Author Archives: marvinjrees

World Poetry Day

Today’s blog is by Caleb Parkin, Bristol’s City Poet.


Welcome to this poem, which is
all the cancelled parties.
You don’t need an invitation,
other than that title: Party Poem,
but feel free to imagine one in
twirly cursive writing on fancy perfumed paper,
or – ping! – arriving as a text,
or, if you’re that way inclined,
an official calendar event (survey attached).
You’ve RSVP’d with your eyes and/
or ears, so let’s head inside, away
from this corridor – where you’ve hung up
your ideas about Poems, thankfully,

because this whole party is full of poems:
poems stood around the buffet, removing
clingfilm from shining trays of lingo; pondering
which delicious verbs to nibble; plunging
a ladle into a lustrous crystal punchbowl
full of a drink. A drink, perhaps, you’ll each
be able to describe, in HD 3-D smell
-o-vision, as exactly the one you desired?

You go to find the host: whose
party is this anyway? The music
shuffles days, decades, centuries –
sonata to reggae, gamelan to techno –
mid-track, as though the DJ is wired
into everyone’s heads. Then some new
style of music nobody’s ever heard –
but sways to, intones that
poetry noise, Hmmm.
Room after room,

full of poems, each a party, each
a world. Some opening lines
seem nice enough. Then, this poem
which introduces you to all their friends.
You’ll keep in touch. Maybe there’s
a poem you’ll make official, live with,
framed on your wall? On the stairs,

poems touchscreen scroll, upload
themselves on a digital fizz of hearts.
As you pass, this other huddle
of zip-lipped collar-starched poems
hiss Those other poems aren’t even poems
but you smile politely, move on
to find the bathroom. Knock, wait.

Inside, some poem’s overdone it:
said the wrong thing again to
that other poem they love, a second-
hand smorgasbord of words, words,
WORDS everywhere. Their hair
is full of exclamation marks,
held back by a friendly Editor:
Let’s get you tidied up in a taxi, yeah?

Washing re-washing your hands,
your mind is a dancefloor
of potential; your eyes a glitter
of question marks. You
are a poem in the mirror.
As you set out from this Party Poem –

this rainbow of houses, this high-rise, this woodland,
this high-rise-woodland-rainbow-house –
you’ll glide through rolling streets,
where poems flit between phonelines,
poems claw through side-alley bins
and this poem ferries you home now,
its engine warm and humming.

© Caleb Parkin, September 2020

Bristol Women’s Safety Charter

Last night I was honoured to join women from across Bristol – including Carly Heath, our Night-Time Economy Advisor, and members of my cabinet – to launch the Bristol Nights Women’s Safety Charter.

The Charter aims to be a centrepiece for how we all approach issues surrounding women’s safety at night, as we work to change attitudes and the culture around sexual harassment and enforce a zero tolerance approach to such behaviour. This covers women working in and enjoying Bristol’s night-time economy, which supports nearly a third of all jobs in our city.

We were also joined by Amy Lamé, the Mayor of London’s first Night Czar. Her work has helped inspire the Charter and other initiatives in Bristol and around the world to create safer spaces for women, including through this One City Approach.

The Charter is accompanied by a practical toolkit to help venues and businesses assess women’s safety. It aims to support businesses with a responsibility for staff, and follows on from training launched this month aiming to train 1,000 night-time economy workers on sexual harassment. The Charter also builds on the award-winning Bristol Rules campaign and our Stop Spiking efforts, which rolled out testing kits to venues across the city.

Councillor Helen Holland, my cabinet lead, wrote about women’s safety in her International Women’s Day blog. I was delighted to share a foreword with Helen for the Women’s Safety Charter and Toolkit, which you can read below.

Hartcliffe City Farm signs new lease

Transformations, that with hindsight seem like rapid revolutions, can seem no more than a series of tiny steps when you’re in the midst of them. It is worth remembering to celebrate those tiny steps in order to keep the momentum towards the changes we want to see. One such little step forward has been taken in our plans to revitalise the Hartcliffe City Farm, as we’ve signed an interim lease for the main site: 6.5 acres on the southern fringe of the city. Hoorah!

