Author Archives: marvinjrees

Surviving winter: energy saving support from the Centre for Sustainable Energy

Today’s guest blog is from Lisa Evans from the Centre for Sustainable Energy

Everyone across Bristol has seen a huge increase in their energy bills. With the wider national cost of living crisis, more and more people are worried about turning on their heating because they simply can’t afford it.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is a charity supporting people and organisations to tackle the climate emergency and end the suffering caused by cold homes. Every day, CSE energy advisors speak to Bristol people struggling with energy bills or expensive heating systems, or in cold and draughty homes.

It’s estimated around 6.5 million households in the UK are in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is when people must spend a high proportion of their income to keep their home warm. Expensive energy tariffs and low incomes mean people can’t afford to keep warm. In 2020, government stats found around 14% of households across Bristol were in fuel poverty but this number will be much higher now, in line with national trends.

Huge demand for energy saving advice and debt support

CSE is experiencing a fourfold demand for our services. As well as a growth in demand, there’s also been a big shift in the type of advice we are giving. We are speaking to many people whose mental health is suffering. Callers are increasingly having to make tough choices about essentials like energy, food and clothes.

Working together across the city

The CSE energy advice website is a great place to start if you need energy advice or support.

We offer a Tenants Advice (TEA) service for Bristol City Council social housing tenants and Warm Homes and Money (WHAM), our fuel poverty partnership single point of contact service.

CSE’s freephone telephone advice service supports tens of thousands of people every year. But the charity does not have funding to cover the costs of increased demand. CSE has subsidised the service using its charitable reserves for the last five years but is no longer able to sustain this. Please support our Share the Warmth Appeal.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy Office, four men working on their computers.

How to save energy in your community building

If you run, lease or own a community building you’re probably thinking about the rising cost of energy bills and how this is going to impact how your building is used. We’ve got some energy saving tips for this here.

How you can lower your energy bills this winter

Read your meter:

Keep on top of your energy meter readings and pass them on to your fuel supplier. This will make sure you only pay for what you use, and not paying an estimation. Find out how to do this here.

Save money by using your heating controls properly:


Decent central heating controls can help you heat your home efficiently and makes sure you don’t waste money or heat. Find out how to do this here or watch these videos. If you have night storage heaters, here is some information on how to use them well.

Avoid leaking heat:

In poorly built homes heat can leak through walls, windows, roofs and doors, which wastes energy and money. Insulating your whole house can be costly, but it can save money in the long run. You can install some low-cost measures yourself, such as draughtproofing to stop warm air escaping or fitting low-cost secondary glazing if double glazing is too costly or you’re not allowed to install it in your home.

The Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts Project is a Bristol-based not-for-profit Community Interest Company that carries out surveys to see where your home is losing heat. Surveys start at £135 but are free to people who live in buildings that lose a lot of heat or can’t afford to heat their homes.

Should I turn off the heating to save money?

We don’t advise anyone to turn off their heating because this could cause complications with health conditions or lead to damp and mould. Keep your heating between 18-21°. Around 8,500 people die every year due to cold homes and this number is sadly expected to rise this winter. You can find out more about cold homes and health here.

What else could I be doing to save energy?

Activities like washing clothes, dishwashing, showers and cooking all add up. Taking steps to reduce the frequency or time spent doing these will help save money. You can find out how much energy typical appliances use here.

Look out for green deals. The Bright Green Homes scheme allows eligible households to receive up to £25,000 of funding to install a range of energy saving technologies through the government’s Home Upgrade Grant. This could range from loft and cavity wall insulation to solar panels and air source heat pumps. Find out about eligibility.

I’m in debt with my energy supplier
Don’t ignore the bills, they won’t go away. We advise people to engage with their supplier and pay what you can. All suppliers have an obligation to help their customers.

You ca also visit Bristol City Council’s money advice page or cost of living support webpage for more information on managing money, benefits and support available. Finally, you should take a look at the budgeting tool on the Citizens Advice website.

Creating the conditions for real health: the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector in Bristol

Rebecca Mear, CEO of Voscur, smiling looking at the camera.
Today’s guest blog is from Rebecca Mear, CEO of Voscur

What is health? Is it only the “absence of illness or injury”? Or is it – as the World Health Organisation recommends – “‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

However, you choose to define it, what we do know is that there is a wide range of social factors that determine whether you will experience good health. These factors include where you are born and where you live, what you do for work, and the structures around you that create “inequities of power, money and resources”.[1] Essentially, your health – and therefore your life expectancy – has very little to do with the services you receive in a hospital or GP surgery, and everything to do with the opportunities you have access to within your life and personal circumstances.

