Author Archives: marvinjrees

Bristol Born Enterprise: Bristol Braille Technology

Ed Rogers, the founder and Managing Director of Bristol Braille Technology, smiling.
Today’s guest blog is from Ed Rogers, the founder and Managing Director of Bristol Braille Technology

Bristol Braille Technology is a tech company based in Windmill Hill in Bristol, who have created and manufactured the first multi-line, refreshable Braille machine. We have been perfecting the machine for around 12 years, before finally going to market in 2019. Since then, Bristol Braille Technology has sold machines all over the world including Japan, Uzbekistan and Dubai to both individuals and organisations who want access to Braille.

The Canute 360 is, in essence, a Kindle for blind people. The device enables you to download a book onto an SD card, convert it to a Braille file and then read the book on the device itself. Each line refreshes as the reader moves down the “page” with the Braille dots appearing on the surface of the machine.

Globally, Braille has been in decline for various reasons. The most common issues cited include the high cost of printed Braille, the size of the resources and the relative difficulty of access to printing or technologies in developing nations.

Currently, Braille readers have access to paper Braille books, which can become enormous depending on the material. A Braille page is around 1/3 of an A4 sheet which leads to books becoming huge bulk items for a Braille reader. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would take up 4ft square of space if laid next to each other!

Blind people in work or education need access to research books, maths equations and real-time graphs to do their jobs, all of these are limited when it comes to paper Braille.

Bristol Braille Technology staff, smiling, holding Canute 360 devices. Ed Rogers, the Managing Director and founder is the furthest left in the picture.

Whilst the Canute 360 is currently solving the problem of space-saving reading, we realised that Braille had far more applications than just enjoying books. Over lockdown, we looked more closely at the Braille display and wanted to find out what else the machine could be used for. From this, we have developed The Canute Console, a state-of-the-art device that uses Python (a programming language) access to features and programs sighted people take for granted.

Plugging straight into the Canute 360, The Console is able to use Braille to give users the ability to access and create their own data via computer programming, word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, computer games and more. Historically, something as simple as an excel spreadsheet has been out of reach to blind and visually impaired people due to a lack of investment in accessible tools.

We currently have these machines out on trial to find out how they can be used, we’re exploring everything from controlling robots, teaching someone to programme their own Braille-based computer games and even finding out how best to access their bank statements.

We are looking for sponsors to get these machines to the people that need them as well as to help support us in finding out what else we can give Braille readers access to. So far we’ve managed games of snake, explored cities all over the world, followed the 2022 world cup matches and lots more.

Our mantra is “Braille literacy is independence” and it’s true. It’s why we’ve joined forces with the group The Braillists, a worldwide community dedicated to teaching and encouraging more people to learn to read Braille and enjoy not only reading for pleasure but also opening more doors when it comes to careers and education.

“If I want to remember something, really remember, I need to read it in Braille”.

Stuart Lawler – Braille reader

To find out more about what we do head to our website:

Bristol Light Festival is back!

Vicky Lee, smiling, in front of Bristol harbour.
Today’s guest blog is from Vicky Lee, Head of Bristol City Centre BID
(Business Improvement District)

Now in our third year, Bristol Light Festival will illuminate the city centre with stunning, interactive, and captivating light installations, creating a trail through the centre of Bristol from this Friday, 3 February, until next Sunday, 12 February.

Bringing more light, fun and colour to the city centre will brighten up the winter evenings. Visitors can explore eleven light installations as they come to life between 5pm till 10pm, enjoying the city’s food, drink and hospitality offerings along the way. Presented by Bristol City Centre BID, this year’s festival will have something for everyone: the perfect winter pick-me-up that is sure to delight.

We want to bring a sense of fun, togetherness, and joy to the city across the late winter period, encouraging visitors to explore Bristol at night and enjoy the centre’s rich selection of night-time economy businesses.

Two children looking at each other, laughing, at the The Trumpet Flowers light installation in Sydney in 2019. This installation will be coming to Bristol Lights Festival 2023.
The Trumpet Flowers light installation in Sydney in 2019. It will be coming to the upcoming Bristol Light Festival.

Bristol Light Festival demonstrates the importance of free-to-attend events in supporting city centre businesses and attracting people to spend leisure time in the city during the quieter months. This was evident in 2022 with £3.4 million additional revenue in local businesses reported across the event, providing an economic boost for businesses when they need it most.

