Author Archives: marvinjrees

Park Life

Our city is bursting with life as we head towards summer. It’s a time of getting together, picnics in parks and walks in our city’s vibrant green spaces. So let’s hope we get the weather to enjoy it!

In addition to being places for us to enjoy, our hundreds of green spaces – no matter how big or small – provide vital habitats for nature. We know how important this is. Since 1970, around the world we’ve lost 60% of wild invertebrates and up to 76% of insects. In Bristol, songbird populations, like swifts and starlings, have dropped by more than 96%.

That’s why back in February 2020 we became the first local authority in the country to declare an Ecological Emergency, and we’ve been working with city partners to take action. Our One City Ecological Emergency Strategy includes commitments to manage 30% of Bristol’s land for the benefit of nature, reduce pesticide use by 50% and plant thousands of trees, with more than 9,000 planted last year alone and some 70,000 planted since 2016.

To enhance our habitats, we are cutting grasses less frequently where appropriate, which will support our invertebrates, some of which require long grass over winter in order to complete their lifecycle. Similarly, we are looking to reduce the frequency of cutting native hedgerows where this won’t impact on footpaths. This will increase the availability of berries for birds and other wildlife.

We are also exploring where we may be able to introduce long grass margins alongside hedges and woodland edges to provide a valuable transition between habitats that supports a diversity of wildlife.

Wildflowers growing in long grass, in front of Bristol Cathedral on College Green
Wildflowers growing in long grass, in front of Bristol Cathedral on College Green

Our Meadow Bristol project has been increasing the number of urban meadows in Bristol in recent years, which provide an important food source for pollinators which is crucial all year round, not just today on World Bee Day. We manage over 154 hectares of native wildflower meadows across Bristol, and you may well have seen the section of College Green where wildflowers have been added, the green roofs in the Bearpit, or pockets of longer grass and wildflowers in your local park.

We’ve launched a new £200,000 fund to support community action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions or makes changes that benefit wildlife in Bristol. The grants are for community groups or small not-for-profit organisations based and working in Bristol. You can apply from 9 May until 23 June 2022 for the Bristol Climate and Ecological Emergency Community Grants of up to £5,000 on the Quartet Community Foundation website.

There are lots of competing pressures on our city’s space and we must balance the needs of our communities with those of our nature. Our hundreds of green spaces are the lungs of our city, a space to exercise, socialise and seek sanctuary when the stresses of life get the better of us, as well as providing habitats for wildlife. We are working to protect and enhance nature across the city including in existing and new green spaces. In doing so we will benefit people: providing trees for shade, cooling our city and addressing inequalities in tree coverage and access to green space.

We can all play our part, and hope that International Day of Biological Diversity on Sunday helps highlight how. If you have a window box, garden, balcony or verge, consider letting it grow wild or allowing a variety of plants to grow that support pollinators. Avon Wildlife Trust have a great guide to get you started, as does Bristol Climate Hub.

It’s also a time to celebrate those from all walks of life who are championing nature, like Sumita in Sea MillsMinnie & Olly in Lockleaze and Denice in Hartcliffe.

Saving lives: Bristol’s drug checking service

We have to deal with the way the world is, not as we want it to be. That especially true at a city level, when we have to pragmatically take on challenges and causes of harm in our communities and look for solutions. That’s why I am proud Bristol will become the first UK city to host a regular drug checking service.

We know we have drug use problem in Bristol, with higher-than-average number of drug deaths. Every one is a tragedy. Last year we sadly saw another fatality and several people hospitalised when using a suspected lethal batch of drugs in the Bristol area. Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney spoke at cabinet (from 36:34) about the loss of his own friends to drug use and how we cannot underestimate the impact of these avoidable deaths.

Drug checking services provide a vital opportunity for people to access accurate, timely, and relevant information to make more informed decisions about drugs. Service users give their substances for laboratory analysis by chemists and then discuss the results as part of a personalised health consultation with a health professional. As Councillor Ellie King explained, this isn’t about condoning drug use, but informing people and keeping them safe.

It’s important that we don’t ignore the fact that drug use is happening and take an outdated approach to this subject. This service doesn’t take anything away from work underway to support those with substance addictions, it will provide communities with access to factual, scientific, evidence-based information about drugs they may consume and that may be in circulation throughout the wider city.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are people who will have concerns about this approach, and some may have questions about how it might directly impact their communities. We’ll work with the service provider to make sure they consider local people as part of their approach, working pro-actively to try to prevent drug-related issues compounding for individuals, families, and communities. After all, the dogmatic approach that says drugs can be eliminated from our city, with a “war on drugs” that is somehow winnable through attrition, has been proved unrealistic. This service, alongside the proposed one-on-one trained healthcare consultations, will empower people to make safer, informed decisions which will reduce harm to users and save lives.

