Shalom Friends, we are now in the days between the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashana) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Although these are Jewish high holidays, this year, they carry a universal message that is timely and relevant on a universal scale. Here’s why.
Once we thought we could make firm plans, now everything is far more tentative. Covid has introduced massive uncertainties on a global scale together with unrest and many protests worldwide and here at home in Bristol too.
This year is a Sabbatical (Shemitah) year based on an ancient count from biblical times until today. The Sabbatical is the seventh year in the agricultural cycle when farmers in Israel allow their land to lie fallow. Beyond the soil, there are many important lessons for the soul.
In addition to the agricultural value of letting the soil rest, The Shemitah is a lesson in humility. A farmer toiling over their crops or any breadwinner working hard naturally feels proud of their accomplishments. The sabbatical year reminds us that the Creator gives us our land and our seed; he makes the rain fall, the sun shine and our crops grow.
For farmers to rest for the whole year goes against their natural instincts and concerns about providing for their families. This kind of behaviour would generally be a formula for disaster, and farmers who follow this work ethic could prepare for bankruptcy! Yet, in the holy land, it produces tremendous results, material and spiritual. This reinforces our faith that the land belongs to God, that our success flows directly from His blessing, and that we must be grateful to Him for everything we have.
It is easy to share with others when we can afford to share, have a steady income, and know how we will pay for tomorrow’s expenses. It is much more difficult to be charitable when we are unsure of what tomorrow holds. Agricultural farmers have no income during Shemitah, yet they abandon all crops that grow spontaneously during the year, leaving them available to the public. In this way, Shemitah strengthens faith in God’s blessings and enhances unity.
On a global scale, this element of Shemitah is expressed in giving Charity. Conventional wisdom dictates that the more we give, the less we have. From God’s perspective, however, the more we offer, the more He blesses us. This is especially true when we give more than we think we can afford to. Charity thus also strengthens our faith and sense of community.
The belief that the world belongs to God and that our success depends on Him is a liberating notion. It enables us to release the burdens that we carry. We still toil, but we breathe easier. We still labour, but we sleep easier. We know that God guides our footsteps and that everything happens for a good reason. We learn to see God’s hand in everything we do and His presence in everything we see.
These lessons of the Sabbatical Year can guide us all through the uncertainties thrown our way into a calmer and more liberating year ahead. We hope and pray that the coming year of rest will usher in a much better future with peace and harmony across the world.
With best wishes for a safe and healthy year ahead, filled with meaning, growth, joy and much happiness.
With young people’s voices playing a key role in tackling the climate emergency, we have made greening schools a top priority for our administration. Their enthusiasm can clearly be seen in Bristol Youth Council’s Environment and Transport group survey results, which recorded over 1,300 responses from young people keen to promote sustainable transport. Listening and developing their ideas is key to setting up future generations for success, and we will continue to work with young people towards a better and more sustainable Bristol.
We were the first city to declare an Ecological Emergency. Since then, we have focused on delivering ambitious green policies and goals, such as setting a ground-breaking goal of becoming carbon neutral and climate resilient city by 2030. We know this is an ambitious challenge and will involve the action of everyone in the city, including our schools.
Our Schools Energy Efficiency Scheme has helped support local schools to cut carbon over the last 3 years. We have invested £1.3 million in 30 schools and this will save a staggering 6,320 tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 10 years, equivalent to 1,150 homes’ electricity use for one year. This has complemented our work connecting our schools to Bristol’s Heat Network, a £6.9 million project which provides local businesses, organisations, and housing with heat and power from more sustainable sources.
Oasis Community Learning, and their partner, Eden Sustainable, have done some fantastic work towards our shared goals. Oasis John Williams, their school in Hengrove, has recently installed 408 solar panels on the roof, which will produce free electricity and help support Bristol becoming a carbon neutral city by 2030.
Equally, it has been gratifying to see the enthusiasm across the city for the Bristol School Streets pilots, which have not only been designed to reduce the volume of traffic around school gates, but also to improve the air quality around schools as we work with communities towards Liveable Neighbourhood schemes.
