Your City, Our Future

Today’s blog post comes from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Public Health.

This week we launched ‘Your City, Our Future’, a new project  which seeks the views and ideas of citizens and community groups as we develop Bristol’s recovery plan.

This is the result of a commitment we made earlier this year to trialling new methods of democracy in our city, recognising that we need better tools for listening to and engaging with citizens.

Back then, we didn’t know what the focus of the work would be. We had no way of knowing how the events of this year would unfold.

In recent months, it’s become apparent that we simply cannot plan the city’s recovery from the current crisis without input from the people of Bristol. That’s why recovery has become the focus of this experiment with participatory democracy.

 ‘Your City Our Future’ is not a one-off event, but a series of conversations with the city to help us rebuild following the effects of COVID-19. We know lots of people have great ideas for Bristol and ‘Your City, Our Future’ will give them the opportunity to be a part of shaping what our city can become.

A citywide survey is now live to help us understand how people’s lives have changed and what can be learnt from how citizens have travelled, worked and spent leisure time over the past few months.

The survey is just the first phase of the project. ‘Your City, Our Future’ will culminate in a Citizens’ Assembly, bringing together a diverse range of people to debate important issues that emerge from the survey. This group of one hundred people, selected to represent every part of the city and all demographics, will consider how we rebuild an even stronger city, a city that better meets the needs of everyone.

I realise that people will have different experiences of the past few months and will have been impacted in very different ways. Some people will want to retain some elements of lockdown life and others will be keen to get back to how things were before. What’s clear is that we have been presented with an opportunity to reset and to shape a better future.

I urge everyone to share their views in the survey and make their voices heard. We want to hear from as many people as possible, from a diverse range of communities, to ensure an inclusive and sustainable recovery for our city and our citizens.

You have until Wednesday 9 September to have your say. To take part in the survey online, visit

If you would like a paper copy or an alternative accessible format, please email or call 0117 922 2848

Cycle to Work Day

Today’s blog is by Cabinet lead for Transport, Energy and a Green New Deal Cllr Kye Dudd.

Many of us will have got out of bed today, got dressed, unlocked our bikes and cycled in to work, unaware that it is Cycle to Work day. It’s the UK’s biggest cycle commuting event – although this year’s event is open to anyone cycling anywhere!

Cycling is a popular way to get around in Bristol. 28% of Bristol residents cycle at least once a week, and 14% travel by bike five or more days within the city. We were the first Cycling City in the UK, and we have 12 miles of segregated cycle track in the city. Routes like the Bristol-Bath Railway path are popular commuting corridors with their own ‘rush hours’ as people cycle and walk to and from work.

But  we know that there is more to do. Almost a quarter of residents that we’ve surveyed indicated that they don’t cycle, but would like to.

That’s why we’ve developed more cycling routes across Bristol to encourage more people to travel by bike where they can. We’ve upgraded the Filwood Greenway, a 2.6 mile route that connects South Bristol to the City Centre. We’ve seen the benefits of this investment, as cycling rates on the route almost doubled between July 2017 and July 2019.

Coronavirus has encouraged us all to think afresh about the way we allocate space in our city. We know that in parts of the city, the need to keep two metre distance is difficult to maintain on pavements and cycle lanes that were built a long time ago.

In this challenge, however, there is considerable opportunity. We have installed new bike lanes in the city centre along Park Row, Upper Maudlin Street and Marlborough Street, with cyclists protected from other road traffic by temporary bollards. The long-term ambition is to make the new road layouts permanent, as part of the transformation of Bristol’s transport network, creating cleaner air and better bus, walking and cycling journeys, alongside ongoing plans for a mass transit public transport system. You can give us feedback on the changes here.

We know we need to keep being ambitious if we want to make cycling accessible. We’ve worked with our neighbouring local authorities to develop the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, where we will collectively deliver investment of £411m by 2036 which will create up to 55 continuous cycle routes, forming a West of England-wide cycle network.

There is help and advice available at the Better By Bike scheme, including handy tips, maps and a free loan bike scheme for you to give cycling a try before investing in a bike of your own.

For info on how to join in the Cycle to Work Day action, see their website: or get involved on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.  

Uniform Drive

Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families on our Uniform Drive campaign.

This September will feel very different to the usual ‘Back to School’ feeling we have all been used to.

