Free school meals during the Easter break

cllr-anna-keen-5 Today’s blog comes from Cllr Anna Keen, Cabinet member for Education and Skills.

For many children, yesterday was the first day of the two-week Easter break. We know that when the school holidays come around, the issue of holiday hunger becomes particularly serious for many of our city’s families.  Parents of children are left struggling to afford the food they need to buy.

Around 1.3 million children in England qualify for free school meals and in Bristol over 14,000 of our children qualify.  For many, lunch at school is their only hot meal of the day. In some cases, it is their only meal.

The work already being done by Feeding Bristol and its partner organisations during holiday periods demonstrates just how vital the supply of food is to ensure children have access to nutritious and balanced meals – even during the holidays.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the rapid closure of schools and social distancing measures being put in place to manage the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The UK Government also set up a national scheme that provides weekly shopping vouchers to allow families to continue to access meals while they stay at home – which was quickly rolled out across Bristol last week.

In these unprecedented times, our schools continue to operate throughout the holidays, providing childcare for those who require it, including our key workers who are keeping vital services going. Coupled with this, many families are facing huge economic uncertainty and are unable to easily access basic food supplies.

Despite this huge need, the Government made a last minute decision to not fund any of the meal vouchers over the Easter break.

The Mayor, along with the leaders of Leeds and Birmingham councils, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education last week, urging him to rapidly reverse this decision and give our schools and families the help they needed.

Over the weekend came welcome news that the Government had reversed its decision, and confirmed that the voucher scheme would continue to be supported over the Easter holidays. This provides schools across Bristol with the vital financial support required and I’m glad the calls of city leaders were heard.

However, this has been the latest in a series of late decision-making, leaving schools and families with new issues to deal with at an already unsettled time. Yet again, school leaders have responded with speed, compassion and professionalism to support their pupils and families.

At this time of crisis, I would urge the Government to do all they can to support the most vulnerable in our society, and keep the impact on our young people at the forefront of decision-making.

Social distancing blog: Day “lost track”

Although we are now out of the 14-day isolation period, like most people my family and I are now social distancing for the foreseeable.

To be real about it, it is challenging staying in the home. We have started to fall into a rhythm on home schooling. Last night I was talking with a friend who is a teacher. I asked them how on earth teachers can cope with a class of 30 kids, working at different levels and prone to distraction and chat? I only had to manage a mixed ability class of three, over whom I have ultimate parental authority. And together with my wife we have a parent child ratio of 2:3.

April 2, 2020 is the fortieth anniversary of the St. Paul’s uprising. I began the day by watching Lawrence Hoo’s “Uprising 2020”. I recommend it. It’s part of our story.

This crisis is testing everything about our way of life. And it’s exposing the ideology that has severely undervalued the importance of government and the public sector in general, and local government and society in particular. It is the public sector we are now depending on for the basics.

It feels a bit as though national government is now trying to reap where it has not sown after ten years of austerity. We have had decade of disinvestment in the very health, education and governance services we are now depending on to lead and serve us through this crisis. The family of policies called Austerity was dressed up as economic competence. But coronavirus exposes them as a dogmatic determination not to understand the importance of the public sector as fundamental to the resilience of our social order. Disinvesting is actually like gambling or going without insurance. It’s fine, until you hit the crisis.

Some people made much of the Prime Minister conceding this week that there is such a thing as society. What we also need is a similar Damascene moment recognising the importance of our public sector – local government and public health alongside the NHS, youth services, our police – and putting real money into them. When all else falls away, we find many of these workers are our nation’s backbone.

This investment of cash needs to be accompanied by a commitment to devolution of power and leadership. National government is important. It must provide a framework. But micro-managing the country from Whitehall is an old model of leadership in a modern world. Understanding the diversity of our local populations, and developing solutions that are culturally intelligent cannot be done satisfactorily from the centre. National government must understand – and invest accordingly – in the critical role of local government as leaders and shapers of place, not merely delivery arms of national government.