Owned by Bristol City Council, the site is brimming with potential to be a thriving hub of community activity that will transform the neighbourhood and become a player in the whole city’s life. In the long term, it will become a multi-faceted place that brings together the local community with training, education, cultural events, gardens, and, of course, farm animals. All framed within the context of a sustainable enterprise that is serious about addressing the threats of climate change.

The redevelopment of the site has started with a partnership between Heart of BS13 and Windmill Hill City Farm. That spirit of partnership will continue through the growth of the activities in the space: most importantly as a partnership with the local community. The engagement started back in 2019 when the Council developed the community asset transfer brief. Local people were clear that the site should deliver on three priorities: access for all; engaging with animals and nature; providing education and employment.

Since then more outreach has been undertaken. Already over 1,000 local people have been engaged in thinking about the future, the impact of climate change and, in particular, the role of the farm in helping to tackle it. Others are taking direct action, helping out in volunteer work sessions to get the site ready. More than 50 local people have volunteered their time – all small steps towards a bigger change.

Having been fallow for some time, the site has needed considerable attention. Beds have been cleared and re-laid to form the basis of a horticulture enterprise: it will grow food and cut flowers. The buildings on site have been surveyed, and work to make them safe and useful is underway. Education spaces are being put together to enable school visits and early years groups. Each tiny step is moving the project forward.

In the spring we hope to open the gates to more general visits from the public. What they’ll find will be a work in progress – a place taking many ‘tiny steps’ towards a transformed future.

East Bristol Liveable Neighbourhood – have your say!

People living in Barton Hill, Redfield, and St George have the chance to share their views on which measures they’d like to see introduced to their neighbourhood, as we look to make east Bristol safer, healthier, and greener.

Liveable Neighbourhoods are areas of a city where improvements are designed in partnership with local communities. Their aim is to achieve a better balance between how streets are used for transport and people. Measures can be small scale and easy to install, such as planting trees, providing more benches, community activity spaces, and better lighting, while making it easier to catch a bus and to walk or cycle, with improved infrastructure and measures to reduce through traffic.

The project is about working in partnership with communities to create stronger, safer and happier neighbourhoods. It is one of the ways we will be working in partnership to make Bristol a sustainable city with a lower impact on our planet and a healthy environment for all.

Developing a pilot Liveable Neighbourhood follows on from my pledge to the city, and the ideas from Bristol’s first Citizens’ Assembly, who backed this call for neighbourhoods to be reimagined so they are people-centred and more liveable.

The east Bristol pilot, funded by the West of England Combined Authority, will set out to deliver a safe, healthy, inclusive, and attractive environment where everyone can breathe clean air, have access to better quality green and play space, and feel a part of their community. Liveable Neighbourhoods give us the opportunity to rethink and reset where we live, empowering local communities to transform their neighbourhoods into places where people want to spend more time, as well as increasing a sense of pride and belonging.

The first round of engagement is running until 13 March 2022. A survey has gone out to 6,000 homes and 400 businesses across east Bristol asking for views on the measures that people would like to see introduced. An online survey is also available on the Bristol City Council website, and nearly 1,400 suggestions and responses have already been added to the interactive map. Virtual chats with project team members can also be booked by emailing or phoning 0117 903 6449 and leaving a message.

Businesses across the project area of Barton Hill, Redfield, and St George are also being invited to complete an additional survey. It asks for information about individual businesses, such as how many employees they have, how deliveries are made, how staff travel to work, and how their waste is collected. This survey is also available on the Liveable Neighbourhoods’ website.

Imperial Apartments

Today’s blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes.

In the past month we’ve been talking a lot about housing. We always seem to be talking about housing – either about affordable housing, social housing, the local plan, brownfield versus green belt/greenfield, and even homes in back gardens. Of course, it is one of the most important topics to discuss in Bristol.

Having a safe and secure roof over our heads is key to ensuring we all have the best possible opportunity to live a happy and healthy life. But what happens when there’s not enough housing to go around at a price that everyone can afford? In simple terms, it means that low-income households have to rely more heavily on organisations like the council and housing associations for support into housing, that those organisations in turn have to find more and more housing at prices that people can afford, and we see more housing in Bristol start to lie empty or have their rents inflated to near unaffordable rates. It’s a dangerous spiral that inevitably leads to more homelessness, greater inequality and lifelong difficulties for many.