For many children they will be returning to the classroom for the first time in six months following the closure of schools to most children in March. This enormous gap in schooling will no doubt bring challenges to some along with the excitement of many, and no doubt some children will find it difficult to emotionally readjust to being back in the classroom, especially as social distancing restrictions will still be in place.

Whilst at the moment we are not in a strict lockdown environment, I am very conscious that the impacts of COVID-19 are being felt by everyone and in myriad different ways. The future health of the economy is at best uncertain, and that is already having a huge impact on families. It feels as if new job losses are being announced every day and with the furlough scheme coming to an end in October we can be sure difficult times are ahead. 

Yesterday we launched our ‘Uniform Drive’ at Bristol City Council which is an opportunity for residents to donate clean, unbranded school uniform in good condition to help parents who may be struggling to afford new uniform this year. I know from my own experience how children seem to grow overnight and have donated a few items that have barely been worn – including some brand new trousers, since both my boys refuse to wear anything but shorts, whatever the weather! 

Our donation point is just inside the main doors of City Hall and will be open 7:00am-7:00pm until 21 August. From the end of next week we will begin sorting the uniform and making sure the quality is good enough to pass on to other families. We are working with organisations and charities across Bristol who will help us make sure the uniforms are delivered to families who need them ready for the new school year.

If you would like to help out with donating please pop into City Hall, or, if you would like to receive donated items please contact your local councillor or the Mayor’s Office by email –  

Please do not donate shoes or branded uniform. 

Join Bristol Hospitality Network

Today’s guest blog comes from Mike Jempson, Bristol Hospitality Network host.

I first began ‘hosting’ some 20 years ago. My original guests were journalists who had fled for their lives from despots, political enemies, or criminal gangs. It was an easy choice for me. They were professional colleagues, sometimes from trouble-spots with which I was familiar, so we had much in common. They didn’t usually stay long, as their cases were so clearly valid that they were quickly given refugee status.

It was sometime later that I was approached by a friend, who asked if I could provide shelter for an Iranian mother and daughter who were homeless. Their asylum claims had been rejected, even though as newly converted Christians it was evidently unsafe for them to return to their home country. In the event, only the mother came, and stayed for two years. She opened my eyes to the horrors experienced by young girls ‘arranged’ into unsuitable marriages, or imprisoned and abused for standing up to violent men. She also introduced me to a wealth of Iranian cuisine. Luckily, both she and her daughter have now had their refugee status recognised, but unfortunately, her son, who came to the UK with her as a minor a decade ago, has still not been granted his status. They moved to London to look after him, as he remains technically destitute.

My next guest was another journalist from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had his status but was still finding his feet. He also turned out to be an excellent cook. It was when he moved on that I began to take in young men through Bristol Hospitality Network.

The ‘hostile environment’ promoted by the current government often results in people who are seeking safety and security ending up homeless. This is because the system’s first priority is to reject all but the most clearly proven cases. We are lucky to live in a city that has made a point of welcoming asylum-seekers who have been ‘dispersed’ in our direction. As a City of Sanctuary, Bristol has a wide variety of support systems for them, and a Mayor who has made a personal commitment to help refugees.

My guests have come from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. I am currently hosting an Algerian man who has a health condition, but who also happens to be a very good cook. Are you detecting a pattern here?

We all have so much to learn about the plights and cultures of people who believe we have much to offer them. What better way than in the kitchen and over a meal?  I have also learnt that it is more than enough to just offer someone a room as this can make the difference between moving forward with life and being stuck living ‘under the radar’.

My guests meet my grandchildren, socialise with my friends, and help out with my chickens. But many of those hosted through BHN simply want a room and a secure place to stay. BHN provides them with a key worker to help with their case, and a support network for the hosts. Normally there is a weekly drop-in centre for guests and hosts at the Easton Family Centre. There are informal opportunities to discuss any issues that might arise and to learn about the asylum system. There are occasional social events too.

BHN has been operating for more than ten years and so has a vast array of experience in setting up successful hosting placements. There are perhaps 100 destitute asylum-seekers in Bristol at any one time and just last year, BHN housed 47 of them. Established on the Christian values of its co-founders, the charity engages with people of all faiths and none, creating a multi-cultural community of belonging, solidarity and equity to counter the hostility to refugees and asylum seekers that has built up in the UK over the years.