We work with schools to encourage sustainable lifestyles and reduce vehicle traffic through a range of options. This includes ‘Bikeability‘ training for pupils, setting up park and strides, providing parking buddies to help keep the school entrances clear, providing signage such as ‘Show you care, park elsewhere’ and delivering road safety education.
We know that the challenges that face us in terms of living more sustainably will be there for years to come. Therefore, we want to build long-term, sustainable solutions. That’s why we have also been encouraging schools to get students involved in developing their own ideas for being greener, such as installing smart meters or turning waste into wildlife habitats. One example of this is the Bristol Education Partnership Climate Challenge, which brings together schools with colleges and universities to address the climate crisis.
So as we look to the year ahead for our schools, we would like to thank them for their engagement as we move towards our goal of carbon neutrality. Through changes to the curriculum, travel, and building infrastructure, they are helping us to take significant steps forward as a city – and setting a brilliant example while doing it.
Our debate on Bristol’s vehicle dwellers and housing can often feel like there is no place for nuance, but that is not the case. Muller Road was scheduled for temporary closure today in order to evict an unlawful encampment of vehicle dwellers to make way for the construction of 32 social houses for the residents of Bristol. However, thanks to the engagement work of our Gypsy, Roma Traveller team, all vehicle dwellers have now peacefully left the site. Muller Road remains open and the eviction does not have to take place. This is not the first time that we have had to involve the Courts as a last resort regarding an encampment of vehicle dwellers in Bristol – this is a citywide challenge.
500 vehicle dwellers in Bristol
The number of vehicle dwellers has grown in Bristol in recent years due to: the impact of the pandemic; the housing crisis; gentrification and the growing appeal of Bristol as a desirable city in which to live. Bristol is estimated to have a population of about 500 vehicle dwellers in various locations across the city. Wider city factors and the national picture which surrounds the rise in numbers means the number of vehicle dwellers is likely to increase across the country and in Bristol.
We believe that Bristol has the largest number of vehicle dwellers of any Local Authority in the country, but we are doing more than any other area to work with this. Bristol is at the forefront of providing facilities for vehicle dwellers, and we have been contacted by a number of other areas, who are interested in what we do and are looking to model their own provision on what is seen as good practice. I am proud of our work in this area, and the approach we are taking which acknowledges the complexities of these circumstances.
We continue to engage with the vehicle dwelling community, local residents, and to build more houses to reduce the need for so many people to live in vehicles. Our teams work with vehicle dwellers, including vulnerable groups, to offer support and manage the relationship with local residents. Any new encampments are initially approached by council officers, receive a welfare assessment, and are offered any support which may be available to them. There are many reasons why somebody may be living in a vehicle including heritage, out of financial necessity, a profession of travelling work, as an alternative to homelessness, or a different reason entirely. Every situation is unique.
One group that may live in a vehicle are Gypsy, Roma Travellers, who are an ethnic group protected by the Equality Act 2010. Our dedicated Gypsy, Roma Traveller team take our responsibility to this community seriously. However, it is a misconception that all Gypsy, Roma Traveller families live in caravans or vehicles. In Bristol, about 95% of the community live in houses or flats.
Muller Road vehicle dwellers
The Muller Road group are not Gypsy, Roma Travellers, but in order to act fairly and listen to their needs, our council teams have been engaging with the group for months. During this time, the group agreed that they would leave the site by 28th June. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Where travellers of any type have set up an unauthorised encampment on land (as opposed to on the public highway) the landowner can apply for a possession order through the County Court. Once this order has been granted, the landowner can then arrange for a warrant of eviction to be served on that land and the site can be legally cleared of trespassers. As the Muller Road site is owned by Bristol City Council, we applied for and were granted the possession order and an eviction could now be legally carried out. We do not have the same legal powers in relation to our highways, and as the numbers living in vehicles gains traction, our legal powers have not moved with the times. Central government has issued no legislation to support Local Authorities in navigating this growing cultural issue. Instead we have a problematic Police and Crime Bill which approaches it punitively and could potentially criminalise vulnerable people.
