council. I also welcome the work that ACORN has done to raise awareness of this issue, and the work they are undertaking through our Homes and Communities Board to raise the importance of illegal evictions with partners across our city, and to ensure those affected are properly supported.

Who we choose to remember

Today’s guest blog is from Professor Tim Cole – chair of the We Are Bristol History Commission, Professor of Social History and Director of the Brigstow Institute at the University of Bristol.

One of the many things that we’ve learnt over the last year is that monuments still matter.

Who and what is remembered (and not remembered) on the streets of our cities is very much a live question. A year on from the toppling of the Colston Statue, it feels timely to take stock.

Over the last few months, the We are Bristol History Commission have been working with staff at M Shed to create a temporary display that gives the city a chance to see the statue again alongside some of the many Black Lives Matter placards that were placed around the plinth last June.

This temporary display offers a chance to learn a little more about the history of Edward Colston and the rise and fall of the statue. But we also wanted to invite the city to participate in the ongoing conversation about the events of last June and the future of the statue and plinth.

We’d love visitors to M Shed, as well as those visiting the virtual digital exhibition, to reflect on how their thoughts and feelings have changed over the course of the last year. We are also keen to hear what they’d like the museum to do with its most infamous recent acquisition, as well as what we as a city might do with the now empty plinth. We hope it will be an exhibition that prompts questions.

For me, history is first and foremost always about asking questions of the past. That is why we have organised the History Commission around a series of questions that we ask of, and with, the city:

  1. What have we remembered?
  2. Where have we come from?
  3. What have we made?
  4. How have we lived?
  5. What have we believed?
  6. What have we fought for and fought over?

We’d love that first question to be in the thoughts and on the lips of the city this summer. While it starts by asking what we have remembered, it leads to a why question: why have we remembered some, and forgotten others? As you see the paint-covered statue on display in M Shed, you might want to ask why Colston was honoured in central Bristol in the 1890s, so many years after his death?

As you leave M Shed, keep asking those questions. What and who have we remembered on the streets and in the squares of our city? Why do you think we have chosen to remember some and forgotten others?

In June, the History Commission will be launching its ‘Bridging History’ website that will host a range of activities in which the whole city can get involved. One is an invitation to be a ‘monument detective’, to be someone who asks questions of what and who is remembered in the statues, plaques, street art and street names in Bristol, what and who is missing and what we as a city should do about it?

Symbols aren’t everything, but they still matter.

Biodiversity Day

Bristol was the first city in the UK to declare an ecological emergency, which was recently highlighted in the House of Lords by Baroness Bakewell during a debate on biodiversity.

I’m pleased to share today’s guest blog, which is from Savita Willmott, Chief Executive of the Bristol Natural History Consortium.

Savita Willmott (Photo: BNHC)

How often do you notice nature? Maybe you like visiting one of Bristol’s many parks, forests or nature reserves. Maybe you like strolling by the river, paddling in a local brook or meeting friends at the Harbourside. Whether you are in an urban area or natural space, nature and wildlife is all around us. This weekend, people across the world will be coming together to celebrate International Biodiversity Day on May 22nd, and raising awareness of all of the incredible species that together make up life on Earth.

Once you start to notice nature, you might be surprised at the variety of species here in Bristol, even in the colder months. Free apps such as iNaturalist can help you identify photos of any wildlife you find, and there are plenty of volunteering opportunities, free courses, and local organisations and societies that can help you build your knowledge and love for local species.

One thing you might notice is that many species are declining in Bristol. Some older people can remember birds that are no longer seen as often, or they remember having many more insects around. As we celebrate nature, we also need to find ways to protect it. Nature is in trouble, and Bristol was the first city to declare an ‘Ecological Emergency’ to make sure that together we can reverse the trend.

There are plenty of things that you can do. Start at home by creating places for wildlife to thrive, such as little habitats or flowers for bees to pollinate. If you have a bit more space, cut out the pesticides, leave things a bit messy, and try building small like a windowbox or bigger like a garden pond. If you go to school, work or a local community centre, there might be a way to make common spaces more welcoming for wildlife. 