It may seem odd to invite a complete stranger into your home, but BHN has developed a successful system to protect everyone involved. Guests and hosts are equal members of BHN, and sign a contract with each other. The arrangement is reviewed every three months, to ensure that all is going well. The concerns of both are respected, and contracts can be terminated by either side,

Hosting is extraordinarily rewarding and I am pleased that many of my guests have stayed for as long as it took to win their status. Hosting is open to anyone with a spare room in their home and their heart to welcome those who have fallen foul of a hostile environment, in both their home country and the country they believed would provide sanctuary for them.

BHN is keen to hear from anyone willing to make sure asylum seekers do not end up back on the streets when the current COVID19 arrangements come to an end. If you can provide a spare room for at least three months, please contact Find out more about BHN here and keep in touch through Twitter or Facebook.

Bridging the divide

Bridges are an important part of Bristol’s story. While many visitors today might associate Bristol with Brunel’s iconic suspension bridge, the city grew up around the banks of river Avon and what is now known as Bristol Bridge was where the city started.

The name ‘Bristol’ itself is derived from the Saxon Brycgstow or ‘Brigstowe’, meaning ‘place of the bridge’ so we know this has always been an important part of how the city operates and functions. It has changed and adapted over the centuries as Bristolians have crossed over and under it, traded on it and expanded it. On Sunday 2 August we took a bold step to change how people use Bristol Bridge, by no longer allowing private cars to use it as a through route and prioritising public transport, especially buses and taxis as well as improving access for active travel for cyclists and pedestrians.

By restricting general through-traffic from our central areas we will protect public health and unlock barriers to inclusive economic growth as well as taking another step to cleaner air, safer and better public transport, and improved walking and cycling routes for everyone. We are working with businesses and residents to minimise disruption and we are keen to engage with communities as we monitor the impacts caused by these changes.

Access to all the same areas of the city centre for cars will remain available, but via alternative routes. We know that this has been a concern for people with disabilities, and I want to assure them that we are working with Bristol Physical Access Chain on this.  We are also reviewing disabled parking options in the wider area, such as outside the Old Vic, before any permanent measures are put in place.

These major transport improvements were already in the pipeline, but the coronavirus means we now need to accelerate the plans to help Bristol emerge from this crisis as a more inclusive and sustainable city.

Interventions which prioritise buses and remove the congestion which slows down buses in the city centre mean performance will improve and make them more reliable. On the back of this intervention we’re pleased that First Bus have announced the creation of the 2A route today, which parallels the 2 all the way from Stockwood through the Centre to Henleaze and then goes to Southmead where it terminates at Charlton Road. The effect is to double the frequency of buses between Stockwood, Temple Meads, Centre, Whiteladies Road and Henleaze. We’re asking people for further ideas on how to improve the route.

The bus deal of prioritisation measures matched with investment in services by the operators is part of our transport plan that will see a ‘Circle Line’ circular bus route looping around the city centre to link up all the routes, remove traffic from  the heart of the city and further improve punctuality. 

As we continue to build up our bus network with strategic park and ride routes from the Portway, Brislington, Long Ashton and the M32, it puts in place the foundations that will enable the development of the mass transit system and Bristol’s first ever fully integrated network. The mass transit will transform travel in the city and we will link key routes from Temple Meads station through south Bristol to the airport, a line through east Bristol to the Lyde Green Park and Ride and a line to the north taking in Montpelier, Southmead Hospital and Cribbs. This network will be the world-class system Bristol needs, linking people to people, people to jobs and people to opportunity.

And crucially, these steps will have a positive impact on air quality. As we have always acknowledged, a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is a blunt instrument for dealing with air quality. A charging zone is often considered a ‘poor tax’ – a tax on people with the oldest cars who are least able to upgrade. We must protect the most economically deprived in our city, because while air quality contributes to early deaths, we must also challenge the biggest killer of all – poverty.

While we are still progressing our plans for a CAZ, we have been speaking to government about how we take into account the new working practices and changes to travel arrangements generated by Covid-19. We are discussing a more effective  solution that includes the management of through-traffic out of central areas such as Baldwin Street, achieving air quality compliance as fast, if not quicker than a charging zone.

A small number of roads are key barriers to achieving clean air and we are reassessing whether we can make more radical structural changes to these sites to deliver compliance as quickly as possible. New bike lanes being installed along Park Row, Upper Maudlin Street and Marlborough Street should improve air quality, as well as help people get around safely during the pandemic.