Sites for van dwellers
Some of Bristol’s vehicle dwellers are receptive to our offers of support and alternative provision, and have good relationships with our teams. Other groups do not always fully engage. The group at Muller Road were offered access to meanwhile sites but decided to decline this offer in this instance. A meanwhile site is a piece of land which is not currently in use, or is earmarked for future development, which we offer to vehicle dwellers for a small charge where they are able to access toilets and clean drinking water. We think that it is right and fair to charge a small fee for the services we provide, as everyone who can should contribute to the running costs of the city they live in.
We currently have two successful meanwhile sites with more in the pipeline, which are due to come into operation over the next two to three months. However, we do not have capacity to offer a pitch to every vehicle dweller in the city. Land is in high demand for much-needed homes, especially affordable and social housing. We remain committed to building 2,000 new homes a year, with 1,000 of these being affordable in order to tackle the housing crisis. We know that a lack of affordable, good quality accommodation is a key reason why so many people are now choosing to live in vehicles. We believe a good quality, warm, stable home in a community is one of the single most significant interventions we can make to continue to tackle inequality and turn Bristol into a city of hope.
So, what happens if meanwhile sites are not wanted by vehicle dwellers? Where does an encampment go once it has left a development site/highway/local park? The answer is that, more often than not, they simply move to another part of the city. Some members of the Muller Road group have already set-up another unlawful encampment at another Bristol location. It is therefore hugely important that we consider the unintended consequences of removing an encampment from a site. We must take into account where the group is likely to move and how this will impact the wellbeing of Bristol’s residents and vehicle dwellers alike.
The wider picture
Vehicle dwellers are a visible element of wider systemic issues around inequality, the impact of a growing population and the issue of rising gentrification within Bristol. Many residents and vehicle dwellers are attracted to Bristol due to our reputation as a progressive and welcoming city. Bristol’s popularity with those from other parts of the country and abroad, although increasing wealth in certain areas, has resulted in an escalating cost of living, with private rents and house prices unaffordable to many. For this reason, we are seeing a higher level of people who feel forced into vehicles for homes.
The majority of our vehicle dwelling community find themselves living in vehicles out of financial necessity and many are considered vulnerable by our teams. In recent years we have also seen a rise in a percentage of the vehicle dwelling community who have driven to Bristol, attracted by our cultural offer and in response to the recent exposure in the media. Whilst we aim to offer all support that is available and needed by the community, there are some people who have the financial capital to support themselves and live in a building if they chose.
I can understand the frustration of some residents towards people who live in vehicles, particularly those who have been impacted by an encampment. As we saw at the M32 encampment, there can be considerable waste and anti-social behaviour. However, as a city we need to accept that vehicle dwellers form part of our cityscape. As a Local Authority, we want people to have the opportunity to live in a good quality, safe home. How we meet this challenge will define the nature of our relationship to this community. We will support community-led solutions to resolve tensions between all those who call Bristol home and we will continue to improve our response and provision as leaders in this space. In the meantime, I ask that both residents and vehicle dwellers treat each other with respect and act as good neighbours as we continue to build a city in which everybody can thrive.
We recently launched our draft Corporate Strategy 2022 to 2027, which, once consultation is completed, will become the council’s main strategic document. Setting the overall vision for the council, its services and what we are trying to achieve alongside many partners in Bristol and beyond. It is a high-level strategic response to the opportunities and challenges facing Bristol now, and in the future, forming the basis of detailed future business plans and how the council organises itself.
The strategy includes our proposed priorities for the coming five years, taking account of major challenges like COVID-19 and recovery, climate change, the ecological emergency and tackling structural inequality and poverty in the city.
It sits along the recent quality of life survey, which showed rising satisfaction with the council and our leadership, but highlighted wider challenges facing the whole of Bristol and specific areas within it. Therefore, this strategy isn’t about just saying nice things; it is a very real challenge to us, our partners and national and international systems of government, governance and economy to make positive changes, tackle complex, ingrained and long term structural issues and work towards a values-led vision rooted in fairness and opportunity for all.