Drug checking services have operated successfully across Europe for four decades, and we have already piloted this work at events and know that they protect people. Meanwhile, we continue to lobby national Government to enable us to pilot safe drug consumption rooms in our city.

Bristol is leading the way in this public health approach to keeping people safe around drugs and shows that, as a city administration, we put our people’s wellbeing at the forefront of pragmatic decision making.

Foster Care Fortnight

Today’s guest blog comes from Sarah Parker, Director of Children’s Services at Bristol City Council.

Fostering makes a tremendous difference to a child’s life. In Bristol we have 335 children who are in the care of our city’s foster carers. There are a myriad of reasons why children cannot live with their birth families, but when that does occur, we have the most wonderful people who are willing to step in and help.

For the next two weeks (9-22 May), we are shining a light and celebrating the amazing people across our city, and across the UK, who open their hearts and their homes to children who need a nurturing and loving home. Every year, we pause to recognise and thank our foster carers for the opportunity, support, and happiness they create for our children in care.

This year’s theme is #FosteringCommunities to celebrate the strength and resilience of fostering communities and all they do to ensure children are cared for and supported to thrive. Our Bristol fostering community is a big supportive family in itself. Our city carers – also referred to as our city ‘VIP’s’ not only care for our children, but also support each other and share skills and expertise across the network, like an extended family would. Our city carers also know how to have fun! Only last month our carers arranged a big city wide foster carers afternoon tea, and earlier this month was the annual foster carers dinner.

Our carers are a very diverse group – single men, same sex couples, retired people, black carers, they all represent the diversity of our city – and we are tremendously proud of each and every one of them, not only in how they support our children but also how they support each other as a community

Foster care is at the heart of our communities, enabling our city children to stay with foster families, local to everything they are familiar with already; their school, friends,  routine and their city.  

Whether you’re a foster carer, a social worker, young person or supporter of foster care you are part of a community making a real difference to the lives of young people, and we want to celebrate the impact you all have. 

So, thank you – to our foster carers, during this fortnight – in celebration of you all, in your care and love of our children and each other.

If you are considering fostering and would like to have an informal chat with our Fostering Team, please call 0117 3534200 or visit our website for more information.

Spreading light for International Day of the Midwife

'100' is superimposed onto a light blue background to celebrate that many 'years of progress' thanks to the 'International Confederation of Midwives'. The '1' includes an image of a pregant woman, the first '0' of midwifes, and the second '0' the world.
Today’s blog is by Naomi Havergal, Digital Content Editor at the Royal College of Midwives (@MidwivesRCM)

International Day of the Midwife (IDM) is celebrated every year on 5 May to recognise the dedication and commitment midwives have to their local communities, and Bristol midwives are no exception.

Over the last few years midwives have faced unprecedented challenges to deliver high quality and safe maternity care to women, babies, and families. This year’s IDM will be the first time since 2019 that our midwives can come together and celebrate and receive the recognition they deserve.

IDM was created by the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) to bring together midwives’ associations from around the world. This year we celebrate ‘100 Years of Progress’ to coincide with centenary of the ICM. What a long way we have come since midwifery became a recognised profession in Britain under the Midwives Act in 1902.

IDM provides an opportunity for midwives to be in their own spotlight. That is when the idea came to the Royal College of Midwives to light up Bristol City Hall in the colours of the only trade union dedicated to supporting midwives. We are here for you.

Many midwives in Bristol will be on shift during IDM, which is why we contacted the Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees to see if he could help us celebrate. We were absolutely delighted by his enthusiasm to ensure this happened. When midwives are walking home after their shift, or student midwives walking home from their placements, City Hall will be illuminated in honour of them.

Midwives aren’t just simply there for the birth. They are present throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. Across Bristol we have specialist midwives and research midwives, and even midwives who have become lecturers to teach the next generation. All of these people provide some of the best maternity care in the world.

On Thursday 5 May 2022, Bristol City Hall will be lit up at sunset in support of IDM. If you’re in the area, please share your pictures using the hashtag #IDM2022. We would love to see them!

Thank you to our midwives at Bristol Royal Infirmary, Southmead Hospital, and our student midwives at the University of West of England for their dedication to midwifery.