This is an exciting time in Bristol’s development. Action we take now will contribute to reducing air pollution, improving people movement for all Bristolians – and help us build back better.

What does a diverse food future look like for Bristol?

Today’s blog post comes from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Public Health.

I’ve just finished reading the report released by Feeding Bristol on the COVID-19 community food response. The report details the city-wide efforts made to support the economically vulnerable during lockdown. Injustice doesn’t affect everyone equally, and while we’re all at risk of COVID-19, there are some people who are more vulnerable. The disproportionate impact of the virus in black communities and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the brutal murder of George Floyd in the US have brought this into much sharper focus around the world, and Bristol is no exception.

The work of Feeding Bristol is incredible. I thought that the charity could not surpass its record efforts of the summer of 2019 when they raised over £100k, pledged by city partners in record time (24 hours) to deliver the Healthy Holidays Project. This saw over 53,000 meals packed and delivered to over 5,000 children and their families during the school summer holidays. 75% of beneficiaries were in receipt of free school meals.

But they have surpassed this. The food distribution network that was put in place has been phenomenal. The first 10 weeks of lockdown saw 120 tonnes of food distributed through a network of community food hubs right across the city, including emergency food projects.

Through the 26 community food hubs at least 221,000 meals and 16,200 food parcels were distributed to those in need during lockdown, with nearly half of the food support going to children.

What do the Healthy Holidays and COVID-19 community food programmes have in common?

They are both examples of the responsive nature of Bristol’s unique ‘one city approach‘, which immediately sprang into action at both city-wide and neighbourhood level to support those most in need.

Food insecurity disproportionately affects children and young people, and those living on low income. Since lockdown was announced and businesses began to furlough staff, the struggle for families to get enough food to eat has been all too real, and this pandemic has only further highlighted the magnitude of the problem of those children and families at increased risk of hunger here in our city.

Food insecurity raises questions about the extent to which our food production and food retail systems are adequate and sustainable; and questions about whether households have adequate physical access to affordable, healthy and nutritious food. The number of adults who are food insecure in Britain is estimated to have quadrupled under the COVID-19 lockdown.

Here in Bristol the COVID-19 lockdown has clearly exacerbated food insecurity among those who regularly struggle to afford enough food, created by a new economic vulnerability on account of loss of work and income, and in some instances, a loss of free school meals for children. It has also created a new vulnerability because of those shielding and in self-isolation, plus a lack of food in shops during the early weeks of lockdown added a further layer of an additional risk of food insecurity for those most at risk of poverty – adults who are unemployed, adults with disabilities, adults with children, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups and older people – all of whom have been impacted.

Adults with children eligible for free school meals are experiencing a much heightened risk of food insecurity arising from a lack of money due to income loss after either being furloughed or laid off at the start of the lockdown. This risk disproportionately affects BAME communities. Even before the crisis, nationally the percentage of children in black households living in persistent low income was higher than the percentage of children in white households living in persistent low income.

In Bristol, the explosion of grassroots COVID-19 mutual aid groups and volunteers across the city added a much-needed layer of support and resources, including nutritious food parcels and cooked meals where possible. Bristol’s food sector pivoted quickly to lend their support by providing meals to the homeless and NHS/care staff. Meanwhile the Bristol Food Network delivered a range of online resources – including details of how to access help, help others and support local food providers – plus, inspiration for adapting to the crisis at home under the moniker #BristolFoodKind. Bristol’s minority ethnic communities formed a significant part of the city’s response to the crisis, such as the Food Hub Consortium Project, Feed the Homeless, the Refugee Women of Bristol and many volunteers, chefs and community workers around the city.

Talo (pictured) supports families in St Pauls and the surrounding areas with housing, employment and benefits. Find them on Facebook at

Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matter movement has become the wake-up call the city needed to highlight the true extent of race inequality not only in wider society, but sadly much closer to home. Here in Bristol black communities have remained on the margins of the mainstream “food movement”. This must change.

The Black Lives Matter movement offers the food sector an opportunity to change course, to confront inequalities of power and to set out clear actions that are measurable. How do we do that, I hear you say? It’s simple. If you want to do more, then adapt models from elsewhere. Many other sectors and industries have reviewed their own structures, exploring how their policies can help combat racism and “build back better” in the wake of COVID-19. The food community can learn from these efforts.

