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.

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.

Self-isolation

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.

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: https://many-minds.org/whatson/rise-up/ 

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 (olivia@many-minds.org / 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.

Bristol’s Response to Coronavirus

This morning, alongside our Director of Public Health and Civil Protection Manager, I met with city leaders as we continue working together to plan for the potential impact of coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a developing situation but we have well-established plans in place to make sure the people of Bristol are safe and looked after.

There are some key messages we wanted to share with those living and working in our city, which you can find in the video below.

For accurate information, visit the government’s dedicated web page, which includes advice from the NHS and Public Health England.

Uncomfortable Truths

Today’s guest blog comes from Will Taylor, a researcher and producer for the Uncomfortable Truths podcast.

January 2020 saw the launch of the Uncomfortable Truths project at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Uncomfortable Truths is a podcast series delivered by 14 UWE students and alumni, managed by Stacey Olika and supported by the museum’s participation and curation teams. I had the pleasure of being one of the 14 producers charged with exploring an artefact and designing a piece to capture our audiences’ imagination.

The artefact me and my co-producer, Sam Zubair, (who at the time was an Engineering Masters student) worked on was the Benin Bronze Head. My background is in the creative sector so it was great to work with someone who would be approaching the project from a different perspective.

The ‘Benin Bronze’ is a ceremonial head from Benin City. It arrived in Europe as a result of the British ‘Punitive Expedition’, in 1897, when the British destroyed a palace and looted a large amount of Beninese art and took it to Britain.

It became clear that Sam and I had polarising views about the legacy of the artefact and the project. Sam initially believing that the item should be repatriated whilst I contended that there was value in having the item exhibited here. Great start!

And it really was! Not only was a great friendship borne out of the project but a new appreciation for the Museum, our respective heritages and the truth. We realised we had been asked to explore an issue that was very dear to us whilst being given the opportunity to ‘make’ history by rewriting a section of British colonial history. The story was an uncomfortable one personally as it brought into question our agency over our culture as diaspora. This had a profound effect on our sense of citizenship as the project began to take shape. Fortunately as a result, Sam and I found ourselves devoted to the potential impact we could make in sharing this story in an engaging way. We wanted to encourage several awkward conversations on the drive home from the museum. These ‘new’ accounts of days gone past would hopefully fuel some reflection around our responsibility to totally committing to Bristol’s (and Britain’s) cultural complexity.

Upon reflection this was a real gamble by the museum and a worthy one too. Giving the community an opportunity to contribute to the presentation of a diaspora’s history is very rare. It implicitly encouraged a great deal of self-discovery for the organisation as well as the participants. We were lucky enough to commission two incredible poets and an amazing voice actor for our piece. All of whom bought into the importance of collectively contributing to a new type of historical archive and the importance of legitimising our histories so as to avoid us making the same mistakes in the future. People want to hear these stories and as a result of this project, I can’t help but feel a responsibility to continue highlighting the things that have gone unsaid. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can build on this project in the future.

Reading is Fundamental

Children across the city are celebrating World Book Day by sharing their favourite books, or dressing up as their favourite characters from books they’ve read. This morning, I joined the celebrations at Filton Avenue Primary School. At their assembly they told me about the books they’ve enjoyed reading, and I shared with them books that have particularly inspired me and that I’m currently enjoying.

The autobiographies of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X have been hugely influential, both in terms of my own politics and the ongoing relevance of the civil rights movement for the contemporary fight for racial equality. I am currently reading Michelle Obama’s Belonging, and I have been revisiting the Chronicles of Narnia by reading them with my own children.

Reading is not just good for our imagination. Access to books from an early age has a significant impact on education and social outcomes – as well as the mental health – of children and young people.

That is why, building on our status as England’s first UNESCO Learning City, we have built literacy and access to books into so many parts of city life. From ‘cloakroom libraries’ in our children’s centres and city farms, to encouraging people to volunteer to read with children in Bristol’s schools – our vision is for a city where every child reaches a good level of reading attainment by the time they begin school.

This is a challenge which is urgent. While we are making progress, only 64% of children in Bristol achieved the expected standard in Reading, Writing and Maths combined by the time they left primary school.