Bristol is a city full of contradictions, and one that is most stark is the differing experiences between those who are born and live in certain, more affluent areas compared to other areas where people face poverty and disadvantage.

The term ‘Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector (or VCSE sector) is used to describe a hugely diverse range of groups and organisations, some of which are crewed entirely by volunteers and some of which turn over millions of pounds a year – and every shape and size of organisation in-between. What they have in common is that they all aim to make life better in some way for people or communities.

A photo from the launch of Voscur's publication The Power of Community, a women is speaking on the stage. a man and women sit in the background.
Launch of Voscur’s publication The Power of Community

Much of the VCSE sector focuses on working with people who experience disadvantage, barriers or inequality in some form. The VCSE sector encompasses the people who are there, day in day out, year in year out, in the community centres or social spaces, bringing people together, listening to them, providing advice or support, referring people into other services to get the help they need, and following up with them. It also includes the people running activities that keep people active or give them social contact that they wouldn’t otherwise have, or the chance to learn skills or work towards employment or volunteering. These VCSE organisations offer people on the ground long-term social relationships – the funding for one project may have ended, but you can still interact with the people in that organisation, and they will still care if you are facing difficulties, and find ways to support, empower and enable you. In short, the VCSE sector is the place where real health – not health and social care services, but the conditions for a fulfilled, happy life within a neighbourhood or community where interactions happen – is made to happen.

However, it has historically been really hard for the VCSE sector to demonstrate the role it plays in improving our lives. A huge amount of organisations and groups deliver activities or services that are, essentially, preventative: the group that brings young people together regularly and in doing so prevents mental health issues being exacerbated for those young people; the English language skills programme for refugees and migrants that prevents long-term unemployment; the befriending service for older people that prevents them feeling isolated and experiencing a quicker decline in their physical health. Yet the VCSE sector has always struggled to demonstrate the long-term preventative nature of its work within an analytical framework that calls for metric-driven quick wins. The impact is over a long time period – one that requires a much longer presence and commitment than election cycles at either local or national level, and this creates a disconnect between the VCSE sector and its potential partners in the public sector.

A photo from the launch of Voscur's publication The Power of Community. In the foreground people sit on tables, in the background a man speaks on stage.
Launch of Voscur’s publication The Power of Community

Imagine a scenario where the public sector was not under pressure – again at both national and local levels – to be seen to be investing in the ‘crisis’ services such as hospitals or social care. Imagine what would happen if some of the resources at the disposal of the public sector were invested in the community-based organisations that are leading on a range of innovative services or activities that allow for both innovation and a real commitment to the people within that community to be entwined together.

There are so many solutions to problems already being delivered by the VCSE sector for communities of both interest and place across Bristol: redistributing resources away from the “burning platforms that suck in oxygen[2]” of ‘crisis’ services into the activity that will prevent people’s lives descending into those crises, could make an incredible, life-defining difference for many. To do this would take a lot of courage; public sector organisations would need to be prepared to explain to the public why the latest drug or gadget hasn’t been invested in over – for example – a community-led service that doesn’t look glamourous or in any way connected to our traditional concept of “health and social care services.” It would also take courage to invest in achieving those longer-term outcomes, many of which will not be realised in the lifecycle of that current administration or management, and many of which cannot be easily measured.

However, Bristol is a place of innovation, and we have an excellent set of foundations to take forward this type of partnership working. The abject set of challenges that the public sector – most notably Local Authorities – is facing in terms of extreme budget cuts mean that we simply have to start trying something different. The VCSE sector cannot pull rabbits out of hats; it will need investment: but it can make money go so much further by focusing on the services that have a long-term, deep – and yes, sometimes unquantifiable – preventative effect. We invite the people and communities who are already there on the ground to tell us what the radical reimagining we propose here would look like for them, and we invite our partner organisations in Bristol and nearby to work with us to make this happen.

A photo of two people chatting at the launch of Voscur's publication The Power of Community.
Launch of Voscur’s publication The Power of Community

[1] Health Equity in England: The Marmot Repot Ten Years On

[2] Greg Fell, Keynote speaker, NAVCA conference November 2022

Small Business Saturday

Councillor Craig Cheney, smiling, with trees in the background.
Today guest blog is from Craig Cheney, cabinet member with responsibility for City Economy, Finance & Performance

Businesses across Bristol were hit hard because of the pandemic, and they continue to face tough economic conditions with the national cost of living crisis. It has been encouraging to see footfall figures beginning to recover across many areas of our city, and we continue to do what we can to support the self-employed, independents, and small businesses to help them continue to recover and bounce back.