In Bristol, you can see this challenge clearly in the 16,000 people waiting on the housing register, many with little chance of receiving a council house due to a crippling lack of homes available. We have over 1000 people in temporary accommodation, 580 families, after having been made homeless and needing longer-term housing. This has been further compounded by out of control rents, the growing gap between Local Housing Allowance rates and rents, alongside the continued use of no-fault evictions (which the government promised to bring forward legislation to end over two years ago), and a lack of long term security for many.  An example of what this challenge looks like is the residential housing block in Hengrove called Imperial Apartments.

The site is owned by a private company called Caridon Property Group who converted the old office block into flats following changes to legislation, meaning there was little opportunity for council planners to get involved and help shape the development. The site has 465 flats ranging from studios up to two bed flats. Back in 2020 the Council entered negotiations with Caridon to find a way of making use of 316 flats to support people out of temporary accommodation, away from hostels or to prevent those in need from becoming homeless. We have acknowledged many times that this is the least worst option given the circumstances, but it is still an option that has supported over 300 households away from homelessness.

Our arrangement with Caridon is clear. Our role is to refer people who are in need of housing and that we consider are suitable for a tenancy at Imperial Apartments. Caridon decide whether to offer those persons a tenancy and if they do Caridon enter into a tenancy agreement with those persons. Caridon are both the owners of the properties and the landlord, Caridon manage the properties and they assume all of the rights and the responsibilities which would normally fall upon a landlord. That includes responding to the day-to-day expectations of those living there – whether it’s to do with security, utilities or noise issues. We work and co-operate with Caridon and have agreed to provide support and advice to Caridon, in some of those areas.

These are roles we expect all parties to take seriously. For our part, we’ve put in place support services delivered by the Salvation Army, LiveWest and our own housing teams to make sure people can settle into their new tenancies and can manage their own circumstances. These services provide low level support and are on hand to help signpost people to further support they may need. We hold weekly meetings with the landlord and support services to raise problems, tackle issues that come up and find solutions that put the safety and wellbeing of residents first. These meetings are also used to plan events to support tenants settle in and begin to build relationships and community.

I guess you won’t read about these more constructive aspects in the local press, so I’d like to say here that I don’t think the generalisations and insinuations made about the people living in Imperial Apartments are fair. I also know that not all residents agree that the coverage reflects their experience. Where there are concerns, we will work with Caridon and hold them to account to ensure issues are addressed in a timely manner. This includes expecting a zero tolerance approach to be taken to bullying, harassment of any form, hate crime and criminal behaviour more broadly. I want everyone in Bristol to have a safe and secure home and to be part of a community. We’ll continue to work with people across the city to make that the case.

Although this approach is keeping people out of temporary accommodation or away from the threat of street homelessness, we are being careful about who we nominate for these flats. We’ve been clear from the start that anyone being nominated for a flat needs to meet certain criteria. This is to protect them from signing up to a tenancy or a living situation they couldn’t maintain whilst ensuring the support services in place meet the needs of the residents. This strict referral criteria has been in place since we began nominating people for tenancies at the site and is discussed with all potential nominees when speaking to them about all of their housing options.

Our experiences so far have shown us clearly that there are challenges to stepping up a housing site like this in a short space of time. Not least that our original concerns about the size of some flats need to be reviewed again, particularly those that were offered to families. I am grateful to South Bristol MP, Karin Smyth, for her recent letter on this. I have utilised her intervention to take the decision that listings of flats for families will be paused whilst we carry out the review. We will look at the circumstances of those families already living there too.

Whilst Imperial Apartments provokes debate and raises clear issues that are being addressed, what can’t be ignored is that the scale of the need across the city outstretches the amount of housing available. We are investing heavily in council homes and delivering affordable homes but the housing crisis still remains a key challenge.

HIV Testing Week

This week, to mark HIV Testing Week, Bristol has continued to lobby the Government for more support to continue our work to end new transmissions of HIV by 2030.

With Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health, I wrote to the Health and Social Care Secretary to call for opt-out testing in hospitals in our city to help diagnose people who unknowingly have HIV.