Each year we work with key partners and organisations, and this year our partner support has enabled the event to grow and offer even more. We have newly commissioned artworks, exciting new locations to discover and a longer ten day event, making it a real city-wide event.

The 2023 programme, curated by our Creative Director Katherine Jewkes, is bringing some exciting artworks to the festival from internationally acclaimed artists and the best of south west talent, most of which have never been seen in Bristol. We look forward to welcoming visitors to Bristol Light Festival to enjoy the city centre and all that it has to offer. The event embodies everything that Bristol represents and showcases it as the vibrant, playful and creative city that we know and love.

Bristol Light Festival is presented by Bristol City Centre Business Improvement District (BID), supported by Redcliffe & Temple BID, Broadmead BID, and Cabot Circus. The festival is also supported by Bristol’s City Centre & High Streets Recovery and Renewal programme, which is funded by Bristol City Council and the West of England’s Combined Authority’s Love our High Streets project, with the aim of supporting the recovery of Bristol’s priority high streets.

For more information, a map of the installations and locations, and updates about the event, please visit and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and using the hashtag #BristolLightFestival

Supporting people with No Recourse to Public Funds

Councillor Tom Renhard, smiling, on College Green.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor
Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member
for Housing Delivery and Homes

In the Autumn, I had the pleasure of chairing a meeting of organisations working across Bristol to support people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). NRPF status means that people don’t have access to a wide range of social security benefits and payments, including Universal Credit and Housing Benefit.

It affects a huge range of over 1 million people in the UK, including those seeking asylum, EU citizens, recent arrivals from Hong Kong, and young professionals here on a spousal or family visa. For these different groups, having NRPF status means that when things go wrong – maybe an illness or losing their job – they don’t have access to the welfare safety net that the rest of us have access to. As a result, many people with NRPF, along with their children and families, can face homelessness and destitution through no fault of their own. 

Stills from the Bristol Refugee Rights video of lived experiences of NRPF. A cartoon of a young person playing with toys.
Stills from the Bristol Refugee Rights video of lived experiences of NRPF

Local Authorities receive no dedicated funding from central Government to support those with NRPF. During Covid, the Everyone In policy did briefly give us the chance to offer housing to everyone who needed it in the city. Knowing that this wouldn’t last forever, we set up a One City Task Force to bring together the skills and resources of Bristol City Council, the Homelessness sector and the Refugee sector to take a longer-term view. Through this collaboration we were able to help more than 75 people with NRPF successfully move on from the Everyone In accommodation rather than heading straight back to the streets, cutting rough sleeping by around 80%. 

From this success, an idea was born: the Bristol Model of NRPF support. It’s a holistic and collaborative framework for bringing together services and support based on four key principles – design out destitution, informed and supported, included and involved and a safe place to stay. It builds on the insight and premise that when people have their basic needs catered for, they can then make progress in escaping NRPF-enforced destitution, either by finding new work or by changing their legal status. It also works on the principle that no single organisation or sector in the city can effectively support those with NRPF on their own.

At the meeting, we heard from several organisations about their experiences of working with the Bristol Model. Bristol Refugee Rights and the Big Issue have both worked hard to make sure that people’s lived experiences of NRPF are at the centre of these conversations, and we watched a powerful film that captures the crippling insecurity and hopelessness that NRPF can cause. 

We also heard about how people have creatively found resources to help make the Bristol Model a reality. At the council we’re proud to have put the Model at the heart of our efforts to tackle rough sleeping, including our successful bid for funding from the Rough Sleeping Initiative over the next three years. This will secure some bed spaces for those with NRPF, caseworker capacity, access to legal advice from Bristol Law Centre and a specialist sub-group of our Rough Sleeping Partnership.

There is plenty more to do on this issue, and nobody is resting on any laurels. But we are confident that the Bristol Model gives us the right framework, one that is rooted in lived experience and consistent with the One City Approach. This work sits alongside efforts to tackle Bristol’s housing crisis through building enough new homes for our city and lobbying for required changes in legislation.

We are also truly humbled and grateful that, despite the unjust and often inhumane approach of the National Government on this, we live in a City of Sanctuary full of people and organisations willing to go the extra mile to make sure that everyone has the chance to build a life of dignity and purpose here in Bristol.  