For the council’s part, we need to keep delivering good quality services and continuing our journey to become an organisation which is better at enabling and developing others. We must set an excellent example as an employer, create more efficient systems and processes, work better together, empower and enable others to act, and, in some cases, withdraw and get out of the way.
Everyone will be included in our city’s success and will have a home where they can achieve their aspirations, regardless of their background or where they grew up. It will not be easy, but Bristol can bounce back from the pandemic and rise to its challenges, supported and enabled by a council that is the right size for the job and is no longer seen as a collection of services, but as an effective development organisation that allows everyone to thrive.
The Corporate Strategy serves as the foundation upon which all other council plans and strategies are built. When we make any major decision and, every year when we make annual plans for our hundreds of services, the Corporate Strategy is what we refer to and try to deliver. It’s vital we get it right for local people and we have listened carefully to the views of citizens, including our Citizens Assembly, when drafting the document. Now we want everyone to have their say and help us prioritise for the years to come.
We’re inviting everyone who lives, works and visits Bristol to look at the draft Corporate Strategy focusing on the city council’s draft five-year strategy for 2022 to 2027 and tell us what they think through the consultation.
The consultation will last for six weeks and people can give their feedback until midnight on Sunday 26 September 2021. The Corporate Strategy consultation, along with all relevant supporting documents, is available at www.bristol.gov.uk/corporatestrategy2021
A childhood spent in and around Bristol and 27 years serving in Avon and Somerset has given me an immense pride in our city and the opportunities it offers. My role as national police lead for adult sexual offences has been one of the most significant opportunities I’ve had to do that, working alongside policy makers, campaigners and victim groups to set direction for much needed improvements in tackling violence against women and girls.
We’re committed to putting that change into action in Avon and Somerset. Our pioneering new approach to investigating rape and serious sexual offences, Bluestone, is seeing us increase resource, tighten our grip on offenders and better support victims. I’m delighted that this approach is to be rolled out nationally.
Now, with the national spotlight firmly on tackling violence, against women and girls and in wider society, and a commitment from the Government to fund much needed solutions, we have the opportunity to make real and sustained change.
To do that we need to look beyond enforcement and build a better understanding of what drives violent and abusive behaviour. Prevention and early intervention must be part of our strategy as well as educating young people on healthy relationships.
Bristol’s Violence Reduction Unit, established in 2019 and made up of representatives from the police, health, education and local authorities, is doing amazing work; guiding and protecting those most vulnerable to becoming involved in serious violence either as a victim or perpetrator.
Its success shows what can be achieved when we come together and I know that I am joined in my commitment to finding more opportunities for change by leaders across the city including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, colleagues at North Bristol NHS Trust and Public Health England and the Crown Prosecution Service.
We must also support those without a voice, many of them women, many in marginalised groups, who feel unable to seek help when faced with violence and abuse.
This isn’t something that we can tackle alone. In Bristol we’re fortunate to have many organisations that share our passion and commitment, including The Bridge, which I’m proud to have played a role in establishing in 2009. I was also involved in setting up our Independent Sexual Advisors service which provides invaluable support to victims of domestic and sexual abuse as part of Safe Link and Next Link; and there are many others.
We also want to hear from you – to understand what you feel we can do better or differently, to support you so that we all have the chance to live in a city where we feel safe in our relationships, in our homes and in our communities – where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
We’ve built some 9,000 new homes since 2016, and are delighted to keep building more affordable homes for Bristolians. When plans for Romney House come to a planning committee for approval, we can build on these strong foundations.
Goram Homes, Bristol City Council’s housing company, hopes to get the go-ahead for these exciting plans for Lockleaze on the 1 September. This is the most advanced of their projects, working together with Vistry Partnerships. The site won outline planning permission in 2018. Architect and campaigner George Clarke visited last October for his Channel 4 documentary highlighting the UK’s lack of social housing. George came to see our plans and find out more about Bristol’s innovative work to tackle the housing crisis.
Our Labour administration are committed to ensuring local residents benefit from local development. The Romney House development will be a mixture of homes for private sale (45%) and affordable housing (55%). Affordable homes will be mainly for social rent with some units for shared ownership, helping to address the housing crisis. We are also developing a local lettings policy, enabling local residents in Lockleaze to have first refusal on Council homes. This will be the first of its kind on this scale in Bristol.