It’s imperfect but the image I use to describe the relationship is that between someone drowning (national government) and their would-be rescuer (the national network of local governments). The first thing national government must do is recognise there is a rescuer and then cooperate with the rescuer. Stop panicking. Stop trying to control a situation they cannot control. That doesn’t mean submit. It means listen and cooperate. The danger is if they don’t, and they start thrashing about, they foil the rescue and risk taking the rescuer down with them.

This crisis is not welcome. But among the things we take from it must be a reappraisal, and new plan, for the place of the public sector in the post-Covid-19 world.

Self-isolation: Day 11

We’ve unleashed ourselves on DIY. I’ve worked with the kids to stitch together the torn safety netting that surrounds the trampoline. We built a table out of scrap wood and leftover screws. I put my drill in my boy’s hands and watched him grow in confidence. I was on good form until I drilled into a wall and there was a pop and a flash of light. The lights went out. Sinking feeling, although I suspect I should be thankful I survived.

I’ve been trying to give my kids an insight into my childhood. We watched The Count of Monte Christo. The 1974 film is on YouTube. I’d built it up as a great story – as it is. Although not quite as good I as I remembered it to be when I watched it with my Nan sometime in the 1980s. The boys tolerated my enthusiasm and lasted the whole film.

It was great to hear the accounts and see the pictures of the food being delivered to the most isolated and vulnerable of those being shielded. And the #WeAreBristol spirit is really being experienced. Thousands of people signed up on the Can Do Bristol website ready to go when called on. Some of them were there packing the food parcels that were then distributed by other volunteers including taxi drivers.

Also, my thoughts recently have been for those in the global south, countries who don’t have the scale and reach of European and North American healthcare services. A couple of nights ago I had a WhatsApp call from Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the Mayor of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Yvonne was in Bristol in 2018 for the Global Parliament of Mayors and we are among the ten Mayors on the Mayors Migration Council.

I asked her how they were coping. As things stand there are just over 4,000 confirmed cases on the African continent, with South Africa being worst-affected. Sierra Leone is one the few countries on the continent to as yet have no recorded cases. Mayor Yvonne has already taken strong action restricting movement and restricting trading times among other things. As here in Bristol, people are social distancing and self-isolating. She is offering real leadership.

But my thoughts have revolved around the numbers of people whose health resilience has been undermined by poverty. Those living in conditions where physical distancing is nigh-on impossible, such as shanty towns and refugee camps, and those who have absolutely no alternative other than to work because there is no safety net. For many, the coronavirus crisis is another major crisis on top of the other major crisis.

My hope –  and I believe it is an opportunity –  is in our ability to understand that we have not reached the other side of this crisis when we in Bristol/the UK alone gets there. It is not until the whole world gets there.

Firstly, this is the morally strong position to take. Secondly, it’s an understanding that reflects enlightened self-interest. This incredibly infectious virus has reached across the world in no time. Unless we come up with a global solution, we will remain vulnerable to it and/or potential mutations. Thirdly, Bristol is a global city with around 180 countries of origin with immediate family and friends stretching across the planet. We are a people of English, Welsh, Sierra Leonean, Somali, Ugandan, Sudanese, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, American and Polish heritage. What matters there is real, and matters to people here.




Big Tidy

steve-pearceToday’s Guest blog is by Cllr Steve Pearce, cabinet member for Waste, Commercialisation and Regulatory Services.

Before many of us became confined to our homes, you might have noticed our “Big Tidy” project, part of the Mayor’s Clean Streets initiative. You have probably seen the custom-liveried vehicles that service the project.

This is a much needed multi-disciplinary and multi-agency approach to bringing back the sparkle to Bristol’s streets and neighbourhoods. We have been clear from the very start that in “Big Tidy” we want to have a strategy that brings together and co-ordinates resources. It’s a huge effort: litter-picking, street-sweeping, graffiti and fly-tip removal combined with investigation, enforcement and legal support (both in-house and contractors).

big tidy van

This built on community engagement and communication through both social and main stream media. We’ve used community payback, the private sector and voluntary activity supported with help from other public agencies such as Network Rail. Services arrive simultaneously or in quick succession and in a carefully planned way so as to maximise impact; both in terms of visibility and effectiveness.

before and after 2

Big Tidy kicked off properly in September last year and has arrived ‘noisily’ and successively in Lawrence Hill, Easton, Eastville, Filwood, Hartcliffe & Withywood, Hengrove & Whitchurch Park and Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston. It will shortly be in Cotham, before moving on to Central, Ashley and Bishopston & Ashley Down.

before and after 1Beyond Bishopston and Ashley Down, the current programme stretches past summer and on into the autumn but it won’t stop even then. To those eagerly waiting its arrival in their own postcode, I’d say this: “be patient; we’re expecting to get to you, too.”