Read my letter to the Health and Social Care Secretary here, or scroll down for the plain text version.

Dear Secretary of State,

Like the Department of Health and Social Care, Bristol is committed to ending new cases of HIV by 2030 and contributing to the national effort to reach the 4,660 undiagnosed people living with HIV in England. This is why we welcome the Government’s HIV Action Plan and the £20 million being made available by NHS England for opt-out testing in very high prevalence HIV areas.

However, as a local authority with high HIV prevalence, we are concerned that funding opt-out testing only in “very high” prevalence areas is a missed opportunity. To meet the 2030 goal, and the Action Plan’s interim target of an 80 percent reduction in new diagnosis by 2025, the same kind of opt-out testing will be needed in hospitals here in Bristol too.

With those undiagnosed being twice as likely to live outside London, areas like Bristol are the new frontline in the quest for everyone to know their status. We are a Fast Track City, and we have been working with our local NHS partners, and both of our city’s hospitals are supportive of an opt out testing approach. However, we have no identified funding to roll out this approach. It is, therefore, vital that the DHSC and NHS England become a funding partner to make this happen and provide equity across all parts of the country.

Opt-out testing works, is cost effective, has been recommended by the British HIV Association and British Association of HIV and Sexual Health since 2016, and is included within current NICE guidelines on HIV testing. It is proven to find those with traditionally the worst HIV outcomes: people of Black African heritage, women and older people. More than two in five (42%) people diagnosed with HIV in England continue to get their diagnosis at a late stage – this can have serious consequences for their own health and the health of others through unknowingly passing on the virus. These populations experience some of the highest rates of late diagnosis.

Anyone with undiagnosed HIV leaving A&E without knowing their status is a missed opportunity and likely means they will present with a HIV complication at a later date and add additional cost to the system. The HIV Commission – which the government promised to implement – made this its flagship recommendation.

This National HIV Testing Week we are reminded of the need to level up our HIV ambition and testing infrastructure. There is much we can learn from successful HIV interventions in London, but we will only meet the 2030 goal as one country. Just funding opt-out testing in the very highest prevalence areas will not end new HIV transmissions, and we urge the government to consider funding areas like Bristol to reduce stigma, and ensure that we can support everyone living with HIV in Bristol.

Delivering funding by World Aids Day 2022 would help us get opt-out testing in Bristol hospitals up and running as soon as possible. There can be no further delay.

Yours sincerely,

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol

Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health, Communities and Bristol One City

Children’s Mental Health Week

Today’s blog is by Ivan Powell, Chair of the Keeping Bristol Safe Partnership

This week marks Children’s Mental Health Week. The theme for 2022 is ‘Growing Together’: helping children to grow emotionally and finding ways for them to help each other grow as well.

‘Growing Together’ feels like a particularly relevant theme after the challenges and adversity that our children and young people have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus exacerbated existing inequalities, reduced vital resources and supportive pathways, and forced our children and young people to adapt, be flexible, and become activists for their own development. In the wider community, people also continue to struggle with their mental health, financial difficulties, and domestic abuse.

The Keeping Bristol Safe Partnership launched the Are You OK? campaign back in 2020. The campaign focuses on helping people find the support they need as well as offering information about services, either for direct support or for advice, during the pandemic. Its key message is simple: let’s all look out for one another, and keep an eye on our friends, family, and neighbours, particularly through tough times.

During the height of the pandemic, we held a workshop to understand the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s mental health. Today, to support Children’s Mental Health Week, we’re promoting the services that can support children and young people the most, at times when things are overwhelming or not OK at home, and they don’t know who to turn to. Resources such as Children’s Mental Health Week’s website are invaluable for children and young people, but also parents, carers and school and youth groups.

We are committed to continuing to listen and talk about mental health, as well as making sure the support is there when people need it the most, to help our children and young people feel safe and make sure they are given the right support to grow into happy and confident adults. Later in March 2022, we will be launching participation guidance within education and youth settings across the city, to encourage children and young people’s voices to be heard in the conversation about health and sex education, as well as the personal, health and social education curriculum.