This site will also enable us to deliver on our ambitions to be net zero by 2030. The homes will be heated by air source heat pumps and exceed all environmental requirements. The development will generate a biodiversity net gain on a brownfield site. New homes will also boost the case for another new train station in the area. There will also be a new wildlife meadow and community park, as part of a green corridor between Stoke Park and Concorde Way.
We estimate that the development will generate over £30m in local social and economic value. This includes over £10 million to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Vistry Partnerships have an ambitious onsite training programme for 36 apprentices. There also be a Skills Academy, giving the next generation the skills to build homes for the future. Goram will donate some £30,000 to the One Lockleaze Community Fund for a range of local initiatives.
We believe that this award-winning project will make an invaluable contribution to the Council’s wider plans for the regeneration of Lockleaze. This development will deliver over 100 affordable homes, provide jobs, economic benefit to SMEs and social value to local residents. It’s time to move this forward and ensure we keep getting homes built for Bristolians without further delay.
We are sure that the planning committee knows what could well happen next if they defer or reject these plans – because it already has on other sites in Bristol. Our city can’t afford to risk losing more land to private developers building more unaffordable homes or student flats, rather than building more affordable homes for Bristolians.
OFGEM’s announcement that the energy cap will see household energy bills rise by up to £153 a year is just the news we didn’t need. October 2021 now looks to be the season of the triple hit: winter energy use, the £20 a week Universal Credit cut, and now the energy cap rise. Following over a year of pandemic and economic uncertainty, and with the furlough scheme tapering down, this news will make many people many anxious about the months ahead.
Government spokespeople will say that the cap is a back-stop for the market, and that people can always switch provider. But the cold reality is that yet again it is the poorest paying for deeply flawed energy and housing policy.
There are often loads of reasons why people can’t switch their energy providers, many linked to the consequences of poverty: debt, stress, adverse previous experiences resulting in a loss of confidence and ill health. Never mind pre-payment customers, who typically are some of the most deprived, frozen out of the market by a lack of providers.
Because of a decade of poor policy, the cap is a plaster on an open wound. Our lack of energy autonomy and our dependency on global fossil fuel markets has made us vulnerable to the macro energy challenges which are now being blamed for this rise. But we would be far better insulated against these fluctuations if we generated more of our own renewable energy.
The failure is compounded by the Government’s housing policy. The narrow rails around the warm homes grant aren’t good enough. We need support for homeowners at scale to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. After all, the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use.
Had the national government invested to generate renewable energy in the UK, home energy efficiency, and supporting a workforce transition then we wouldn’t be in this exposed position we find ourselves in this winter.
The solution is out there and it’s been there for decades. With less than 100 days until world leaders meet at COP26 to discuss the climate emergency, we are left wondering how much longer our poorest will left be picking up the bill for this inadequate approach to powering the UK.
A fortnight ago we heard that Bristol City Council, working with our partners, has won £3.3 million funding for our ‘Changing Futures’ bid. We were one of only 15 successful bids out of a field of 97.
This is fantastic news. We can further develop the work we have been doing with some of our city’s most vulnerable residents. In particular, this will build on what we have learned from the ‘Everyone In’ project, which focused on supporting homeless people during the pandemic.
Like many cities, we have a high and growing number of people who are affected by a multiplicity of problems; mental ill-health, substance misuse, domestic abuse and family breakdown. We also know that often these people are not well served by the agencies charged with supporting them. So, this extra funding is really welcome in knitting those services together.
Two things really struck me as we worked through our bid. The first is that one of the greatest barriers for people seeking help is constantly having to tell their story. This sometimes increases their trauma as they have to relive difficult periods of their lives. Really listening to people with lived experience allows us to really hear how difficult they have found it accessing the support they need. It’s made the principle of ‘telling it once’ and agencies (appropriately) sharing that information, an important keystone in this work. So has having trusted individuals as named contacts and keyworkers (‘my team around me’) giving a much more holistic and multi-disciplinary approach.