We all have a role to play in helping people in our city develop their literacy skills and instilling a love of reading in Bristol.  Our libraries, of course, provide books and resources for residents to learn from and to enjoy. I’m proud that in this year’s budget we have kept all Bristol’s libraries open and fit for the future. Our Library Innovation Fund will also help modernise our library service. This funding will help thirty new community projects to flourish in libraries across the city, ranging from reading groups for children, to English Language (ESOL) courses for parents.

At our City Gathering earlier this year, we invited Ablaze Bristol to address the city and establish the aim of making Bristol a Reading City. You can participate in their campaign to improve children’s literacy in Bristol by volunteering to become a Reading Buddy or by donating so they can continue to train volunteers to help children with their reading and to introduce them to new stories to capture their imagination.

This video, which was shown at the City Gathering, helps to show the lifelong effects of filling in the gaps of children’s reading skills.

Reflections on the Windrush Scandal

Today’s blog comes from Patrick Vernon OBE, Windrush campaigner and activist

At a recent public meeting at the Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls which was hosted by Mayor Marvin Rees and Deputy Mayor Cllr Asher Craig I was invited to reflect on the Windrush Scandal as we approach the second anniversary in April 2020. With the recent deportation flight, low pay out of the compensation scheme and now watering down of the forthcoming Lessons Learnt Review this still reminds us that we are still a long way off from justice and writing the wrongs of the Windrush Scandal.

We must remember: over 180,000 people signed my petition in March 2018 with the demand for an amnesty for anyone who was a minor that came to Britain between 1948 and 1973; the media stories of the victims sharing experiences of the hostile environment; and the lobbying of Caribbean diplomats and race equality and migrant charities. These all contributed to a perfect storm to force the government not only to apologise but to be publicly humiliated at an international level by causing one of the biggest human right abuses of British citizens since WW2.

The government was first in denial that it was an issue, then blamed the Windrush Generation for not sorting out their paperwork. They refused to see Caribbean government leaders and then they were forced to admit that the Immigration Act 2014 and the policy of the hostile environment had caused the scandal. Amber Rudd had no choice but to resign as she lied to Parliament, the public and especially the Windrush Generation. The government responded by introducing the Windrush Taskforce to fast track applications for citizenship; suspended deportation flights; established a Lessons Learnt review and have now launched a compensation scheme.

After nearly two years what would be our assessment of progress? Well, just over 8,000 people have had citizenship, but over 1,000 cases have been refused, mainly with minor convictions or have been told by the Home Office they are not of ‘good character’. There are many thousands of people that have still not come forward to resolve their status as there is still a lack of trust with the Home Office and public bodies who implement the hostile environment policy. We must also remember that five people have died in the UK of long term conditions linked to the stress and trauma of the hostile environment, including Jashwha Moses who came to Bristol from Jamaica aged twelve in the 1960s. He was 64 years old when died in October 2019.

One of the big issues over the last 18 months has been the use of deportation flights as a form of repatriation back to the Africa or the Caribbean. Although flights were suspended for ten months, in February 2019 the Home Office controversially resumed them, even though many people deported had spent of their adult life in the UK with strong family ties. The campaign group Movement for Justice and BME Lawyers for Justice played an important role in forcing the Home Office to reduce the numbers that eventually got deported. I was in Jamaica in March 2019 and I had the opportunity to speak to five people were deported in February. They all shared the following concerns:

  • They all have no money and are dependent on family and friends
  • All had served their sentences and were moving forward with their lives
  • Most of them had caring responsibilities as fathers and or supporting elderly parents with health problems such as dementia
  • Some of their children are not aware that they are deported and may not see them again
  • The impact of deportation is putting tremendous pressure on their partners and family members in the UK
  • All are experiencing anxiety and depression regarding leaving the UK and with high levels of anger about being deported by the British government.
  • All are fearful of their lives as they believe that with the negative media reporting of deportees for many years as criminals, they will eventually become a victim of crime. Also, the recent case of a deportee that was murdered has influenced many to be mindful of their personal safety.
  • All of them stay indoors most of the time. One person described it as being like back in prison
  • Several of them have physical health problems and one person was given six months of medication for their kidney problems. He is not sure what will happen when supplies run out.
  • They all feel they have no real future in Jamaica.