The coronavirus emergency is sure to have an impact on how the project gets delivered but my commitment to helping Bristol to ‘clean up lovely’ remains sincere even if the current emergency throws a temporary spanner in the works!

big tidy 3

So, let’s put some numbers next to some of these activities. In the five months to the end of February, over 1,000 graffiti jobs have been pro-actively completed; nearly 350 legal notices or warnings have been issued; the team has pro-actively cleared over 100 fly-tips with over 70 investigated; 60 community payback jobs have been completed.

big tidy

In all, over 320 streets have been improved, over 200 residents surveys have been completed, more than 260 businesses engaged, 1,800 letters and flyers delivered with over 400 face-to-face engagements. 46 Community Protection Warnings were issued in Filwood and Hartcliffe alone for waste in gardens.

big tidy 2

With the team having dealt with 1,000 graffiti jobs, one thing of note is that most shop fronts on Stapleton Road are now graffiti free; enforcement officers actually caught two taggers “in the act” and there is now a police officer in post, dedicated to tackling graffiti.

It’s a great start, but we’ve much more to do.

Watch this space, stay safe and keep well. 

Bristol's Coronavirus Response – Volunteering

During these uncertain times our number one priority as a city must be to ensure support is in place for our most vulnerable citizens – whether that’s through council services or community-led help.

In recent days and weeks it has been truly heartening to see the strength of our community spirit in Bristol, with so many people stepping forward to help others. We are blessed by the swell of support and volunteerism we’re seeing across the city.

To help coordinate the city’s volunteers and the many volunteering opportunities we are recommending that people sign up to Can Do Bristol – a council-backed listings website with details about where help is needed and how to get involved.

You’ll also find details of the Coronavirus Response Fund, managed by Quartet Community Foundation, for those who would like to donate money to help the city’s most disadvantaged communities in the coming months. Organisations running volunteer programmes will find advice from Voscur on the site about best practice and how to keep volunteers, and the most vulnerable, safe.

As communities come together to help one another, please keep an eye out for those who see this uncertain time as an opportunity to gain only for themselves and take advantage of the situation. If you are concerned about an adult with care and support needs who is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing abuse please do not hesitate to contact Bristol’s Safeguarding Adults Team by phone 0117 922 2700 or submit a safeguarding referral online.

World Social Work Day 2020

Today is World Social Work Day 2020. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the great work of our social work colleagues across Bristol and around the world. We’re grateful to have so many dedicated and passionate people making people’s lives better, particularly during times like those we are facing, where the vital support our social workers provide for those most in need is even more critical.

Today’s guest blog comes from Nyasha, a recently qualified social worker at Bristol City Council.

I came into social work because I wanted to do more to protect and support the most vulnerable children in our society. I loved the idea that I could work with families to help them change the trajectory of their future by supporting parents to make certain changes or to understand the risk of harm to their children.

I previously worked as a family support worker but I always knew that I wanted to do more. I started my career in social work through the training programme, Step Up to Social Work. This was an amazing experience. The programme was busy and challenging at times, but it was worth it. I had two placements at Bristol Children’s Services both of which taught me a range of skills, which I use in my current role.

The beauty of social work is that there isn’t a typical day. Each day is different and brings its share of triumphs and challenges. Most of my time working in the safeguarding unit is spent supporting families. My working day can vary significantly and range from a child-in-need meeting, to making home visits or responding to new referrals. This is the nature of the job, we might have things planned in advance, but at times there are crisis situations that might need immediate action.

The best part of my job is the relationships I build with the children and young people I work with. They are the only ones who can tell you what their lived experiences are truly like. It’s important we listen and whenever possible I try to encourage children to be involved in meetings either by attending or telling me what they want to say.