Find out more about how to spot the signs that someone might be struggling, and the local support services that are available on the Are You OK?, which is part of the Keeping Bristol Safe Partnership, including a specific page for Children/Families on their website, and through local organisations including Off The Record.

The stuff we’re getting done

For too long, Bristol’s political leaders took a patch-and-mend to building Bristol, failing to prepare for our city’s growth in population, to update our city’s energy systems, or to deliver a transport network fit for a modern city. By contrast, I’m proud that our administration is getting stuff done and building the next iteration of Bristol.

Future-proofing the city

Nowhere is this more urgent than in tackling our housing crisis. Average house prices are now nine times higher than average earnings – the highest of all the core cities. Combined with the impact of the pandemic and over a decade of government cuts to public services and welfare, this has left us with over 15,000 people on our housing waiting list, and around 1,000 families in temporary accommodation. On top of all of this, our city’s population is set to grow by almost 100,000 people by 2050.

That’s why we’ve put forward investment of £12 million in our budget to support the delivery of new affordable homes, with a plan to deliver 1,000 affordable homes a year by 2024 which will be considered by Cabinet this week. The cornerstone of this plan is the delivery of one of the biggest council house building programmes in a generation at Hengrove Park, with half of the 1,400 homes delivered by our housing company Goram Homes dedicated for social rent and shared ownership.

We’re planning for the future too, by investing £1.8 billion over 30 years to deliver new council homes and upgrading our existing stock.

Rethinking the architecture of the city

We are responding to this housing crisis in the context of a climate and ecological emergency. Put simply, how and where we build these new homes will determine the price the planet pays for Bristol’s growth.

We’ve worked with experts, like the Avon Wildlife Trust, to understand the ecological impact of development in different parts of the city. That’s why we’ve taken the decision to scale down our own plans for development on the Western Slopes, building affordable homes only on the previously-developed former school site near Belstone Walk.

Not delivering homes here, however, means we must prioritise development at higher density on brownfield land near the centre of the city. We’ll continue to do just that through major regeneration schemes that will bring thousands of new homes (and jobs!) to our city: Castle Park View, Bedminster Green, Western Harbour, Frome Gateway, and – of course – Temple Island.

Even in the city centre, however, we’re building in space for nature to thrive. The work we’re doing to create green roofs and walls in the Bearpit will inform how we can incorporate these into future regeneration projects – building ecology into the very architecture of the city. And we are working with the Environment Agency to deliver on our flood strategy and protect our city from the impacts of climate change.

Connecting the city

All of this demands big changes to how we move around the city. Our mission throughout has been to connect people to people, people to jobs, and people to opportunity. But we will fail if we just tinker around the edges of Bristol’s transport network like previous administrations. That’s why we’re taking big decisions now to lay the foundations of a Bristol that is fit for the future.

We are repairing vital infrastructure that for too long has been allowed to fray, with a £15 million investment in repairing 6 crucial bridges. We’re delivering unprecedented investment in Bristol’s public transport system – providing more people across the city with more frequent and reliable alternatives to travelling by car. This includes the improvements to the number 2 route as part of the Bus Deal, and the delivery of the first new train station in Bristol in 95 years at the Portway Park and Ride (soon to be followed by a new station at Ashley Down).

All this builds the case for a radical rethink of our transport system. Bristol is the only core city without a mass transit network, and I am pleased that leaders across parties and from across the region recognise the need to redress this. I’m pleased to secure commitment from WECA on the need for tunnels and £5 million of investmentto set out our plans.

We’re applying that ambition to a local level too. We’ve opened our initial engagement so that residents can help us shape our first Liveable Neighbourhood pilot in East Bristol. Combined with £4.7 million of investment to help Bristol’s high streetsrecover from the pandemic, we’re committed to building sustainable and thriving communities for residents and businesses.

Going big

The interconnected challenges we are facing as a city and a planet demand urgent action. We are taking decisions that deliver jobs, homes, and sustainability to make sure Bristol can tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities to come over the next decades.

Now is the time for clear leadership – for getting stuff done quickly, and with an eye on the future challenges we face.

That’s what we’re delivering.