If you’re not sure where to start taking action for nature, this year’s Festival of Nature is free, online, and packed full of 100 free ideas that can help you support Bristol’s nature and wildlife. Join us on our website and social media from June 5-12 and meet some of the many volunteers and organisations who are already working together on the city’s ecological emergency.

What will you do this weekend to celebrate International Biodiversity Day? Rain or shine, take a moment to ‘notice nature’, and get stuck to helping Bristol’s wildlife recover and thrive.

Our most decisive decade

Covid-19. Economic downturn. Brexit uncertainties. Demographic change and social unrest. Climate and ecological emergencies. Technological change.

The 2020s have already posed unprecedented challenges to Bristol, Britain, and beyond. Every single system that we depend on has been tested to its limit during the last year, with keyworkers and volunteers alike up against it to support and deliver for our communities.

The Resolution Foundation, Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, and the Nuffield Foundation yesterday launched The Economy 2030 Inquiry. It is welcome that Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, joins academic experts and business leaders as a commissioner. Just as Bristol’s world-leading approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and our One City Plan looks to tackle concurrent challenges at once, rather than in isolation, this Inquiry seeks to develop a comprehensive framework up to 2030.

Their initial report makes for powerful reading about the scale of challenge and opportunity we are facing, as we work to level up, not down. This new research suggests that halving the productivity gap between the UK and our European neighbours, like Germany and France, would boost household incomes by £2,500 per year.

Looking to the future, we must work to guarantee that equity, inclusivity, and sustainability underpin economic change as we move towards 2030. The decade to 2019 saw the weakest productivity growth in more than a century, with non-standard, and increasingly insecure, employment representing two-thirds of new jobs created between 2008 and 2015.

The report is also right to highlight that Westminster has cut the spending power of local councils since 2010, with the added pressure of national inaction on social care, new powers are still needed for local leaders to drive economic growth, curb rising rents, and train and re-skill workers. Further devolution, including to Bristol and the wider region, could go some way towards addressing the unusual variation in productivity across the country. The Productivity Institute is exploring how a less centralised United Kingdom could become a more productive and prosperous one, and their work can sit alongside that of The Economy 2030 Inquiry.

The end of this decade is already Bristol’s target for carbon neutrality, and a just transition as we decarbonise the city’s economy is essential. So too, working to deliver jobs and opportunities in the face of immense challenges, we need to ensure that our recovery is one that leaves nobody behind.

We have already given a pay rise to 1,900 low-paid Bristolians, through our work with unions and employers to deliver the real Living Wage. Our commitments, including the Ethical Care Charter and Construction Charter, give additional protections to workers. More widely, our One City Economic Recovery and Renewal Strategy brings together organisations from across Bristol to support sectors and communities hit hard by the pandemic, beginning to build a values-led recovery for our city.

With productivity and living standards falling while wages stagnate and inequalities rise, building back after the downturn cannot just paper over cracks that risk becoming chasms – both within our own city and society, and between the UK and other developed and rapidly developing economies. The Economy 2030 will help us identify more solutions to these big challenges of our time.

Unlock your potential with an internship in the Mayor’s office

Hi, I’m Paige. I’m a Policy Assistant to the Mayor of Bristol and former Policy Intern, and an internship in the Mayor’s Office helped me to unlock my potential and it can do the same for you!

Applications are open now and offer a unique learning opportunity which will allow you to gain amazing exposure to Bristol’s city leadership, partner organisations and the huge programme of work which is taking place in the city right now. You will learn transferrable skills around time management, stakeholder engagement and communication which will support your next step on the career ladder. Former interns have gone on to secure jobs in a variety of sectors such as the City Office, the Inclusive Growth Network and Channel 4.

We’re a friendly, hard-working team who will support you to explore your personal interests. As a south Bristol resident, my interests were widening participation initiatives and young people and this led to my involvement in some fantastic schemes such as Kickstart, the West of England Black Interns Pilot and the south Bristol Youth Zone.

The Mayor’s Office would really benefit from more diversity and youth voices so if you hold A-Level or equivalent qualifications (which don’t have to be in Politics – I studied English!) and would love the opportunity to support the Mayor in delivering their vision for Bristol, then send us your application today and unlock your potential with an internship in the Mayor’s Office.