Firefighters’ Memorial Day 2022

Today’s blog is by Tam McFarlane, National Officer at the Fire Brigades Union (FBU)

The people of Bristol can be rightly proud of their firefighters, who, for generations, have been willing to risk their lives on a daily basis to serve the city and protect its citizens from the devastation that fire can bring. From high profile incidents like the recent fire at We The Curious, through to the everyday jobs of dealing with house fires, road traffic collisions and a plethora of other incidents, our firefighters can be relied upon to protect us in times of need.

The service that they bring should never be taken for granted, and neither should their sacrifice. While others are running away from danger, firefighters are running towards it and tragically, the nature of our job has meant that over 2,300 UK firefighters have lost their lives whilst serving their communities. The names on this role of honour include many from Bristol and the surrounding area, from the heroes who fought the infernos of the Bristol Blitz, through to Fleur Lombard, the young firefighter who lost her life fighting a supermarket blaze in 1996.

The Fire Brigades Union is committed to ensuring that no matter how much time has passed, firefighters who died protecting their communities are remembered and honoured. That’s why, working with the Firefighters’ Memorial Trust, we helped instigate Firefighters’ Memorial Day.

Firefighters’ Memorial Day falls on 4 May every year and is an important day for all serving and retired firefighters. The day honours the sacrifice of firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty, acknowledging the courage and dedication of generations of firefighters, including those who serve our communities today.

On Firefighters’ Memorial Day, firefighters stand outside of their stations at midday and hold a minute’s silence. A wreath-laying also takes place at the National Firefighters’ Memorial by St Paul’s Cathedral with representatives from the FBU and the Firefighters’ Memorial Trust.

In previous years, Firefighters’ Memorial Day has been a public event and we encouraged members of the community, local politicians, and families of fallen firefighters to attend local fire stations and participate in the minutes silence. Obviously, the pandemic stopped this participation, but, now that restrictions are lifted, we hope that people can once again consider showing their solidarity, even if from a distance. Contact your local fire station if you want to know more.

You can also help us honour fallen firefighters by supporting our Red Plaque Scheme, which aims to recognise the sacrifice of firefighters by mounting a special plaque near the scene of the incident where a firefighter lost their life.

The Red Plaques take inspiration from English Heritage’s Blue Plaque Scheme, which marks the homes of influential historic and cultural figures, and our aim for the Red Plaque scheme is to recognise and honour as many fallen firefighters as possible for their selfless commitment to protecting others. You can explore and view Red Plaque sites across the UK honouring fallen firefighters and nominate a fallen hero for a Red Plaque on their website.

The scheme is funded entirely by the Firefighters 100 Lottery and, by joining up to the lottery, you’ll also be helping support the families of firefighters who have been lost in the line of duty.

Firefighters’ Memorial Day is a hugely important day for all of us in, and associated with, the UK Fire & Rescue Service. I know from experience the powerful impact that Firefighters’ Memorial Day has on the public and all those who witness it. I hope that all of you reading this feature will be able to participate and to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of all firefighters who have been lost in the line of duty.

Easter: hope in a broken world

Today’s blog is from Paul Langham,
Vicar of Christ Church Clifton,
and South West Regional Director for New Wine

In 1989, Bob Dylan wrote a song called Everything is broken.

33 years on, those words still resonate. From Afghanistan to Ukraine, Syria to Yemen, cities and people lie broken. In the West, the contract of trust between people and leaders is at breaking point. Fake news threatens the power of truth. The gap between rich and poor is growing, not shrinking. Women continue to live in fear of violence. Black & Minority Ethnic people still face discrimination. Too many children’s mental resilience is buckling. While these realities prevail, can we deny that our society is broken? And if we fail to avert climate catastrophe, we will leave future generations a broken planet…

Of course, Dylan was exaggerating for effect. Not everything is broken. Across the world, individuals and communities (of faith and none) are doing what they can to mend what is broken. You can read – and contribute – local inspirational stories at https://bristolthreads.co.uk/

Churches too are playing their part: running foodbanks; supporting children struggling for wellbeing and resilience; seeking creative solutions to our housing crisis; encouraging fostering… to name just a few among hundreds of initiatives.

Christ Church has recently brought the SPEAR Programme to Bristol – mentoring disadvantaged 16-24 year-olds into work or further education. We’re also preparing to become one of ten Welcome Hubs across Bristol to support Ukrainian refugees and the families who will be hosting them.

Christians find our inspiration for all we do in Easter. God’s extraordinary answer to a broken world was to enter it, and allow himself to be broken. Easter keeps me going through my struggles and my doubts. I see my God, hanging nailed and broken on the Cross, his death paying the price of my – our – brokenness.

And there’s the rub – are we willing to accept the reality of our own brokenness? To acknowledge that it’s not only tyrants and tanks that cause destruction? That our thoughtless words, our selfish actions, our hateful thoughts, all contribute to this world’s brokenness?