To make matters worse, not only were people deported to Jamaica without any plans for support or rehabilitation, the charity supporting deportees in Kingston, the National Organisation for Deported Migrants, had all their funding cut by the Home Office. This was brought to my attention by Oswald Dawkins from the charity when I was in Kingston. I shared my concerns with the UK High Commissioner in Jamaica, Asif Ahmed and Pernell Charles Jr the Jamaican Foreign Minister. Back in the UK I shared this news with several media outlets and BuzzFeed took on the story about the Home Office in May and successfully help to reverse the funding cuts to the charity.

However, in February 2020 the government resumed flights and 17 people were deported back to Jamaica despite many of the men having spent most of their life in Britain and having been forced from their families.  Recently on Colourful Radio I interviewed some of the detainees who avoided the flight along with campaigners and lawyers about what needs to happen next. One of the concerns is role of the Jamaican government and the lack of support to help people settled in Jamaica once they have been deported.

At the public meeting at the Malcolm X Centre a young man called Romaine Murchison explained his legal battle for staying in Britain despite having all his family in Bristol, but now being forced to report to Home Office once a week with threat that he still faces deportation.

It is important that we campaign for Romaine and other young people who are third generation Windrush that the government is trying to deport.

With regards to the Windrush Compensation Scheme which was launched in April 2019 only £63k has been paid out to 36 people out of 1,000 applications so far. I have raised many concerns regarding the administration of the scheme, and I have launched a petition on 38 Degrees which I hope MPs will use to shape the amendments of the Windrush Compensation Bill which is going through Parliament now.

At the public meeting, Mayor Marvin Rees made several pledges about what he could do to work with local government to community lobby central government around implementation and the impact of the hostile environment, Windrush Compensation Scheme and deportation flights. He wanted to share his concerns with the Jamaican government in policy around supporting deportation flights. Cllr Asher Craig as Cabinet member for Health was also going to raise with the local NHS how they are addressing the health and mental wellbeing needs of those caught up in the scandal.

We also explored what practical things that the council, voluntary sector and lawyers should do to help people to get free independent legal advice on their status as citizens and the compensation scheme.  What is clear from my experience as a campaigner and activist that people are still suffering from the scandal and that the Home Office have failed to engage effectively with grassroots organisations and the advice sector who are trusted spaces for Windrush Generation and families to complete compensation forms and clarification of citizenship status.

That is why in April 2018 I launched the Windrush Justice Fund with the Joint Council for Welfare for Immigrants (JCWI) and support from  Mayor of London and 38 Degrees to provide small grants to grassroots community groups and third sector organisations to support victims of the Windrush Scandal to access their rights under the Windrush Taskforce and compensation scheme.  We raised over £40k using GoFundMe crowdfunding platform and we have now given out two rounds of funding to grass roots organisations and the advice sector. More details here.

Finally, the Windrush Generation and their descendants have made a significant contribution to Bristol from the NHS, education, business, local government, the arts and in public life. They now need acts of kindness and support from local people and for people to lobby their local MPs and elected representatives to hold the government to account.

If you are affected by these issues there is plenty of help available in Bristol:

  • St Paul’s Advice Centre offers advice, information and casework on immigration matters, and can advise those seeking to obtain British citizenship. Further information here: https://www.stpaulsadvice.org.uk/
  • Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors is instructed in a number of Windrush judicial review cases in the High Court as well acting in compensation claims directly to the Home Office. They are also involved in challenging delays in deciding applications for confirmation of status. Further information here: https://dpglaw.co.uk/

Bristol’s Art in City Hall

I want to provide an opportunity for all our communities to be represented through art in the corridors and public spaces of the civic heart of the city, which is why today I am inviting artists to enter their artworks for the first Bristol’s Art in City Hall programme.

We’re looking for one wall-based artwork from each of Bristol’s 34 wards in order to showcase local talent and use the walls of City Hall as a platform for stories from across the city. This programme, which my office is leading in partnership with the Council’s Culture team, will be the first collective arts exhibition in City Hall. Submission is free and open to Bristol-based artists, community groups, schools or arts organisations.

This project is about ensuring that City Hall as a public building truly represents the communities it works for. By giving the people of Bristol the opportunity to showcase their creativity in City Hall I hope that they will feel greater ownership of this key civic space.

Submissions via email for the first round of selection will be accepted between Monday 2 March and Friday 27 March 2020. For more details about entry requirements and the submission form, download the documents below.

We look forward to seeing your submissions!