Here are some suggestions as a starter for 10:

  • Prioritise candid and honest conversations about racism in the food sector. It’s uncomfortable but you need to push through the discomfort.
  • Publicly acknowledge racism within the food sector and how it manifests itself within the food movement.
  • Commit to anti-racism and tackling institutional discrimination across the food sector.
  • Commit to educating your staff and becoming a more diverse employer.

The “new normal” must have diversity and inclusion at its core, and this must also embrace class. Bristol prides itself on its many plaudits for its offering of a truly diverse and multi-cultural food offering, but for many the food sector movement is considered too “elitist and white”. This must change.

Bristol is made up of so many communities. We pride ourselves on being a city that speaks 92 languages, is home to people of 187 nationalities, but this is not borne out in the structures that exist. As a city we must diversify our thinking, our culture and of course our love of food, which we are already renowned for.

It’s been said that “with great power comes great responsibility”. It’s now time for the food sector to demonstrate how the new normal is going to go beyond statements of solidarity.

Visit Bristol Food Network for more information and resources on Bristol’s Good Food response to the pandemic.

#BristolFoodKind is a collaboration between Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol Food Network, Bristol City Council and Resource Futures.


Today’s blog comes from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet member for Strategic Planning and City Design.

The people of Bristol know how central our music venues and events are to the city’s culture and sense of identity. It’s difficult to imagine what Bristol would be like today if we’d never had St Paul’s Carnival, Lakota, Thekla or Motion, for example.

That’s why we’re backing the #LetUsDance campaign, launched by the UK’s night time economy and events sector today, issuing an urgent plea for support from the UK Government. They ask that dance music venues and the events and festivals sector be protected and recognised as an important part of the nation’s art and culture, in parity with the wider live music sector, to ensure equal access to support.

In March, all of the UK’s music venues closed their doors due the Covid-19 pandemic, with an estimated 90 per cent of venues and festivals at imminent risk of closure according to the Music Venue Trust (MVT).

The impact of these venue closures on our city cannot be underestimated. As well as dealing a catastrophic blow to the culture of our city, mass closures of music venues would mean the loss of a £5 billion industry and thousands of jobs nationally.

Added to this is the knock-on effect for other businesses. MVT estimates that for every £10 ticket sale for a grassroots music venue, £17 is spent elsewhere in the local night-time economy, supporting the jobs of the 91,600 people who are directly or indirectly employed by the sector here in Bristol.

This month, the sector welcomed the announcement of a £1.57 billion package of emergency grants and loans, to be distributed through the Arts Council, to support cultural organisations to survive the pandemic. This backing is vital for many of our celebrated institutions and we are pleased to see them getting the recognition they deserve.

However, the government narrative to-date on the fund has not been clear about how this money may or may not be used to support nightclubs or events and festivals organisers. The position of freelancers and others who earn a living from the music industry remains uncertain.

For a sector that was already struggling, and for whom the impact of this crisis will be felt for a long time to come, this fund must be inclusive. The value of smaller, independent or grassroots venues must be recognised alongside the larger institutions that are so visible in our cities. Electronic music must be considered as worthy of support as live music. And those venues with no prior experience of working with the Arts Council, or of submitting bids, must not be disadvantaged.

As a local authority, we have been supporting businesses through the distribution of nearly 8,000 grants totalling more than £93m. We have redeployed staff to increase the size of the teams assessing applications and I’m proud of the speed at which we were able to respond to this challenge.

But despite existing support, we recognise that some businesses are falling through the cracks. As well as working with the West of England Combined Authority to take steps to support the sector, we will continue to put pressure on the government to expand their offer to be more inclusive.  

That’s why we’re calling on everyone who cares about the culture of our city to support the campaign. You can help to raise awareness by posting your favourite picture from a nightclub, festival or event on social media, with a note supporting its place within arts and culture. Pre-made social media graphics can be found and downloaded here and make sure you use the hashtag #LetUsDance with all posts.

Marti Burgess, co-chair of the Bristol@Night board, launched in 2018 to amplify the voice of those working in the night time economy, has shared the following statement in support of the campaign:

Bristol is a city that is proud of its sound system culture, events, festivals and night time economy.  When Covid hit, these were all forced to either shut down and/or shelve plans for what would have been a busy summer season. 