Ayham, a Bristol school pupil, is pictured holding a letter that they addressed to the Home Secretary.
The Mayor recently received a copy of a letter on
a related topic from Ayham, a Bristol school pupil,
addressed to the Home Secretary.

Housing support during the national Cost of Living crisis

Today’s guest blog is
from Ally Rush – Strategic Lead, Shelter Bristol

The national housing crisis is inextricably linked with the national cost of living crisis. Hundreds of thousands are struggling to afford to keep a roof over their heads, and we now face a perfect storm of spiralling rents and rising bills that threatens to push many towards the brink of homelessness. In Bristol we have more than 19,000 households on our waiting list for social housing, along with over 1,100 households in temporary accommodation and a cost of operating crisis that is impacting the ability of support services to meet the needs of all.

How can I access housing support?

1. Struggling to pay rent

Rent is considered a priority debt as not paying could mean you lose your home. If you are struggling to pay or have fallen into arrears, it’s important to get advice as soon as you can as you may be eligible for additional financial assistance.

Try to negotiate with your landlord or agent, they may consider an affordable repayment plan, or even a temporary rent reduction – ensure any agreements or arrangements are in writing. Even private landlords may understand and will let you stay if your problems can be sorted out.

Early intervention can prevent a situation from worsening to the point where you may face homelessness. It is critical that households can access the financial assistance that is available to support them to pay their rent.

Discretionary Housing Payments are available when Housing Benefit or Universal Credit doesn’t provide enough money to pay your rent. More information is available on Bristol City Council’s website or from Shelter.

You can read about the different types of support that may be available if you need help with paying your rent on the Shelter website.

Your landlord must follow the specific rules when increasing rent. Simply telling you that the rent is going up does not actually change the rent legally. However, if you pay the new rent your landlord is proposing, this is treated as a legal acceptance of it. The same is true if you sign a new agreement accepting the new rent. Read about rent increases on the Shelter website

If the rent increase is excessive or the landlord is not following the correct procedure you can contact the council’s Private Renting Team.

2. Legally homeless:

If you cannot pay for the basics like food or heating after paying for your housing, you could be legally homeless.

You can approach the council’s homeless prevention team who will look at whether your home is affordable. If it isn’t, the council will need to look at assisting in accessing alternative housing options.

How can I take action?

  1. Know your rights and get essential advice

Get expert housing advice from Shelter advisers 365 days a year – over the phone, web chat, or on our website. We also hold free, online workshops.

Tel: 0808 800 4444 – open Mon to Fri, 8am to 8pm, weekends and bank holidays, 9am to 5pm. Email or on the Shelter website.

You can also seek financial advice from Citizens Advice Bureau, Step Change, Bristol’s Welfare Rights and Money Advice Service (WRAMAS) or Talking Money​.

If you receive a notice from your landlord, seek housing advice from Shelter, CHAS or Citizens Advice Bureau.

  1. Join together to fight for a fair renting system

The Bristol Fair Renting campaign was launched by local renters, with support from Shelter and the council, to demand urgent change to tackle high rents, poor conditions and discrimination in private renting.

The team of renters leading the campaign have all been personally impacted by the broken renting system and have been working hard to unite renters as a community and influence local politicians to bring the change they are fighting for.

They worked with Councillor Tom Renhard to shape a motion to tackle benefits discrimination, which councillors voted through in January 2022. In March, the campaign co-hosted a Renters’ Summit which brought the community together to start a conversation about what a local action plan to stamp out income discrimination needs to include, as well as what rent control could look like for Bristol.  More information can be found on the council’s website.

Show your support for the Bristol Fair Renting Manifesto.   

If you’re a renter and are interested in helping to lead the Fair Renting Campaign, or would like to share your story, please email 

For more cost of living support and advice visit the Bristol City Council cost of living webpage.

You can also call the We Are Bristol phone line on 0800 694 0184, Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm.

A ground-breaking new facility for Bristol Children’s Hospital

Mayor Marvin Rees (left) and Nicola Masters (right), smiling in front of Bristol Children's Hospital
Today’s guest blog is from Nicola Masters (right),
Director and Co-founder of The Grand Appeal.

The Grand Appeal is the dedicated charity for Bristol Children’s Hospital. As part of our commitment to ensuring the hospital remains at the forefront of children’s healthcare, we are creating a pioneering facility that will be the first of its kind in the UK.