Small Business Saturday takes place today, Saturday 3 December. Now in its tenth year, the national event provides a great opportunity to further support Bristol’s businesses, who are a vibrant and key part of our city, by shopping local and shopping small. Businesses can promote themselves by hosting events and offering discounts. Information and a free marketing pack are available on the Small Business Saturday website. Shoppers can click on the Small Business Finder to search for local businesses taking part.

We have seen great success through our culture and events programme. We are working hard to deliver a programme of events through to September 2023 to bring more people into our city centre and our high streets, including the return of the Bristol Light Festival from 3 to 12 February 2023. Recent events include the lantern parade Bump in the Night, Overstory in Broadmead, Luminarium on College Green, and Little Amal walking through Old City and King Street. All of these events have successfully brought people into the area and supported businesses. We have regular, ongoing events including a number of new markets like the Better Sundays at Broadmead Market and St Nick’s Night Market is due to return again in Spring next year.

The Vacant Commercial Property Grant offers up to £10,000 of funding to help small or expanding businesses to start trading from a city centre or local high street property. Open until 31 March 2023, the scheme intends to support local businesses to open new premises and trade with confidence. Funding can be used for structural works to a property or equipment to be used in the property (capital expenditure). The funding is open to businesses, charities, community interest companies, sole traders, and arts and culture groups for both long term and temporary/meanwhile use. Visit www.bristol.gov.uk/vcpg to find out more and to see some of the organisations who have received this funding so far.

Mayor Marvin Rees, smiling in front of a large mural reading Love Local.

Our Where’s It To? campaign continues to support independents across Bristol, inviting people to explore and get to know some of their local traders. Over a twelve month period we visited our city centre and all 46 high streets across Bristol. The site now has over 400 businesses listed and continues to grow with businesses being added and promoted through the council’s social channels, including at Shop Local Bristol on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  If you run an independent business in the city centre or one of Bristol’s 46 high streets and would like your business profile added onto the Where’s It To? website, drop the team an email to arrange a visit: business@bristol.gov.uk

We are also committed to making Bristol a Living Wage City. Our aim is to significantly increase the number of employers voluntarily paying the real Living Wage, making sure their employees are earning a wage they can live on.

Paying the real Living Wage can benefit your business by enhancing its reputation and by improving the commitment and motivation and recruitment and retention of your staff.  Visit the Living Wage Foundation website to find out more about the Living Wage accreditation, or contact: livingwage@bristol.gov.uk

Bristol is in it together

Today’s blog is by Jeff Mitchell, Founder
of Clean Slate Training and Employment

Many Bristol residents on low incomes are worrying about how they will get through the cost of living crisis. As a result, they are starting to think about finding new work, better paid work or even extra work.

The cost of living crisis, and the pandemic, brought truth to the phrase ‘in it together’. Clean Slate has been helping Bristolians on low incomes become more financially stable since 2006. We help people find ways to stretch a limited budget, find new work or better work and get online.

Quids in!, our money skills programme, includes an easy-read magazine, guides, emails and web tools. Our service users and readers are disproportionately affected by the national cost of living crisis, more so than affluent residents in the city.

In 2018, our reader survey found 48 per cent of working age people who are not in full-time employment were skipping meals on account of troubles with money. 51 per cent were turning off their heating despite being cold. 68 per cent felt frightened, anxious or depressed. This was before the pandemic, before the war in Ukraine and before the cost of living crisis. Working class people are suffering even more now than before.

In October, we launched our #ThinkBiggerThanBills campaign. We called on people struggling with bills to look at more than just cutting back. At least £15 billion of benefits are unclaimed, so we should all start by checking if there’s anything more we’re entitled to, you can do this by using our benefits calculator. People who are not online could be hundreds of pounds better off by ‘going digital’ because they’re able to shop around, find advice and access support. Finally, using our money health-check could also unlock massive savings as it uncovers the tips no-one else is telling us.

During the pandemic, Clean Slate helped over 2,000 people save roughly an average £1,000 by taking a simple money health-check. Now we’re able to offer it face-to-face from locations across the city as well as by phone. Anyone on a low income who is worried about bills can get in touch (Contact us here). Unemployed people will be put to the front of our queue.

People often just want to regain control of their finances. Throughout lockdown, people on our six-week support programme found they could start turning things around. The future seemed brighter, and they asked if we could help them find work.

There are now more available jobs than unemployed people. With the current cost of living crisis, for those who are able to work, it might now be the right time. Not everyone is ready for formal support or training, which is why Bristol’s One Front Door is so important. Every kind of jobhunting support is listed in one place. It takes a ‘horses for courses’ approach… even for horses who don’t like courses!

Clean Slate is one programme on offer and jobseekers can find out about our 7 Signs events. Here people explore their skills that could be on offer to employers, building their confidence. Attendees devise ways to present their skills in CVs that are unique and motivating. They practice personal statements, giving them a helping hand in interviews.