Apply to be the Mayor’s Communications and Engagement Intern

Apply to be the Mayor’s Policy Intern

Confronting a cliff-edge in support for the Night Time Economy

Today’s blog comes from Carly Heath, our recently appointed Night Time Economy Advisor.

Our city doesn’t stop at 6pm, it comes alive. The night is where communities get together and we connect with each other outside of work. Culture has a unique power to engage and connect people of all backgrounds and abilities, presenting a rare opportunity to improve diversity and equality. This has a real-life impact on career opportunities and the cultural development of a city. The night belongs to everyone, and it’s our duty to protect it. 

The Night Time Economy (NTE) is loosely defined as businesses which operate between 6pm and 6am. It is most widely known as encompassing hospitality such as pubs, bars, restaurants, and cultural spaces, such as live music venues, nightclubs and comedy clubs. Whereas these primary businesses only trade between 6pm-6am, secondary businesses trade in the daytime but predominantly make their money at night – this may include restaurants, theatres, and cinemas. However the NTE also extends to the broad spectrum of businesses operating in auxiliary to these primary and secondary businesses, such as taxis, hotels, and the supply chain, and can be expanded to include shift workers, such as those working in health and care. 

As Bristol’s new NTE advisor, my role is to represent the needs of all these groups and businesses, some of whom have begun to reopen with the further easing of restrictions from today, others remaining shut for another month at least. It’s a mammoth undertaking but I feel honoured to have the opportunity to support an industry in which I’ve spent my whole career and to advocate for Bristol’s beautifully rich after-dark culture. I have plenty of ideas for what I want to focus on in the year ahead, but forefront of my mind is supporting businesses to recover from Covid.

Although some in the NTE have found themselves overlooked when it comes to government support over the past 14 months, the sector is crucial to our country’s economy. In 2019 the UK NTE contributed £66 billion per year to the UK economy, made up 8% of the UK’s total workforce and accounted for 1.3 million jobs. 

Since the pandemic hit in March last year, we have seen significant closures across the sector. With no meaningful opportunity to trade, many businesses in commercial properties have been unable to pay rental arrears, through no fault of their own.  

The government put in a moratorium on evictions in March 2020, but this is due to expire on June 30th. The sector is facing a cliff edge should commercial landlords request full repayment of these rental debts.  

Research recently conducted by the Night Time Industries Association showed the scale of the problem across the UK: 

  • 75% of commercial tenants will be forced to look at insolvency or restructuring if further support is not provided post the rent moratorium
  • 80% of commercial tenants are still facing unproductive discussions with their landlords
  • 72% of impacted businesses are more than six months behind on payments, including over half of nightclubs, and 32% of live music venues now 9 months in arrears

In the coming weeks, my focus will be on gathering data on the situation in Bristol and working with the council and our local MPs to influence for improved support as restrictions ease and businesses begin to open their doors again. The impact of so many businesses facing financial crisis cannot be underestimated when you consider that in Bristol alone, some 91,000 people are directly or indirectly employed by the NTE – that’s 34% of the city’s workers.  

Beyond influencing, my aims include taking practical steps to support the safe reopening of night time businesses, improving the quality of the data we have on how our city works at night and seeking ways to improve training and skills opportunities for the sector. I’m only a few weeks in and the scale of the challenge is huge, but the fact that we have this role at all is a positive step towards the NTE being properly recognised and supported for its contribution in our city.

If you’d like to get in touch about the work I’m doing, you can reach me on NTEadvisor@bristol.gov.uk.

The Queen’s Speech

The Government set out legislative priorities for the next parliamentary year, but has overlooked the needs, and voices, of cities. Their agenda has been cooked up in Westminster and doesn’t provide local leaders with the stability, investment or powers we need to resolve issues in our cities ourselves.

Overlooking the challenges we do face, the government has focused on issues we don’t experience as a priority. If they had talked with us, they would understand what we need to help manage and build our communities for the long term, instead of an approach that rolls down their priorities.

The Police & Crime Bill is an example of where the government has not engaged on the ground. It is re-introduced, and I continue to have concerns it imposes unacceptable controls on free expression and the right to peaceful protest. We will also watch proposals to introduce mandatory photo ID for those taking part in elections given legitimate concerns about the impact on our most marginalised communities. We don’t want to see citizens unable to vote for bogus reasons, especially as it disenfranchises our BAME and low-income communities.