Jingle Jam Building will offer accommodation and treatment facilities all under one roof.

Over 100,000 children from the South West and South Wales visit Bristol Children’s Hospital every year. Imagine arriving in Bristol, an unfamiliar city, with nowhere to go while your child needs life-saving care. With Bristol Children’s Hospital serving the whole city region and often further afield – the largest geographical area of any children’s hospital in England – this is the reality for many families that pass through its doors.

Some stay for days, but many stay for weeks or even months. Jingle Jam Building will mean these families can be together during the last steps of their child’s recovery before they return home.

This unique development will improve the care of young patients undergoing different treatments, such as

  • Children who need long-term rehabilitation and/or therapy after an accident or major surgery
  • Children who need rehabilitation after brain surgery or a brain injury
  • Children under the care of the Orthopaedic team who treat bone, joint, ligament, tendon, and muscle disorders
  • Children treated for chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Children working with hospital dietitians or who need specialist diets
  • Children who have cystic fibrosis
Artist impressions of the Jingle Jam building.
Artists impression of the Jingle Jam building.

It will also increase resource, and capacity and enhance the incredible work of the talented doctors, nurses, and staff at Bristol Children’s Hospital. The building is currently in the planning stage and will be based near the hospital.

This project is only possible thanks to the support of Jingle Jam. Jingle Jam is the brainchild of Bristol-based gaming company, The Yogscast. This epic event is the world’s biggest gaming charity fundraiser, which brings together the gaming community each December to raise millions for good causes, including The Grand Appeal. We’re proud to have worked in partnership with our fellow Bristolians at The Yogscast since 2017. 

A picture of the Cots for Tots House.

Founded in 1995, The Grand Appeal works in partnership with Bristol Children’s Hospital to run a multi-million-pound portfolio of investment.

It’s where babies, children, and young people with highly complex medical conditions – from rare genetic disorders, neurological conditions and congenital heart disease to traumatic injuries, cancer, and kidney disease – are all cared for around the clock. 

Just like Bristol, the hospital is a hub of innovation, where these experts create a brighter future for sick children every day through a vast network of research projects with international impact. So much so that Bristol Children’s Hospital has been recognised in the world’s top 14 children’s hospitals (Newsweek, 2021).

It’s thanks to The Grand Appeal’s partnership with the hospital and our friends at Aardman, that Bristol Children’s Hospital is a pioneer in so many fields today. That partnership is only made possible through fundraising – in all its fantastic forms – by people with one thing in common: the drive to change the lives of seriously ill children and their families. 

Nicola Masters (left) and Mayor Marvin Rees (right) stand, smiling, outside the BRI. A sign on the building says: Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Paul O'Gorman Building.

That vision that we all share has never been more critical. The incredible advancements in medicine that the last two decades have brought about mean that more and more children are living with increasingly complex conditions and will rely on hospital services throughout their lives. Our goal is not just that they survive; but that they thrive. 

Underpinned by economic uncertainty, children’s hospitals now rely on innovative technology, science and models of care – like Jingle Jam Building – and, of course, on the comprehensive support of charities like The Grand Appeal. 

Jingle Jam Building is just one of the ways we make your children’s hospital the very best it can be.

Director of Public Health’s report for 2023

Councillor Ellie King, smiling, on the ramp in front of Bristol City Hall.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor
Ellie King, Cabinet Member for
Public Health and Communities

The New Year often goes hand in hand with new beginnings, new goals, and new resolutions. For many people, being more physically active comes top of their New Year’s Resolution list. Although most resolutions fall by the wayside by February, being more physically active doesn’t have to be about hitting the gym every week. Simply put, being more active is about getting your body moving more. Taking the stairs instead of the lift, or walking or cycling short trips rather than taking the car, contributes to a more active lifestyle.

This year’s Director of Public Health report focuses on physical activity and how leading a more active lifestyle not only benefits our physical and mental health, but also helps with disease prevention and recovery. As Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England said, ‘If physical activity were a drug, we’d talk about it as a miracle cure’.

It is estimated that the current UK population is 20 per cent less active than in the 1960s. There are many reasons why this is the case. Technology has changed the way we work and the way we spend our leisure time. Fewer of us have manual jobs than in the past whilst many more of us now rely on cars as our means of transport.