Our Elements scheme is for people who have experienced hardship. We are recruiting people whose life experience is more valuable to us than formal training. They are central Clean Slate’s cause.

We are recruiting people whose life experience is more valuable to us than formal training. Have you been on benefits? Are you struggling with money? Have you been unemployed for a while? We will provide training and a 12-week paid work placement as a Peer Worker. By the end, you’ll be able to be able to apply for a support worker role with us or another employer. We also have paid placements for people wanting to help older people and those who need support. Together, we can step up.

Clean Slate is at the frontline of the current cost of living crisis and Bristol needs you! We are part of a wider, joint effort across all kinds of support, advice, health, housing and financial services.

Bristol’s ‘One City’ approach to the cost of living crisis showcases that we really are all in it together.

For further cost of living support visit the Bristol City Council website or call the We Are Bristol helpline on 0800 694 0184, Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm.

Save Soil

Save Soil Bristol branch smiling in front of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Today’s guest blog is from Sumita Hutchison, Krishnapriya C.R, and Chitra Merchant, all of whom are volunteers for Save Soil movement.

Soil is dying. Across the world, 52% of agricultural soil is already degraded. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says we may have only 60 years of agriculture left if soil degradation continues. A global food crisis would become inevitable as a consequence.

Save Soil is a global response to this crisis. This is, first and foremost, a people’s movement which aims to inspire at least 4 billion people (60% of the world’s population) to support long-term changes to national governments policies to revitalise soil.

Cycle for soul leaflet. The picture shows four cyclists names Marcello, Dorka Oscar, and Kit. Below is a brown and green background with a map of the UK. Text reads Day 1 Edinburgh - Glasgow - Follow #CycleForSoil

World Soil Day is on Monday, 5 December, and we are marking it in a big way in Bristol.

To inspire the people of Bristol, we are hosting an uplifting Save Soil Winter Fair to learn about soil with speakers, music and art on Saturday, 3 December at the Create Centre. It’s all free: the food, the parking, the workshops, to make it accessible and inclusive to all. Everyone is welcome.

It’s part of our national cycle for soil. Our cyclists are cycling 900 miles in major cities in the UK to highlight the vital nature of soil. We will greet them in Bristol at Saturday’s event.

Why soil when there are other pressing issues? 

95% of our food comes from soil and we are losing one acre of soil every second! With the world’s population growing so rapidly, we will soon be facing a food crisis unless we act now. 

Soil is the world’s third largest carbon sink and is at the heart of food systems, global biodiversity and climate change. Soil has other significance acting as drought and flood resistant sponges. 

So, the solutions for many of the issues we are facing today; climate emergency, ecological emergency, flooding and droughts and food security are found in soils. 

Who are we in Bristol? 

The Save Soil Bristol group stand together smiling, they are wearing green jumpers and have a poster reading Save Soil.

We are the people of Bristol who have been inspired to take action. We’re students, a retired teacher, engineers, an artist, a doctor, a lawyer, a postman and so on. We have pulled together to raise awareness and make stuff happen.

We are part of a global movement that has been described as the world’s largest People’s movement. The movement is supported by people and organisations from around the world. 

  • United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO)
  • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
  • World Food Programme (WFP)
  • United Nations Environment Programme, Faith for Earth Initiative
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • The International “4 per 1000” Initiative
  • The Vatican
  • Muslim World League

Find out more about our global organisation from this video:

Why are we doing this? 

We have been directly working on creating healthy soils for 30 years and our environmental projects have been recognised globally. Guyana have pledged 100 km² to the implementation of save soil policy. 11 Caricom countries and 56 Commonwealth countries are adopting these measures. 

Because of the urgency we need to change at a national governmental level, with an enabling policy environment that supports farmers to implement sustainable land management practices to achieve food security, climate resilience, and carbon sequestration. But governments and policy makers will only change if we ask them to. Which is why we are trying to raise awareness with as many people as possible. Hence the dance, the mural, and the fair. 

A mural for Save Soil, hands clasped together holding soil. patterns surround the centre of the mural. Text reads Join the movement, #SAVESOIL, 90% of Soil degraded by 2050, SaveSoil.ORG.

How can you join us?

Please Join us on the 3 December with your friends and family! Please also share the event: Save Soil Winter Fair Tickets, Sat 3 Dec 2022 at 13:00 | Eventbrite

Talk about the importance of soil with as many people as possible. Online please use the hashtag #SaveSoil #ConsciousPlanet 

Go to https://consciousplanet.org/ to find out more and get involved.