As a newly qualified social worker, there are lot of things that I am still learning and having a team where there are other social workers with experience and knowledge means I am supported along the way. I always say, no one else knows what it is like to be a social worker unless they are a social worker too. At times it can feel as though you’re always in a race with time and there are not enough days in the week. We often have many competing demands due to the nature of the work. Having said that, the point we say goodbye to children and their families because we are no longer needed, makes it all worthwhile.

To anyone considering a career in social work, I would say do it! It has lots of challenges and can be very stressful at times, but it’s so rewarding. When we see children thriving and doing well within their families, we know we’ve done a good job. I would also recommend shadowing a social worker to get a better understanding for the job, as there are many misconceptions of the role. Next month I would have been a social worker for one year and I can honestly say that I love my job.

International Women’s Day – Dr Mena Fombo

Today’s guest blog comes from Dr Mena Fombo, Bristol International Ambassador and founder of the Black Girl Convention.

As an activist and an intersectional feminist, my gender equality campaigning is all day everyday, on both a local and an international scale. To be explicit, what I mean by that is that I actively work towards ensuring that we live in a world where ALL of us women* and girls have our basic human rights upheld as the minimum standard – and from there we can elevate. For me, International Women’s day is everyday.

That said – I’d like to take the opportunity on this internationally recognised day to reflect, and show love to the women in my life who have inspired me, elevated me, encouraged me, supported me and most importantly loved me.

These women are our mothers, our sisters, our friends and partners. They are our role models, our colleagues, our teachers and leaders.

A recent post went round on social media a few weeks ago, asking people to tag the names of 10 Inspiring women, I didn’t have a chance to do it as work and volunteering for my city often takes priority, but I’m making time now. So, in honour of these women, I say their names out loud, I list them below and I salute them for their contributions either to my life and to society.

  • Florence Fombo
  • Jean Kington
  • Sarah Hurley
  • Gayle Myring
  • Anira Khokhar
  • Aisha Thomas
  • Dot Baker
  • Dr Zainab Khan
  • KiKi team: Linda Devo and Sharifa Whitney James
  • Black Girl Convention 2019 Team: Emilie Harryman, Joyann Boyce Bobbi Ogilvie, Ngaio Anyia, Muneera Pilgrim, Josie Gyasi Janelle John Henry

Okay, I cheated a bit with the group names, but hey!  

As International Women’s day comes around for 2020, I ask you to continue sharing the names of the women around you who challenge and enable you to be better. Or better still, if you’re able to, why not pick up the phone them give them ring?

Happy International Women’s Day #sayitmeanit

Dr Mena Fombo


*anyone who identifies as a woman 

Thanks @Knowlewestmedia and @createwitheight for the video, produced by Stephanie Burnham and made by first time Filmmaker and Junior Digital Producer Mevis Birungi.

Download the full programme for IWD celebrations at City Hall tomorrow Saturday 7 March by clicking the button below.

Attested Development

This morning we had almost 100 developers and builders in City Hall to discuss our vision for the Bristol of the future and the homes we need to build. We could celebrate the sites that we’ve released, but we know we still have more to do.

Bonnington Walk, which we considered at cabinet this afternoon, is held up as a great example of the work we are doing to accelerate delivery.  This site has been allocated for housing for over 23 years and we have now finally brought it forward for 180 new modular homes and a community. It will be the largest amount of council houses built on one site for over 40 years.

This is one of the 43 sites we have made available for new housing since 2016.

From a standing start we have tripled affordable housing delivery. Our house building programme will see 9,175 new homes completed, including 1,619 affordable, over four years to 2021.

Housing has been the cornerstone of my administration and we’ve had fantastic success.  Building homes is the single biggest policy intervention we can make in a person’s life and now we are delivery focused, we will accelerate our home building.

A little before Christmas I was proud to help welcome residents to our new houses at Broomhill in Brislington. As me and Paul Smith put the shiny new keys into the hands of these people, it was a significant moment. Every single indicator in those families lives will have improved – their mental health and life expectancy, their employability, even the academic performance of their children.

This is why building homes and communities is at the heart of what we’re delivering for Bristol and I will continue to drive us and partners such as Homes England to build the homes we need.