Games being played at an accessible Multi Sports Festival.

The 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, aimed to inspire a generation to take up sport and regular physical activity. The UK government’s pledge to encourage more people to take up physical activity off the back of the Games was a means to forge a healthier and more active future. Ten years on and after a global pandemic, the number of people in Bristol who do the recommended amount of regular exercise each week dropped from 73 per cent between 2015 and 2019 to 67.1 per cent in 2021 according to the Quality of Life survey.

Needless to say, the pandemic years were challenging for many people, but they also taught us about the importance of physical activity. Going out for that daily walk or doing home workouts became highly valued during a time when our movement was restricted.

The report showcases ten inspiring real-life stories where people in Bristol have managed to build physical activity into their daily lives. In some cases, physical activity has helped people overcome the physical and emotional effects of COVID-19. It has also helped to tackle lifestyle-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes as well as facilitated stronger community ties through inclusive activities and programmes.

Maroua Nouri, smiling, on the top of some stairs with her children.

Swimming pools and leisure centres provide opportunities and environments where people can be physically active. The council’s commitment to invest £8 million across its leisure facilities will ensure these sites continue to cater to a wide range of physical activities, interests, and abilities, whilst providing people the opportunity to find activities that they enjoy.

Please join the movement to be more active in 2023 by taking your own small steps. Programmes such as Bristol Girls Can, FIT Robins and accessible multi-sport events can help you get started. Whatever you’re doing, you will be making a difference. #ActiveBristol

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week – How we can end cervical cancer 

On a pink background, white text sits in the middle of the image reading: Jo's cervical cancer trust. Jo's cervical cancer trust's logo is to the right.
Today’s guest blog is from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (23rd – 29th January) and it’s amazing to see Bristol City Hall turning pink to mark the occasion. The week is always a great chance to talk about how we can help prevent more cases of cervical cancer. This year is a bit different as we’ve launched our biggest ever campaign, a campaign to end cervical cancer. 

The exciting thing is that it’s in our reach. HPV vaccination and cervical screening can both stop cervical cancer from ever developing. The vaccination is offered in school to girls and boys to help prevent HPV-related cancers, cervical cancer being one of them, and evidence shows it has prevented almost 90% of cervical cancers in those who have been vaccinated! Cervical screening is offered to women and people with a cervix from 25 up to 65, and it also offers a really high level of protection by helping identify anyone at an increased risk.

HPV vaccination and cervical screening can help prevent and, one day, end cervical cancer. However, uptake has been falling in many parts of the country. 

In Bristol, just 68.7% are up to date with their cervical screening. That means a third are not attending. Cervical screening can be difficult for lots of reasons, it can be embarrassing, scary, hard to find a convenient appointment or you may have a health condition or experience of trauma. However you feel about the test, you aren’t alone. There are lots of tips and support out there for you, however you feel. 

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally and every day in the UK there are 9 new diagnoses and 2 women will lose their lives. Countries across the world are working towards the day we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past. Through raising awareness of cervical screening, spreading important information about the HPV vaccine and calling on governments to take action, we can make cervical cancer be the first cancer in history we have eliminated. You can play your part and together we can end cervical cancer. 

Watch the new video from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, to find out how #WeCan end cervical cancer

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs from 23-29 January 2022 and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its biggest ever campaign – to End Cervical Cancer. Join in to raise awareness of HPV vaccination and cervical screening and call for Government action to make this a reality

About Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity. It provides information and support to anyone affected and campaigns for excellence in cervical cancer treatment, care and prevention. Its national helpline is free and confidential: 0808 802 8000.

Creating sustainable communities through Intergenerational Housing

The left image shows Bianca Rosetti, smiling, with trees in the background. The right image shows Richard Pendlebury, smiling, sat down on a chair.
Today’s guest blog is co-written by Bianca Rosetti, former Age Friendly Lead – Age UK Bristol and Richard Pendlebury MBE DL, Chief Executive – Anchor Society CIO

Housing and care the big challenges

Like many countries, the UK is struggling with two key issues, care and support for older people and a lack of affordable housing. One of the consequences is the pricing out of young people from the housing market (rent and ownership). But the lack of affordable housing is affecting people of all ages, and it was reported recently that there has been a dramatic rise of over 50s having to resort to house sharing. Last year, Age UK reported that there were 2 million older people living in poverty in the UK and many more are likely to be added as we face the worst fuel crisis in modern times.