Building Bristol – our vision for growing construction skills and employment

Councillor Asher Craig and Tom Renhard, smile in a group of Building Bristol employees.
Today’s blog is from Councillors Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Children’s Services, Education and Equalities and Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes – seen on the far left and centre of the picture

Bristol’s construction industry is booming, cranes are on the horizon. We are responding to the growing needs of our city, enabling new developments, offering much needed accommodation, health facilities, hospitality sites, education facilities, and workspaces. Our planning department reviews and approves over 100 major applications a year.

Without a doubt, we need the homes, schools, hotels, entertainment, and health facilities. But it is not just the finished product that matters. What our city also needs is skills development, training, and employment opportunities and we recognise that local developments and their associated construction projects can offer these opportunities. That is why we are now requiring that all major planning applications include an Employment and Skills Plan (ESP) for the construction phase and, where appropriate, the end use phase. While this might seem like an unnecessary extra step, there is huge value in these requirements. And contractors and developers are not on their own to meet the obligations. We have launched Building Bristol, a support service for the industry to guide developers and contractors every step of the way, helping put together and evaluate the ESPs.

Why the change, some might ask. We recognise that there are many opportunities presented by construction developments in our city during the build and the end user phase. These opportunities can greatly improve local employment, training and skills offers and, therefore, it is important that all of those involved in shaping our city play their part in maximising such employment opportunities for local people. Through Building Bristol, we can also connect applicants and developers with a wide range of services to help meet the agreed targets. All this means that there are huge benefits for our city’s workforce.

A Building Bristol employee smiles with a window behind him. His hat has the Building Bristol logo.

And vitally, we want to make sure the changed requirements are of benefit to the construction trade too. We have recently appointed John Boughton, Regional Managing Director for Wales and the South West of Bouygues UK, as the Chair of Building Bristol Board. John’s expertise, as the lead of the board’s key partners which include business, education, training, employment support, voluntary sector, trade unions and construction support, will help us make sure that we are further helping the construction industry.

So what does it mean in practice? Our Building Bristol Coordinator is on hand to support contractors, developers and end employers with developing their Employment and Skills Plans and delivering their agreed targets. By working with all major developments, there are also opportunities for shared events and campaigns to boost local recruitment.

In our city, construction is a career choice for plenty of young people already. We run our own On Site construction apprenticeship scheme which supports innovative apprenticeship and work-based learning programmes. We are proud to say over the last 25 years the programme has been running, it has delivered 2,500 apprenticeships. In Bristol, there is also our new £9 million state-of-the-art City of Bristol College Advanced Construction Skills Centre for students aspiring to a career in construction, which we helped secure the funding for. But we would like to go further. Building Bristol aspires to change the perception of careers in construction, to open up more opportunities for young people, women and those with barriers to employment, and to help close the skills shortage within the construction industry. We hope the scheme will complement the work we are already doing and further aid us in making construction a more attractive and attainable career for people in Bristol.

Two Building Bristol employees wearing High visibility jackets look out the window. The Building Bristol logo sits on their backs.

Our commitment to support the construction industry is continuous.  Previously, we had signed a Unite Construction Charter committing to working with Unite in order to achieve the highest standards in respect of direct employment status, health & safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of appropriate nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment.

The launch of Building Bristol isn’t the first time we have strived for local people to experience the wider benefit from new construction developments. For example, Goram Homes in partnership with Bristol City Council, will be launching a Skills Academy for its One Lockleaze development in the early part of next year, an innovative training programme designed to create opportunities for local people to gain work experience and vocational qualifications.

This is just the start of the process, and we’ll be sharing stories of partners and their experience with Building Bristol.  For now, more information about the service is available here: Building Bristol

Bristol’s new City Poet: Welcome to the new normal

Since 2016, our City Poets, appointed in partnership with Bristol Ideas, have helped to capture the spirit and soul of our city. They provide key insights into contemporary events and feelings, celebrating and challenging in equal measure. Our Poets’ words are a lens through which we can view ourselves and Bristol.

I was delighted to announce in July that Kat Lyons would be our new City Poet for 2022-24. Kat is a writer, performer, and workshop facilitator in spoken word poetry and performance storytelling. They use poetry to interrogate ideas, generate positive social change, and strengthen people’s connections to the world and each other. Their poetry has been featured in Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears, and Bath Magg, and their debut poetry collection, Love Beneath the Nails, was published this year by Verve Poetry Press.

Last month, Kat shared their first official commission at Bristol’s Commission, performing ‘Welcome to the New Normal’ at my annual State of the City address. This inaugural poem heralds the return to ‘normal’ after the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a powerful and evocative poem showing Bristol’s communities still finding their feet and pushing the limits of what the city has to offer. Among the revival and celebration though, the poem highlights those who haven’t ‘bounced back’ – those suffering the physical and mental after-effects of the pandemic or who are struggling to stay afloat amid the national cost of living crisis.  This telling of the fullness of our city’s story gives me every confidence that Kat will build on the strong foundations built by their predecessors: Caleb Parkin, Vanessa Kisuule, and Miles Chambers

Read and watch Kat’s poem below.