The government support seems to have let many of our great businesses fall through the cracks. If the definition of those eligible for the Arts package is narrow, very few of our venues, festivals and events will be able to access funds, meaning that some will not survive.  We really want the definition of ‘live music venue’ to be as inclusive as possible so that all of Bristol’s cultural institutions stand a chance in what remains an incredibly difficult time. 

The city’s culture, in its widest sense, is so important to our city identity. Thankfully we have the support of our city council and the Bristol MPs.  Both Kerry McCarthy and Thangam Debbonaire have recently spoken up in parliament in defence of our city’s night time economy and fantastic festival and events culture. We are grateful for this advocacy and hope that together we can achieve the financial support the sector so desperately need.

One25 and the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse

Today’s blog comes from Anna Smith, Chief Executive of One25. Anna represents One25 on the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse, which will harness the expertise of city partners to achieve the goal of making Bristol a city free from domestic abuse and gender inequality.

One25 works with vulnerable women across Bristol.  We have drop-in and a van outreach services to work with and engage women who street sex work and a programme of work called Peony for women moving away from sex work and vulnerability. Our Pause Bristol programme works with women recovering from the trauma of having children permanently removed, supporting them to break the cycle of birth and removal. One25 celebrates 25 years of supporting women to change their lives in 2020 and has been an integral part of the emergency response group meeting to discuss domestic abuse throughout lockdown.

When Covid-19 emerged, we considered the extreme vulnerabilities of our women and, in the knowledge that they often having nothing and no-one in their lives, decided to stay open during lockdown. The team transformed their work to an outreach service, dropping food and essentials to women and offering a phone and service for one to one. For group work we have been able to offer yoga and wellbeing Zooms which women have engaged in. The trust we build with women is best done face-to-face, so this has been very challenging but the women have responded well. Some have written anonymous postcards to each other with messages of support which we have put in their food parcels. As one of our clients said:

“I didn’t realise how much I needed drop-in until I couldn’t come in (because of COVID). Drop-in is amazing, and all of you are amazing.”

In the first seven weeks of lockdown we helped 18 homeless women get into safe housing, supported four women onto a script, delivered over 300 food bags, handed out 33 mobile phones and welcomed 32 women to our van, 96 times. By maintaining our scripting service, we have been able to support women to reduce their dependence on drugs. We have also been able to organise contraception for the women in the Pause programme. Since lockdown has eased, we have been undertaking socially distanced walks with women. This week we open our doors to the women again and are so pleased to see them back. We will maintain some of the Zoom groups and ensure all services are carefully thought through to keep women, volunteers and staff safe.

We know that there are many unsolved issues around domestic abuse including quick access to somewhere safe to stay and even access to a phone to get support.  During lockdown, women have returned to or were locked down with abusive partners, or they have felt unable to leave.  We also believe that some women thought services were shut and so have put off reaching out for support. As Bristol unlocks we are going to face unmet need and an increased demand for services, as well as responding to worsened abuse and the impact on mental health.

One25 welcomes the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse, as it will bring together committed partners in an informed approach to find solutions for the needs of people experiencing abuse. We know from involvement in Bristol One City that it is all about putting the issues of the city first and working together to find what is best for Bristol and its residents. Members of the commission will meet over the summer to form recommendations for how the city can prevent domestic abuse and support survivors, with the findings to be shared in the autumn.

If you want to support the work of One25, please visit our website or contact us on social media, on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

How to restart an inclusive economic recovery in Bristol post-COVID-19

Today’s blog comes from Fuad Mahamed, CEO of Ashley Community Housing.

It is a well-publicised fact that COVID-19 has hit Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities hardest. According to a UK Government report, 17% of COVID-19 patients are from BAME communities.

The diverse BAME community was already suffering from poor financial resilience, greater mental health issues and an inability to withstand shocks given the higher proportion of social exclusion and poverty they face in British society.

However, what attracted the attention of the country is the selfless bravery of this community in leading the battle against COVID-19 in the UK.

Immigrant key workers leading the COVID-19 battle
The recent Windrush scandal and the rise of hate crime following Brexit have been relegated to the rear-view mirror given the selfless and exemplary role BAME NHS staff played and continue to play in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first 10 doctors in the UK who have died from the virus were all BAME. And it is not only within the NHS that immigrant key workers are vital. It has come to light the huge role BAME communities play in other key worker roles: delivering food, keeping us clean, driving buses, taxis and trains, growing our food and delivering our post.