Commitment to those in need 

In Bristol, many organisations are committed to doing something to alleviate the serious challenges faced by older and young people alike each day. For example, The Anchor Society CIO provides grants for older people facing hardship for basic necessities (e.g. furniture, boilers, and white goods) and Age UK Bristol (AUKB) provides income maximisation support through its Information & Advice service, which brings an average of £2 million in unclaimed benefits and allowances to older Bristolians’ pockets each year. Supported by St Monica Trust, Bristol City Council, and the Anchor Society, AUKB also has a fund to help older people in fuel poverty.   

Innovative intergenerational housing

Short term financial aid in whatever form is essential, but are there longer-term solutions to meeting those in need. Housing costs as a proportion of income are at an all-time high, and a key driving factor of poverty. The Anchor Society, together with All Saints Church Lands Charity, visited an award-winning housing complex in Alicante before lockdown which provides affordable housing for young and old alike. This complex provides housing for over 80, with the young people providing support (befriending) for lower rent. The young people are largely key workers and the ones we met were social work students and young social workers. The support given to older people by their young neighbours means that they need never be lonely or struggling with day-to-day tasks. So, the issues of affordable housing and care are resolved in one project. It is a highly successful housing solution which we are seeking to emulate in Bristol.  

Key to the success of the project will be the creation of community; something that AUKB has been involved with for many years. As the lead partner for the city’s Age-friendly City strategy, AUKB has been working with organisations and departments across local government, the charity sector, businesses to improve services and spaces for older residents now and in the future. AUKB’s programme of social opportunities, including the Friends Ageing Better network and other regular events through its LinkAge service, support people to make social connections and make the most of the arts and culture our city has to offer.

A sketch of the New Fosseway Road development in Hengrove.

New Fosseway Road

In a similar fashion, Bristol City Council is committed to building sustainable communities. As the local authority, there is a duty to provide extra care housing under their Better Lives at Home Programme, alongside a shortage of housing that needs to be addressed.

Goram Homes, Bristol City Council’s housing company, secured planning approval in December for 190 new homes on New Fosseway Road, on the site of a former school in Hengrove. This multi-generational housing development addresses both core issues faced by the city. The plans encompass extra care housing alongside the delivery of new homes including more than 100 new affordable homes. These new homes will add to the 2,563 new homes built in 2021/22 in Bristol, including more affordable new homes than for any year in the last twelve.

By approaching community building in multi-pronged basis, they are able to build sustainable communities that will remain suitable to the changing needs and requirements of the local community.

Working in Partnership

We believe that none of us has all the solutions but that working together we can make a difference. Both The Anchor Society CIO and Age UK Bristol are involved in a number of alliances and partnerships across the city.  

Getting our Filwood Broadway bid over the line

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

Ellis Genge, named this week in Steve Borthwick’s first England Rugby squad, has been among the Knowle Westers to today welcome brilliant progress in investing in their area. Sometimes, you need to maul, scrum, kick, and ruck to get stuff done. Filwood Broadway is a perfect example of trying everything to get things over the line.

There’s been a game plan in place for the area for some time but, for one reason or another, the projects needed to bring the plan to life have not quite got going. Because of this stagnation and lack of progress, we took the decision to start laying the foundations needed to revitalise the area and, working as a team for this part of south Bristol, has got us on a path in 2023 that will see massive leaps forward over coming weeks and months.

What’s happening? What’s happened?

Let’s recap.

Back in April last year, Cabinet approved up to £300,000 of funding to go towards building  a new multi-use games area (MUGA) and providing investment towards new floodlights at Filwood Playing Fields.  During that same meeting I also approved over £400,000 to deliver new public spaces and improvements in the area. Around the same time the council also allocated £90,000 of COVID recovery funding to spend on the children’s play area within the Broadway. These investments have helped kick start the regeneration work and begin laying foundations for the future.

Fast forward to this week and there have been further developments that will move our plans forward significantly.