Bristol's new City Poet, Kat Lyons, stands at a wooden lectern.

Welcome to the new normal

Bristol is dressed for business. Poses for tourists

with pastel paintwork, a flattering angle

the fixed grin of bunting.

We remember its bare face, sat with it

till shuttered streets gasped open.

Now we shoulder through rush-hours, hoard the gold

of our free-time, plant bare legs in every scrap of green

water the dirt with spilled laughter.

Here in the new normal we have been released and now

we’re going out-out

with bodies dissolving in heat-haze and soundclash,

with full-spectrum kinship of Queer teens and drag queens,

with Aunties and elders keeping Carnival simmering

and bringing it back a yard.

We press our hips to the bassline, fold

three years of fun into a six-month suitcase.

Summer bulges at the seams but

we will sit on the lid, we will break

the hinges to make it fit.

Here in the new normal we still clap on Tuesdays

or Thursdays or Saturdays or any day

a show ends now. Music plays

lights come up-

let’s have a round of applause!

We’ve ‘bounced back’. Listen to the sound

as we ricochet. Please ignore

the dents in the walls, the gaps in the crowds.

We are back in the office and our handshakes

are firm again. We are back in school, minnows learning

to shoal again.

And we are at home

and it was never just flu

and we never quite got over it.

We wear our isolation like a sodden overcoat

too heavy to unbutton on our own.

Here in the new normal we walk back from the shops past tents

mushrooming under bushes, on scrubland, in parks.

We try not to stare, wonder

whose aspirations lie covered by leafmould

at the slipperiness of the path

at how easy it is to fall.

And either we’re getting stronger

or the shopping bags are lighter every week.

Here in the new normal

we are up to our necks

and we have tightened our belts

and we have pulled ourselves together

and we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.

We hold up our bowls and ask for more

than cliches. The electricity meter is hungry but so are the kids

and there are no calories in a media-friendly soundbite.

We put another jumper on, stuff fear

deep in our pockets. We have learned

we pivot faster than governments can spin. We turn

to our neighbours, turn ideas into actions

libraries into warm havens.

We gather in backrooms and pack bread and beans and nappies.

We gather in community gardens and grow

kale and courgettes

callaloo and choki

grip a donated spade and dig

a little clearing in dementia’s brambled ground.

We gather in Easton. Sit cross-legged in the street

the taste of prayer sweeter than fruit on our tongues.

Tablecloths bloom on the tarmac

as the sun sets again

as we give thanks again

as we pile strangers’ plates high again

as the dusk wraps a blanket around us all.

We tell our children bedtime stories

in more than 90 languages, sing

in a choir of almost half a million voices.

In this electric city, the static charge of life

touching life touching life

touching

life illuminates our steps. We walk on through the new normal

in the knowledge that we rise and fall

on each other’s breath.

All aboard Bristol’s Underground

Building on the success of securing £424 million for clean energy through City Leap, creating another 1,000 new jobs, I’m at COP27 this week banging the drum for Bristol again. It’s only by engaging internationally that we can continue to unlock the transformational investment that Bristol needs. That’s how we can build the modern infrastructure that Bristolians deserve.

As we continue to make the case for a low-carbon mass transit system, and move towards a West of England Combined Authority consultation, I’m sharing the first two initial studies in full.

The first report is by CH2M and Steer Davies Gleave. The second, by Jacobs and Steer, is an early phase options report.

Mayor Marvin Rees (right) stands at a lectern. Bright lights can be seen in the darkened hall.

I previously shared the executive summaries in an earlier blog, and said in my State of the City Address last month:

“We have continued the work to build a mass transit system that will transform the way we move around the city region. The economic and geological assessment work has been done. We are about to commit a further £15 million with our neighbours to take this work to the next stage.

“Overground and underground networks are fast, efficient, low carbon transport systems. They are essential for a modern, crowded city. Bristolians have waited long enough.

“There cannot be any U-turns, no shying away from the challenge of delivery for those who come next, be they Bristol councillors or the combined authority.

“We know what needs to happen. It’s now there for you to complete it.”

These two expert studies are clear as day. A mass transit, with underground elements, is deliverable for Bristol.

That’s not to say that there won’t be challenges. There are for every major project that’s ever been delivered.

We cannot turn back the clocks to the decades of non-delivery. Bristol’s first new train station is due to open this year at Portway, with more on the way. And we’ve secured £95 million to upgrade Temple Meads and unlock Temple Quarter.