Many people know that Christians believe that Jesus breaks the power of sin. But few know that the word most commonly translated ‘sin’ in the bible is taken from archery. It means to ‘miss the mark,’ and I find that helpful. I can acknowledge that I miss the mark, even the mark I set myself. And being willing to acknowledge that is the first step in a journey of faith.

Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Day. His resurrection is our proof that he has the power to lead us safely through death into new life. As Jesus hung on the cross, one of those crucified alongside him said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43). Putting faith in Jesus can be that simple.

But finding faith is only the start of the Christian journey – Jesus calls us to work with him to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, set captives free, and to comfort those who mourn. All this points to the day when Jesus will return and restore the whole of creation, mending what is broken, and wiping the tears from every eye.

Everything may seem broken now. But Easter speaks a message of hope – not just for this world, but for a new world to come. In that new world, the only thing broken will be the power of sin and death.

Working together as One City

Working together as One City has delivered far more than the council ever could have alone. By bringing together public, private, voluntary, and third sector organisations around shared goals, we are accelerating work to make Bristol a fairer, healthier, and more sustainable place: a city of hope and aspiration, where nobody is left behind. The pandemic highlighted the importance of collaborative working with our NHS, businesses, and other organisations.

Late in 2021, we decided to take a closer look at our One City Thematic Boards to see if we could improve how they operate. After a process involving workshops with our Board members, and taking feedback on our opportunities and challenges, we started an Expression of Interest process for new (or existing) members on 24 January. We’re pleased to announce that the refreshed membership of the Boards has now been finalised, with our new members are now listed on the One City website

Our City Office received over 120 Expressions of Interest from new and existing partners from across Bristol, to join one of four Boards: Homes and Communities, Children and Young People, Transport and Economy and Skills. The Environment Board also took this opportunity to recruit two new members to fill a recent vacancy. 

Why did we decide to refresh our Boards?

Many of the Thematic Boards launched in late 2019, meaning that they had met only once or twice before the pandemic started. Initially designed to be spaces to work together and implement responses to the One City Goals, during the pandemic they became important spaces for our Public Health team to relay key updates, and for our partners to share best practice. This space was invaluable. 

What did we and our partners achieve?

Throughout 2021, the Health and Wellbeing Board have been focusing on reducing social isolation, their work attracting funding for a City Lab project working with communities to highlight what citizens need to improve mental health. In October, the Children and Young People’s Board launched the Belonging Strategy (owned by Children’s Services) that set out a collective vision to ensure the voices of Bristol’s children and young people are heard in the city.

The Environment board lead the rollout of a citywide communications campaign in the build-up to COP26 about #BristolClimateAction and #NatureRecovery. Board members also led the delivery of a world-leading Bristol and Avon catchment market to deliver nature recovery and carbon reduction, meeting another of the Environment priorities for 2021. Members of the Homes and Communities Board were active in supporting the challenge definition phase of the UN Habitat ‘Climate Smart Cities Challenge’ along with representatives from other One City boards and forums, including the Bristol Advisory Committee on Climate Change and the Environment board. It’s still been a productive time.  

We’re excited about this new phase, but it would be remiss of me not to highlight the importance of the work contributed by all our Board members so far, as we wouldn’t have got to this stage without you – thank you. And, to our new members: we look forward to working with you, in partnership, to continue improving the lives of our citizens over the coming years. 

Ramadan

Today’s blog is by Robiu Salisu, University of Bristol Inclusion Officer (BAME)

As the month of Ramadan begins, Muslims across Bristol and all over the world prepare themselves for a month like no other. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and is regarded as a very special month as the Quran (Holy Book) was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him) during Ramadan.

There follows a great deal of excitement with this year’s Ramadan taking place after the lifting of Covid restrictions in the UK. For many communities, this Ramadan will be the first time in two years that they are mixing with other households and performing their prayers outside of their homes.

When I was young, Ramadan was all about food, fasting – not eating or drinking during the hours of daylight and Iftar (the breaking of the fast after sunset, often with delicious food). Now that I am older, Ramadan for me means a welcome break from the humdrum of life: a chance to reflect, break bad habits, renew my spiritual connection and bask in the blessings of the month. Ramadan is not an individual experience, rather it is about shared experience with others, Muslim and Non-Muslims.

For years now, Muslim communities all over the world have been inviting folks from all walks of life to break their fast with them. We have seen the success of the Bristol Grand Iftar, established in 2017, which brings thousands of people from diverse backgrounds to collectively share the breaking of fast together. Due to the pandemic, the Grand Iftar was cancelled in 2020 and then hosted online last year. We are very pleased that it will returning in person, this Ramadan.