The big news this week is the major funding we’ve secured from government following a bid to the national Levelling Up Fund. The £14.5 million we’ve secured will go a long way towards bringing new homes to the area whilst introducing better quality public realm (£2.1 million), investment in community centre (£7.6 million), creating space for improvements to local library services (£3 million), new business and commercial space, new sporting facilities, and delivering a greener and more attractive environment. This will enable us to add to the 2,563 new homes which were built in Bristol last year, including more affordable new homes than for any year in the last twelve. The benefit to cost ratio of our successful Levelling Up bid will mean a positive impact worth more than £45 million for this part of south Bristol in local employment, social value, health benefits, and cultural amenity.

The announcement comes as another major step is taken on this path with the approval of plans to build 30 new homes on the site of the former Filwood cinema on the Broadway. The approval given by the council’s Development Control Committee yesterday (Wednesday 18 January 2023), means that we now have the green light to press ahead with bringing much needed social housing and also includes nearly 600 square metres of floorspace for shops.

In the next couple of weeks we will publish an updated plan for the area for the city’s Cabinet to consider and ask to proceed with delivering this exciting vision for Filwood and Knowle West.

Transforming the derelict former cinema site

Opening its doors in 1938, Filwood cinema was arguably Knowle West’s biggest attraction for many years. The cinema could pack over 1,000 people hosting films, concerts, and boxing matches. The cinema was designed by Dennis Hurford and F. G. W. Chamberlain and was built as part of the Filwood Broadway development.

In the 1950s, cinema attendance began to fall in the UK. From the 1960s the cinema began to hold bingo on Saturdays and was sold in the 1980s to become a full-time bingo hall. Eventually, in 1994, the building closed entirely, and some of the original seats and projectors can be seen in the M Shed

In 2023, nearly 30 years since the cinema building was last in use, new changes are planned on the old cinema site. The 20-year Knowle West Regeneration Framework, first published in 2012, has an ambition to develop and transform the Filwood Broadway area for the community – much like the original development plan back in the 1930s.

One of the most significant moments to happen this year will be the demolition of the old cinema. Planning permission to knock down the building was granted in 2019, after falling into a poor state of repair. Wring Group Ltd will carry out the demolition and have begun their site set up and preparation. The physical demolition is due to begin in February and be completed by early May. 

This demolition will pave the way for the new homes and retail space approved this week. Public feedback from two separate consultations on these plans carried out in December 2019 and January 2022 helped to shape the final approach. Feedback from the consultation last year was largely supportive for redeveloping the old cinema site and positive comments were received about how it will enhance the Broadway and local area.

The social homes will comprise of 17 flats and 13 houses including 10 one-bedroom homes, 11 two-bedroom homes, and nine three-bedroom homes. 100 per cent social housing will be delivered at the site, as scheme viability was achieved without the need to include affordable housing such as shared ownership.

There will be vehicle access from both Filwood Broadway and Barnstaple Road, along the new residential street. Pedestrian and cycle access will also be available from Hartcliffe Road. This will help to make sure that for local trips, walking and cycling become the most convenient option, and for trips further afield, public transport becomes a viable option. Public and private spaces will be clearly defined, accessible and safe.

The development will also be set up to utilise renewable energy. Each home will be connected to a communal ground source heat pump system and the commercial units will be served by air source heat pumps for both heating and domestic hot water.

The new development has been commissioned and funded by the council and will make sure that the land is best used – delivering much needed social rent homes whilst helping to reinvigorate the area and provide new services for the local community.

A number of developments are in the pipeline for Knowle West and Filwood in order to regenerate the area and better meet the needs of the city and local community. Find out more.

Bristol Beacon

Mayor Marvin Rees (left) is pictured in high-vis and a hard hat being interviewed/filmed by journalists at the Bristol Beacon.
Mayor Marvin Rees is interviewed at Bristol Beacon on 17 January 2023

“Three things are to be looked to in a building: that it stand[s] on the right spot; that it be securely founded; that it be successfully executed.”

These are the words of the German writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe, written in the early nineteenth century though they remain relevant today.

Development is taking place all over our city with cranes across the horizon signalling the investment being made in Bristol. Homes are being built in communities desperately in need of housing; office and retail space is emerging to bring jobs to our local economy, and roads, bridges, and paths are all receiving investment.

So too are we investing in our cultural heritage with the Bristol Beacon now on course to open later this year as one of Europe’s finest music and concert halls. It’s been a long journey, one that started with the new wing back in 2009 along with the missed opportunities that came with it. Years of stagnation followed until finally we put the long-term vision of redeveloping this Victorian hall back on the table and took the difficult decisions needed to revitalise a decaying city asset of huge cultural importance.