Senior government officials are now rightly publicly questioning the wisdom of a tougher Australian style point-based immigration system for migrant workers. It is clear we need them desperately to fill many vacant positions crucial for our daily lives and overall national success.  Whilst this is not headline news for many of us, the vital role of the jobs filled by the BAME community is finally getting the public and political attention it deserves. 

Immigrant entrepreneurs leading economic recovery
With the COVID- 19 pandemic, our efforts have been focused on fire-fighting the issue and gradually improving our knowledge and responses to it. However, we must think of the long-term implications for creating a resilient post COVID-19 society, one that is built on the foundation of inclusive economic recovery. The pandemic has already taught us: the chain of resilience is only as strong as its weakest link.

Bristol’s economy must recover if we are to remain a vibrant world-leading city. Bristol can be proud of its status as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, an academic powerhouse and a diverse city with huge reserves of untapped potential. To grow, we need all Bristolians to be able and be supported to participate in economic activities, including the vast energy and commitment of the BAME community.

This is no longer just about rhetorical inclusivity but about inclusivity which drives growth, creates jobs and integrates our city, communities and society.

So how can immigrant entrepreneurs reignite Bristol’s economy?
Like key workers from a migrant background, immigrant entrepreneurs play a vital role in our economy. The OECD has estimated that a foreign-born entrepreneur in a small firm creates an average of 1.4 to 2.1 jobs. Immigrants to the UK are almost twice as likely to start businesses – being responsible for 14% of job creation in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

Researchers at the University of Birmingham argue that in Britain new migrant firms ‘act as buffers against unemployment and social exclusion in disadvantaged communities, and as vehicles for the social integration of disparate migrant populations both with one another and into the British mainstream’.

As employment providers, they offer fellow migrants a haven from an often-hostile job market and foster social integration through contact with customers and business connections.

Focusing on small businesses recovery
The OECD has estimated that a foreign-born entrepreneur in a small firm creates an average of 1.4 to 2.1 jobs. Immigrants to the UK are almost twice as likely to start businesses – they are responsible for 14% of job creation in SMEs.

If we want to reignite our economy, we must reignite our small businesses. Small businesses in Bristol are reeling from the inability to do business as usual. Many sectors predict collapsed demand and economic uncertainty will stretch for months, if not years.

Participants said that government loans and financial support schemes are not accessible, are too complicated and, in some cases, not suitable or culturally sensitive as they are interest bearing loans.  Small business owners, and specifically those from BAME communities, are underrepresented in local and national recovery plans.

What we need to do
To mitigate economic fallout and small business failure post-COVID-19, we need targeted support for all small business owners, including BAME-led businesses facing even greater financial and operational challenges.

In an Entrepreneurship Support Project in Bristol led by a partnership between ACH, Engine Shed, the University of Bristol and West of England Growth Hub (part of WECA), we have learnt the barriers in the current business support ecosystem. These prevent many immigrant entrepreneurs from accessing support, markets and business networks that appear easy to access for others.

Targeted support for BAME entrepreneurs and small businesses also requires trust-building.  A long-standing lack of trust in some mainstream support services and business finance lenders has hindered access to vital support and finance.

We also need to address a lack of access to mainstream finance. Although the government has announced a £350 billion loan scheme for businesses, access to loans is hindered for many as these loans are interest bearing, or small business owners lack the ability to provide the collateral needed for access. Furthermore, access to banks is limited as many local banks in low-income communities have been closed.

Our Entrepreneurship Support Project found that a hands-on approach is needed to assist immigrant entrepreneurship, especially those with a refugee background. To help steer them, the Enterprise Facilitators found they needed to guide entrepreneurs through all stages of the process. They acted as counsellors, friends and sounding boards. They arranged microfinance loans, found marketplaces, engaged students as mentors, organised web pages and logo design, brokered introductions and networks and so much more. We learnt the importance of listening to participants and the need to boost social capital and networks.

The current business support ecosystem in Bristol needs to do more to encourage and support BAME businesses. They need rapid targeted support to open up their products and services beyond their ethnic enclaves. Pre-COVID-19 BAME businesses already knew the challenge of scaling-up: now we need them to scale up even more quickly to ensure an inclusive economic recovery in Bristol.

The wider Bristol economy needs a greater commitment to inclusive growth through targeted training skills and better long-term meaningful employment for all Bristolians.