The negative voices we hear at full council must be contradicted. It was even suggested in the chamber this week that cities like Paris don’t need mass transit because everyone can just cycle everywhere. Bonne chance! Parisians have the space for more choice of infrastructure above ground, precisely because they have sixteen metro lines with over 300 stations, as well as the five RER lines and eight lines of Trainsilien trains.

I invite everyone to read these studies. There can then be no excuse for continuing to talk down our city and its ambitions. With the work already done and the next phase in progress, there can be no excuse for failure.

Building a better Bristol

Bristol is a rapidly growing city. One of the fastest growing areas in England and Wales, our population has grown by 10% in the last decade. We need to work together to make sure that Bristol grows well, with local communities benefiting from the change happening on their doorstep. Regeneration will bring city-wide benefits so that everyone can thrive.

To ensure these changes are as positive as possible, we have a vision to create vibrant communities with sustainable, inclusive economic growth. Quality affordable homes and job opportunities will be in locations where we can have reliable, frequent public transport connections and be within walking and cycling routes.

As I shared at last month’s State of the City Address, we are elected to shape the city and the outcomes we want for it. The changes coming for Bristol cannot be left to the chances of a developer aligning with an out-of-date Local Plan and a quasi-judicial process. So, we work to push the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, affordability targets, mixed tenures, modern methods of construction, and active frontages. We want to make sure the changes happen as coherently as possible. It’s essential we work in partnership with landowners, developers, and local communities, to create development frameworks which will set out the principles that will guide and inform how change will take place in an area.  

A map of Bristol with highlighted areas showing regeneration projects across the city. Western Harbour is highlighted pink, Bedminster Green is highlighted green, Southmead is blue, City Centre is purple, Whitehouse Street is deep blue, Frome Gateway is orange and Temple Quarter is red.

Bristol’s transformation is already in progress. Our regeneration programme stretches from Bedminster to Temple Meads, St Judes’s to Broadmead, and includes Western Harbour, Hengrove, and Southmead. This can seem overwhelming, especially after decades of under-delivery by the Council, but we have to recognise the changes are a key part of delivering much needed housing, transport infrastructure, and low carbon energy systems. We have to work with existing communities to manage Bristol’s inevitable growth and plan for it.

We need to deliver thousands of new homes by 2036 to match continuing population growth. We also need to invest in transport networks and infrastructure so people can work and learn. We all need to have access to green spaces, and community spaces. What’s more, we need to do this in a way that will help us be a carbon neutral and climate resilient city by 2030 while also improving wildlife and ecology. We have ambitious plans to support these goals.

We’re developing the District Heat Network, connecting energy users across Bristol to a ready supply of affordable, low-carbon heating. The District Heat Network includes the installation of new energy centres at Whitehouse Street, Frome Gateway, and the City Centre. Our Heat Hierarchy will be adopted by every developer when new housing projects are confirmed, energy efficient homes will make residents use of heat more efficient, lowering the cost.

The rivers Frome, Avon, and Malago run through some of the regeneration areas, but in many parts the Frome and Malago are hidden or unloved. Working alongside developers and landowners we have the opportunity to recover and restore these precious habitats. In Bedminster Green, the River Malago will be ‘daylighted’, uncovered from underground tunnels and its natural features restored. Restoring the river brings great benefits; improved flood resilience and biodiversity throughout the river’s course and new green public spaces for people to enjoy. 

We’re focusing on keeping the roots and history of Bedminster and making sure the heritage of industrial space works in harmony with the need for housing, jobs, and our response to the climate emergency to create a modern, thriving neighbourhood. 

We are creating new communities and revitalising Hengrove, with 1,435 new homes being built at Hengrove Park, 50% of these will be affordable. This means more homes for households who cannot afford to pay market rents or buy homes at market value.

To revitalise the local economy and help businesses on East Street, we are making sure that 5,000 residents in new housing in Bedminster Green and Whitehouse Street have easy access to shops with new walking, cycling and public transport routes. A few minutes more travelling will bring residents to the city centre and beyond.

We’re to create a network of low-carbon transport routes, which will make car-free travel in Bedminster and the surrounding areas easier and excellent public transport links connecting people to Temple Quarter. In June, we secured £95 million to kickstart its first phase of delivery around Temple Meads station. 

Our ambition for the Frome Gateway area, located in St Jude’s to the east of the city centre, is for an exemplar neighbourhood. We want it to be recognised for its unique identity, ability to support healthy sustainable communities, and high-quality and sustainable design. Regeneration there, as across Bristol, must include our commitment to retaining a range of employment to help ensure a diverse and growing economy. 