Standing on the right spot

Bristol Beacon sits as part of a cultural ecosystem that has fuelled our  city’s creativity and imagination for generations. As a cultural asset, its value is immeasurable and it’s influence on those who visit, work, or perform there is lasting.

As an economic asset, the venue is uniquely placed to deliver maximum impact for our city’s economy. At the start of this project, we commissioned a study to assess that value. It showed that a refurbished venue would bring an additional £12 million to our city’s economy each year and sustain over 270 jobs in Bristol alone. These benefits increase as you expand to consider our wider regional and national economies. Standing at the centre of our city’s vibrant night time economy, which in itself employs almost a third of Bristol’s workforce, the finished venue will only add to our reputation as a venue of choice for millions of visitors per year and the centre of a regional tourism economy valued at over £2 billion a year.

Is the venue standing on the right spot? I’d say so.

Securely founded

When the first layers of decoration, plaster, and timber were stripped back from the hall in 2018 to reveal the Victorian structure, surprise after unforeseen surprise leapt forward as the venue gave up its secrets.

Walls were crumbling and in need of immediate stabilising, some columns were hollow or filled with rubble, and other walls had to demolished and rebuilt to keep the structure secure. In hidden corners there were rotting timbers, cracks, and defects in the masonry and asbestos in multiple areas. Then there were the three unknown wells as well as the chimney flues that appeared to lead nowhere but meant there were gaps under walls.

To say the building was not as we expected to find it is an understatement and the things we found as we peeled back the layers of history continued to add inevitable time and cost with each new discovery. Ignoring these issues was never an option and, to deliver on our ambition of restoring a world class venue for our city, they were things that had to put right.

Further investigation and painstaking analysis of every inch of the building led to a new set of works being drawn up. This new project included a significantly larger steel structure to support the ageing building and extensive masonry work to repair defects found along the way. Bristol’s Cabinet backed the works with further investment in March 2021 and we are now seeing the benefit of that decision as Bristol Beacon emerges as an iconic 21st century venue built to protect and honour the Victorian building that lay beneath.

From a less than stable position, this building is now well on its way to a new lease of life and a secure foundation for generations to come.

Successfully executed

This hasn’t been a project free from issues. That we’ve just published a report that recommends further investment to finalise the project is recognition that things have moved on considerably since we began in August 2018.

The surprises sprung on the contractors by the building aside, the project has faced unforeseeable and unprecedented challenges over the past four and a half years.

First came COVID-19. The global pandemic shut down the construction industry and restricted efforts across the industry for many months as workplace restrictions limited activity. At the height of restrictions, work at the Beacon slowed to 65% of its pre-pandemic pace, only reaching up to 80% later on as restrictions eased, before returning to full capacity.

Whilst things on site were challenging, these issues were compounded by the knock-on effect of the pandemic as  supply chains slowed, and in many cases, struggled to deliver the materials needed to progress the work.

Then came the national cost of living crisis and the unprecedented increases in inflation and interest rates. The impact this crisis has had on the project can be seen in the details of the report issued ahead of next week’s Cabinet meeting. Historic inflation has added millions of pounds to the cost of materials and services. Extra supply chain costs add hundreds of thousands just to get in the materials needed to finish the job. The extra time added by these  issues also adds a cost as the project carries over previously expected completion dates.

This additional investment has transformed the project from one where  Bristol City Council was a part funder of developing its cultural heritage, to one where the local authority’s funding share is 63%. That evolution necessitates a shift in our  city’s fiscal relationship with the venue and requires us to think hard about how the venue’s role in Bristol must evolve too. This is why we have to explore the options of generating an income from the Bristol Beacon and building on the venue’s commercial potential to make money for our city.

The position this leaves us in is a challenging one but provides three clear options ahead:

  • To progress with the project at an additional cost of £24.9 million and complete the project this year;
  • To pause and start again in 12 months at an additional cost of £58 million and a possible opening date towards the end of 2025;
  • Or to stop and aim to restart at a later date with an estimated additional cost upwards of £90 million and a start date unlikely to be before 2027.

These are the options ahead of Cabinet next week, with clear recommendations being made by contractors, officers, and consultants alike. Only after this decision and the completion of the project will we see this building successfully executed.