This is how Bristol and many other diverse UK cities can fully recover and remain resilient against any future shocks. An inclusive economic approach will certainly foster societal cohesion and resilience, as well as city-wide prosperity. So far, the national collective spirit of COVID-19 has been cohesion, and we need to ensure this informs our sustainable recovery and we leave no one behind.

Time for action

The announcement that over 12,000 redundancies are being made by UK firms in two days are the first shockwaves from an unstable economy as we look to rebuild following the Covid outbreak. 

Of particular concern in Bristol are the announcements by Airbus that 15,000 of its workers will be laid off, 1,700 in the UK. This will put the livelihoods of many of the 3,000 people currently employed at their site in Filton at risk.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the immediate prospects for the whole aerospace/aviation industry – a sector of strategic importance to the UK economy. Alarmingly, the New Economic Foundation has warned that 70,000 jobs in the wider aviation industry are at immediate risk. Without government intervention, there are potentially devastating consequences for aircraft manufacturers and regional airports (both major employers in our area), the people who work there, their facilities and the communities in which they live. 

This is why I have written, along with other Core City leaders, to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, asking him to consider implementing a financial support package to secure the long-term viability of the industry, to protect thousands of jobs across the country.

In the South West, 20,000 people are directly employed in this sector, meaning this region accounts for almost a quarter of all aerospace employment across the UK.  As the proud home of Concorde and still as our biggest employment sector, aerospace and the Filton site are a treasured part of Bristol’s industrial heritage. We have always protected and defended our manufacturing base and it is crucial that Airbus continues to manufacture here, as a key part of its European supply chain, making it part of our future too. Bristol Airport is also a significant employer in south Bristol and faces challenges as works to survive and recover from the economic crisis. International seat capacity has dropped almost 80% from a year ago and half the world’s airplanes are in storage. 

Bristol’s local economy will be severely hit by large unemployment figures in Filton. We must remember that these are people with families to feed, homes and bills to pay. For anyone experiencing wage insecurity, there is no more worrying time. That’s why, along with my city colleagues elsewhere across the UK, I have asked the government for a job retention scheme. Keeping people in work is a crucial challenge while the sector recovers and will lessen the economic impact as well as protecting families. When the industry recovers, it will be the same skilled people the companies will go looking for, so the best thing the government can do to bring effective support is finance the retention of those jobs now. 

I am also asking for an airplane replacement programme. This brings the biggest opportunity to the sector to both continue and grow jobs while supporting the transition to more efficient and greener travel operations as part the country’s recovery plans. This should be accompanied by a commitment to accelerate research and development and publication of a clear programme of transition to more efficient and greener travel operations. This is why we are calling for measures now to secure local employment in this industry, and investment in its efforts to meet our net-zero obligations. Again, this protects and creates jobs while supporting a rapid transition to lower carbon industry.  

Simplistic, zero-sum, binary positioning won’t help us. We must take on the world as it is – a balance of risks. We know that actions and conversations are taking place across the sector about the need to reduce its environmental impact and this is encouraging. There is no going back – we simply cannot turn our back on a huge employer and so many jobs and nor can we the future return of flights bring with them the level of pollution they brought before. The German and American governments are protecting their aerospace industries with strategic support so the manufacturing of aircraft won’t stop. If we don’t protect ours, and infuse it with our values, it will go elsewhere, take the jobs with it, and may not carry the commitment to greening we would require.

The Climate and Transport Working Group of Cutting Carbon Now and The Climate Coalition (representing Aviation Environment Federation, Possible, Greenpeace, Transport and Environment and Friends of the Earth) argue that this is a chance to build back better by including aviation in the drive to net emission, harnessing the technological expertise of the sector to further reduce emissions and change taxes.

Unite the Union has written an ambitious and radical blueprint to allow the sector to continue to operate and meet new demands in the wake of coronavirus and the transition to a green economy. Unite’s blueprint highlights how the early retirements of older aircraft should be accelerated, and that additional government support and investment for research and development is also needed, so that new technologies can be brought to market more quickly. This includes the wings of tomorrow, new engines and electrification.

Recently the government announced a ‘Jet Zero’ project to work with the industry to produce a zero-carbon transatlantic flight. While we might be sceptical of exactly what this will do, it shows that technology will be an important part of reaching our climate goals.

We are committed to jobs and to a green economic recovery. We need strategic government investment now.