Most frustratingly was another missed opportunity to explain the proposals for adult social care. More than ever the pandemic has demonstrated the vital role social care plays in our society providing essential support for older people and vulnerable adults. We are a compassionate and resilient city. Supporting everyone in it is part of who we are. But Bristol’s Adult Social Care budget is continually under pressure because of increased demand and care markets weakened by a decade of austerity.

We have been promised reforms for two years. The Government should provide councils with the long-term funding that will enable places to focus on ensuring all of us are supported to live a full life, whatever our circumstances. The absence of robust, predictable funding makes it impossible to properly invest in the development of progressive services and the skilled care workforce that are crucial to enable Bristolians to live independently for as long as they can, in their communities and with their families. Without a permanent funding settlement, councils will struggle to source and pay for the most basic care and support. A better future for adult social care must be one of the legacies of the last year.

It is also vital that any national policy, and particularly for planning, recognises and supports the role of cities if the UK is to recover from the economic shock of this last year.  Proposed changes set out in the Planning Bill could have a detrimental effect and risks taking powers away from local people and communities.

Evidence shows that current planning processes and permissions are not what holds back development. Bristol has achieved an ambitious programme of housing delivery through the current system. Planning reform alone won’t solve the housing crisis, or deliver the inclusive, healthy and sustainable development we want for our communities in Bristol. The factors hindering development and housing delivery are the lack of investment in infrastructure and social housing.

Residents must be part of the planning process and have the opportunity to shape plans to regenerate and improve their local areas. We need flexibility in the planning system and with the Local Plan to help us respond to the demands of the climate and ecological emergencies, evolution in technologies and the impacts of Covid. These new proposals could make it harder for local places to plan and deliver high quality developments.

As we recover from the pandemic, our priorities have always been to work with businesses and unions with the aim of protecting existing employment, building skills and pathways to work. I welcome proposals to invest in lifelong learning, supporting our local employers to be at the centre of skills provision. It will be vital this activity leads to decent jobs that pay a living wage and protects livelihoods, particularly given no further detail on an expected Employment Bill.

Ensuring children have the best start in life has been at the heart of our approach here in Bristol and ahead of seeing further detail, I welcome the focus on early years and education recovery. But we know life chances will fail to improve if deepening inequalities are not addressed. This Government continually talks of ‘levelling up’. Making sure local places have the freedoms and funding to make locally determined decisions will be essential if residents are to see a tangible improvement on their quality of life and in the opportunities available to them and their families.

Across regions, the Core Cities and the Western Gateway, we look forward to working with the Government to demonstrate how Bristol can maximise new infrastructure investment, build more homes and provide greater access to jobs and prosperity, if we’re offered the relationship to do so.

Eid Mubarak!

Today’s guest blog comes from Mohammed Elsharif, from Muslims 4 Bristol.

Our Bristol Muslim community in the past thirty days has been blessed with the holy month of Ramadan, a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and devotion to the worship of Allah, with a special focus on kindness, love and looking out for the poor, the vulnerable and the the less fortunate in our society.

The essence  of Ramadan is not only the spiritual connection but the human connection that goes beyond common religion to neighbours and fellow citizens.

The Muslim community of Bristol throughout the month has lived up to the values and spirit of Ramadan. We have reached out to the city with spiritual prayers for the end of the painful pandemic, and prayed for social and economic recovery. Acts of kindness abound, to the poor and homeless through sustainable food provision, by sharing space, and giving generously to good causes. We have also continued to volunteer to support shielding and vulnerable citizens, providing emotional support to and befriending those who are socially isolated.

The month of Ramadan is also time to be grateful for the numerous blessings in our lives: health, family, friends, and homes. We feel lucky to be part of the great city of Bristol with its beautiful diversity and coexistence.

As we celebrate Eid today we renew our commitment to the city to act and work together with our fellow Bristolians to celebrate the diversity and to encourage kindness and amend differences to build one strong and coherent society.

May Allah bless us all with health and happiness