Apprenticeship Week

Our Labour-run Council is proud to provide 250 new apprenticeships each year – around 10% of those on offer across Bristol. They are helping us deliver for Bristol, and, as just one example, a Skills Academy and on-site training programme will help build the careers of 36 new tradespeople, while delivering 268 new homes (55% affordable) at Romney House through Goram Homes and Vistry Partnerships. We have also invested in the £9 million Advanced Construction Skills Centre in Hengrove, south Bristol, and, more personally, I am proud that a number of Bristolians have started their council careers as apprentices in the Mayor’s Office since 2016.

These jobs are the foundation for long-term careers, complemented by our city-wide work experience programme. Through Bristol WORKS, we are harnessing the talent of young people from every corner of Bristol, regardless of their background, and, working with local employers, have provided some 12,000 experiences of work – including virtually during the pandemic.

Serena and Dennis being presented with their awards by Jane Taylor and Zara Naylor

With apprenticeships in England falling by 135,000 between 2010 and 2020/21, sobering statistics for such an important pathway into the world of work and alternative to university. I welcomed the announcement that payments to employers hiring new apprentices would double in last year’s Spring Statement, but it is clear that more needs to be done by Government.

We were proud to see On Site Bristol, who support around 300 construction apprentices, honour two of our council apprentices with awards for their performance and progress. Congratulations to Serena Giambarresi and Dennis Nziza, two Plumbing/Gas Engineer apprentices in our Housing and Landlord Services, Responsive Repairs team.

Another such exciting opportunity is our Solicitor Apprenticeship Programme, in partnership with law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, giving young people the chance to gain a qualifying law degree without the cost of university and with six years’ legal experience already under their belts. Applications are open until 15 March for this scheme.

Faria Jadoon

Faria Jadoon, one of our apprentice solicitors, could not recommend the role more highly.

“I am currently in year 3 of my apprenticeship, seated in the Property, Planning and Transport Team at Bristol City Council. No two days are the same because of the variety of work the Council carries out to meet the needs of the city. As an apprentice, I get to work with different legal teams, which not only gives me a breadth of  experience but will help me make a more informed decision in pursuing a final area of interest.

“Perhaps one of the biggest perks of being a Solicitor Apprentice for the Council is the opportunity for secondment with Womble Bond Dickinson. I am starting my employment law seat with WBD this spring and looking forward to the experience of working in a private practice. This really is the best of both worlds and a golden career opportunity.

“Six years is a big commitment and combined with the part-time LLB, makes this apprenticeship challenging but nevertheless, very rewarding. If you thrive on being the better version of yourself through positive challenges, then this apprenticeship is for you. Good luck with your application!”

To hear more from Faria, and to apply for the scheme starting in September, click here.

Can you join our One City Boards?

Since 2019, when we launched the One City Plan, we have been working through the City Office to engage with organisations from across Bristol, collaborating with every sector and type of organisation to collaborate and deliver on the ambitions in the One City Plan. Bringing together a range of partners across different themes, goals were devised and agreed upon for every year until 2050 – goals that will benefit all those living in Bristol.

Facilitating the delivery of these goals are the One City Boards, where partners come together and discuss the strategic direction for delivery of goals, as well as receiving feedback from different sectors and organisations across the city.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, the Boards have been essential for the dissemination of Public Health information quickly and effectively, and an opportunity for members to discuss their own challenges and ask questions. As we move into a different phase of the pandemic, it’s time for the Boards to become the hubs that drive projects and collaborative working that we first envisaged.

Over the past six months, the City Office has been holding workshops and working with the One City Boards to consider this future and they are now inviting individuals, organisations, and communities across Bristol to get involved in the One City Approach.

Are you a leading expert in your sector in Bristol? Do you have a wide influence or a strong network relating to your passion? Can you contribute to the work of a thematic Board, working in partnership to deliver the One City Plan? We’re refreshing membership of our Economy and Skills, Children and Young People, Transport, and Homes and Communities Boards and looking to fill one space on the Environment board.

We need city-wide expertise if we are to deliver on Bristol’s vision that in 2050 Bristol will be a fair, healthy, and sustainable city: a city of hope and aspiration where everyone can share in its success.

For details of how to apply and submit your Expression of Interest, click here.