The second was a comment from one of our partners when we sent round the final draft of the bid. They said “this is brilliant, and how we need to work, whether we get the money or not.” That was a great endorsement of the work that had gone in to the bid, co-ordinated by Golden Key Bristol. It also shows that often in public services, we know what needs to happen, but sometimes our staff don’t have the time to lift their heads and make those changes.
I really hope that having this extra funding will drive these changes. This will keep the people we want to serve at the heart of things. I am sure that many of you will have been moved by some of the stories that we have seen on local and national media. Lives have been turned around during the pandemic through this approach, like that of Steve, who recently featured on Channel 4 News.
Re-focussing our services with this extra funding over the next few years must lead to those changes becoming how we do things all the time, across all of our partnerships.
Only this way will we be able to say that things have improved for hundreds of individuals, and will we be able to show our real commitment to – as it says on the tin – Changing Futures.
The pandemic has brought about significant changes to all our lives over the last 18 months and even as we move into a new period of eased restrictions nationally, we can’t take our foot completely off the pedal just yet. There are still risks, they remain with us and will do for some time.
We are providing information to help our city safely respond to the lifting of most legal restrictions on Monday 19 July. To help organisations understand what they can do to reduce the risks in businesses and workplaces, the City Office and Public Health have hosted several online events to offer guidance and information. Over the last few weeks, we have held webinars about the financial support available to local businesses, what can be done to open businesses safely following the easing of restrictions and how to interpret the guidance following the introduction of Step 4.
The latest event took place on Tuesday 27 July. It focused on improving ventilation and air quality in offices, venues, and public spaces. The latest Bristol COVID-19 figures were shared followed by guidance from the Health and Safety Executive around natural and mechanical ventilation as well as the risks around aerosol transmission in enclosed spaces. The Head of Health and Safety at the University of Bristol shared the steps they have taken as a large organisation to keep their staff and students safe.
These events are a small but important part of the road to recovery. We still need to continue working together as one city, as Bristol. That is why we recommend you continue to wear a face covering indoors and in crowded areas, showing respect for public workers and transport workers. Please continue to wash your hands, respect people’s space, ventilate indoor areas, socialise outdoors if possible and choose to leave crowded places if you feel uncomfortable. Please use regular lateral flow (rapid) tests, get your vaccination, get tested if you have symptoms and please continue to self-isolate if asked.
The pandemic continues to take a toll on mental and emotional health. It’s vital that we look after one another as we have done over the past 18 months.
Together we can limit the spread of the virus, by looking after ourselves and looking out for everyone around us.
The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping published their interim report this month, ahead of final recommendations due later this Autumn.
Bristol was pleased to be invited to sit on the Advisory Board for this Commission. I look forward, as the new cabinet member for Housing, to working further with the Commission as it continues its work, alongside fellow member, our Director for Communities and Public Health, Christina Gray.
As a group, we are examining the lessons from the pandemic response which supported people sleeping rough. The aim is to help all agencies involved – including us, as local authorities – understand what worked and what is now needed to embed the good practice that was shown during the past year. It’s this work which saw us reduce rough sleeping by 80% in Bristol.
‘Everyone In’ enabled us to fast-track our city ambitions to end rough sleeping altogether. We took advantage of the opportunity to connect people with the support services they needed alongside accommodation. This period showed what can be achieved when we are able to invest in the right interventions.
Bristol’s housing teams are building on the momentum we gathered during ‘Everyone In’, developing projects that will help increase move-on accommodation options. It was great to see the Commission’s interim report highlight the brilliant work done by St Mungos in the city, who worked closely with us and Homes England to buy units of self-contained accommodation for those sleeping rough. We know it’s vital that people are offered long-term stability, alongside the skills to live independently, and it was good to see this highlighted in the report.
However, the longstanding structural challenges remain the same: we need more homes. But if we can maintain our momentum, we can go a long way to achieving sustainable success. It is therefore vital the Government learn from the success of the Covid-19 response. They need to step up the level of investment in homelessness services and accommodation for us to avoid a future surge in rough sleeping.