At my own institution, the University of Bristol, we launched our own celebration of Ramadan in 2020 with our Ramadan Kareem 2020: Celebrate and Learn event which was a huge success. This has now led to a yearly celebration, last year we held a Virtual Iftar 2021 – come dine with us! And this year we are hosting an open Iftar on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th April 7:30 pm in the Wills Memorial building for our Muslim and Non-Muslim students and staff at the University.

Muslims are always sad when Ramadan ends as it is such an important month to open our hearts and come together in shared unity and solidarity with friends, family and neighbours. Perhaps that is also why the month ends with a joyous celebration of Eid Ul Fitr, which lasts for three days.

Two years later

Two years on from the UK’s first national lockdown, Wednesday was a time to remember all those lost to the pandemic – and continue to reflect on lessons we need to learn from COVID-19.

It is also a time to thank fellow Bristolians for all they have done to heed public health advice and help keep one another safe during the pandemic. Together, we have doubtless saved the lives of many citizens of our city.

With remaining national restrictions continuing to lift, Bristol has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country. From getting the added protection offered by vaccines to choosing to wear masks in crowded spaces, we can all keep protecting each other.

To mark the anniversary, and share best practice from our city, I represented Bristol in a panel discussion with the International Public Policy Observatory: The pandemic two years on: what have we learned, and are we better-placed to deal with future crises?

We know that stemming the spread of the virus itself, has had impacts across society: from education to loneliness, mental health to domestic violence, unemployment to hunger. These impacts cluster around poverty and inequality. As I set out in my 2020 State of the City address, this means we have faced, and still face, a syndemic – not a pandemic.

And on Thursday I spoke at the Annual Public Health Conference, hosted by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health, focusing on the impact of climate change on the wider determinants of health. I shared more about the impact of climate change on public health, noting the increase in recent years of emerging diseases like COVID-19. Deforestation, global temperature rises, and habitat destruction have all contributed, and Stanford University research has found that the geographical spread of infectious diseases through mosquitos and other insects is likely.

There are important lessons to be learnt about the way we’ve all responded in the past two years. I hope the government’s inquiry is an honest assessment and looks widely and the unintended consequences of decisions. I share the concerns expressed in a letter to The Times newspaper signed by 50 experts including Russell Viner, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Andrew James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has expressed concerns about the draft terms of reference for the government’s inquiry because they made no specific mention of children or young people except for a single reference to school attendance.

More widely, lessons from the pandemic can also help us tackle the climate and ecological emergencies, but it will ultimately come down to finance. As the vaccine roll-out and initial support schemes, the national government can support people. We have already invested locally in insulation, to reduce energy bills, carbon emissions, and the ill health felt by those who have been forced to choose eating over heating. As a result, council homes are twice as likely to be in the top energy performance bands as the rest of the city’s homes, and we have committed £500 million more.

With a £10 billion bill to decarbonise Bristol and become a Net Zero city, and all the benefits that brings in terms of active travel, locally grown food, and much more, we need further investment from both national government and the private sector to make it happen.

Warm Homes (Go for It)

Today’s blog is from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, Energy, and Waste

Warmer Homes, Advice, and Money (WHAM) is an innovative project supporting Bristol residents living in fuel poverty and experiencing financial hardship.

WHAM brings together the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Talking Money, We Care Home Improvements, Bristol and North Somerset councils, Citizens Advice, Bristol Energy Network and AMS Electrical to provide a comprehensive service for vulnerable people. This includes accessing benefit entitlements, Warm Home discounts, home energy and insulation improvements, fuel vouchers, debt clearance, new heating, charitable grants, and moving onto cheaper tariffs.

WHAM has had an incredible impact so far, and has been held up as good practice by Ofgem and Public Health England. Since 2017, almost 3,500 households have are over £2 million better off through bill savings and financial/other support. It is one of many organisations who have been funded by our Bristol Impact Fund.

Many people are concerned about the cost of living crisis. Rising energy bills are part of a worsening picture, alongside Universal Credit cuts and below-inflation rises in pay and benefits. All will be compounded by the upcoming National Insurance hike.

But WHAM, with a waiting list of over 100 households, is not an emergency service. Instead, people struggling to make ends meet can access support for things like fuel bills, groceries, and school uniform through our Local Crisis Prevention Fund. We have also safeguarded the last Council Tax Reduction Scheme in the Core Cities, with some 40,000 families in our city receiving up to 100% off their council tax bills.

Bristol Energy Service also has some low-cost, handy tips on how to save energy.