We know the community is strong and but also faces some of the highest levels of socio-economic deprivation in the city. Regeneration will need to provide meaningful opportunities to improve quality of life for the local community and access to opportunity. St Jude’s is also more vulnerable than other parts of the city to flood risk and heat wave caused by climate change and responding to this is a key priority. Our Bristol Avon Flood Strategy, in cooperation with the Environment Agency and developers, will deliver flood defences that work for Bristol: better protecting homes and businesses near our city’s rivers.

Change at Frome Gateway is not driven solely by Bristol City Council. We have to work with the network of landowners, existing businesses, community groups and cultural facilities. We’ve also partnered with South Gloucestershire Council, Wessex Water, and the Environment Agency secure funding to deliver the River Frome restoration project. 

In a similar way, the Council’s city centre team is working with businesses and other stakeholder groups to revitalise the city centre through the City Centre Development and Delivery Plan’. They told us what was important to them now and in the future looking at the centre’s character, economy, housing, movement, streets, parks, green spaces, and climate change, and our design proposals will focus on this guided by the ‘Citizens Brief’.

By planning and co-ordinating development we’ll able to think strategically about how a city impacted by the pandemic can recover and thrive with a modern, vibrant, commercial centre everyone can access.

Bristol will always be changing and growing in different ways, and we have to adapt and seize the opportunities this will bring us. By having a clear vision of the future we want, with sustainable and inclusive growth at its heart, we can build it together.

Want to know more?

Details about all the regeneration projects can be found on their websites.  

All our regeneration work is in service of the Bristol Local Plan, which Cllr Nicola Beech, who has responsibility for Strategic Planning, Resilience and Floods, talked about recently

We will soon be asking what people think of draft Whitehouse Street framework when the consultation opens on 17th November.

If you would like to help us shape these projects, or receive regular updates on project developments and engagement opportunities, please take a look at the websites and sign up to our mailing lists: 

Bedminster Green

Whitehouse Street

Frome Gateway

City Centre

Temple Quarter

Western Harbour

Southmead 

Installing further fire safety measures

Councillor Tom Renhard stands with College Green behind him
This guest blog is by Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes.

Ensuring fire safety at all of our 62 high-rise tower blocks is a crucial responsibility. This is why we have invested £2.5 million every year to make fire safety improvements to our blocks. As new risks have come to light we have had to take an urgent decision in consultation with Avon Fire and Rescue Service to introduce further measures.

Fire safety has been especially high profile since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, and we carried out numerous checks and reviews of our blocks to be sure they didn’t have the same cladding and were safe. We made sure to install fire breaks, improve compartmentation and replace fire doors in many locations. These improvements have helped on the occasions that they’ve been needed, to prevent the spread of a fire from one flat to another. At the fire at Twinnell House on 24th September, we saw the importance of these measures when a fire started by an Ebike battery was contained to one flat. 

However, we must constantly remain vigilant about fire safety as research, testing and regulations change. We continually improve our approach to fire safety and had begun a pilot to roll out a sprinkler programme. New information in regarding fire safety in blocks has developed since those post-Grenfell checks took place and we are in a better place now to understand what is needed than before. 

These changes, as well as new national PAS9980 standard inspection we have been conducting, gave us information on four blocks in Barton Hill (Longlands, Ashmead, Harwood and Barton) in May this year, and four more (Gilton, Croydon, Yeamans and Broughton) last month which meant we introduced a Waking Watch.

And now, Avon Fire and Rescue Service have reviewed the arson at Eccleston House on the 20th  October and concluded that the EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) cladding contributed to the spread of the fire.

As a result, we have taken the decision to add new precautionary measures in all blocks that currently have EPS cladding.  These measures are:

  • – the introduction of simultaneous evacuation policies in all blocks clad with EPS, enabled by waking watch provision until evacuation alarms can be installed (this will be applied to 38 blocks in total)
  • – the development of a new programme to remove all EPS cladding over the next eight to ten years
  • – the acceleration of the sprinkler programme, with the need for sprinklers evaluated on a block-by-block basis. 

This means that over the course of this week we will introduce Waking Watches to an additional 27 blocks (11 already have them: the eight listed above and three in response to the Eccleston house fire, Phoenix, Eccleston and Beaufort).

Letters will be hand delivered to residents on the day Waking Watch provision commences and text messages will be sent to make sure there is no confusion as to evacuation plans in the event of a fire. We will also be publishing our latest fire safety risk assessments from next week for each high-rise.

We are making sure that, as well as our residents, our partners in other Core Cities and national partners are updated on these changes. We have also written to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities regarding these important changes and are seeking financial support for these additional costs.  

The new Waking Watch provision is an additional precautionary measure only but it is something we feel must be done to reassure our residents that their homes are protected until the works programme is complete.