Another example is the first development of our council owned housing company, Goram Homes. They are progressing on the Baltic Wharf site on Spike Island for around 165 new homes, around 66 of which will be affordable.

In the south of the city at Hengrove Park– the planning inspector recently approved our plans for the long stalled site. This will include 1,450 homes, which a minimum of 30% will be affordable, as well as improved parks and green spaces.

Four schemes have taken advantage of the Affordable Housing Practice Note since it was agreed by Cabinet in March 2018 delivering 20% affordable housing in the Centre, more are coming through the planning system.

Across the city there are cranes on the horizon and a growing reputation that Bristol is a place to invest and the council a worthy partner in delivering. This means we can continue to drive the number of affordable homes as part of mixed, balanced communities.

Despite all this, we know we cannot fix the broken housing market in this country.

We recently saw the annual rough sleeper count rise, the numbers of van dwellers and their impact on local communities increase and people attempting to get on the housing ladder frustrated.

As Bristol grows and attracts more people we will continue to see these social problems. For this reason, failure to deliver homes people need is not an option. We have to give everyone the home they need to flourish. We are committed to working with those that want to build the Bristol of the future and we will deliver.

Budget 2020/21: Craig’s List

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Finance, Governance and Performance, and is taken from his speech to present this year’s budget to Full Council on 25th February.

Yesterday, I was proud to take my fourth budget to Full Council. Yet again, we are able to present a balanced but ambitious financial plan for Bristol, setting out our priorities for the coming year and driving us towards a more inclusive and sustainable city.

It establishes a solid and resilient financial base to meet the future challenges that will result from the uncertain financial, social, economic and environmental climate facing us.

Although we continue to face significant financial uncertainty as we await reforms to the system of business rates retention, the fair funding review and the Spending Review, we have a solid financial platform supported by strong city relationships.

In the face of these challenges, and in contrast to so many other councils, we are presenting effectively a no cuts budget again.

After three and a half years we continue to prioritise and protect all life and limb services, keeping all of our children centres and libraries open and maintaining the council tax reduction scheme for the most vulnerable citizens in the city.

A significant proportion of this investment is focused on large infrastructure that will support long term regeneration across the city, such as our programme of new housing building and the development the Temple Quarter site.

This is balanced against investment which will support improvements in our increasingly stretched core Council offer, including our Social Care and Education services.

Our capital investment programme begins to address our ambition of making Bristol a more equal, aspirational and resilient city. Below are just some of the areas we will be investing in:

  • £35million will go towards providing quality school places for a growing population;
  • More than £42million is to be invested in additional special educational needs provision;
  • More than £15.5 million has been made available to support adults with disabilities to live more independently and remain in their own homes wherever possible;
  • Over £1 million has been allocated to investment in sports schemes, improving the health and wellbeing of our citizens;
  • Almost £4.5million will be invested in parks and green spaces across the city, improving access no matter where you live;
  • More than £40million has been allocated to developing the area around Temple Meads;
  • More than half a million will be available for investment in our city’s libraries;
  • More than £6.5million has been set aside to build a third household waste recycling and reuse centre at Hartcliffe Way, transforming our city’s relationship with waste;
  • More than £35million will be available for the redevelopment of Colston Hall, improving our city’s cultural offer;
  • More than £72million is allocated for our housing delivery programme, with an additional £56million set aside to implement a new housing delivery vehicle and a further £60million for projects related to the Council’s Housing Infrastructure fund;
  • Almost £8.5million will go towards improving the sustainability of our transport system, recognising the climate emergency that faces us;
  • More than £23million will be invested in expanding Bristol’s Heat Networks, ensuring more people can heat their homes affordably with minimal carbon cost.

I would like to thank the finance team, the council’s corporate leadership board, the Mayor, cabinet and all staff and councillors for their work on this budget. I’d also like to extend a special thank you to the scrutiny task and finish group. For me this group is the exemplar for how task and finish groups can be hugely effective in pre-decision scrutiny.  We welcome more of this type of contribution.

It’s an ambitious budget that prioritises frontline services, recognising our responsibility in building a better future for everyone in the city, regardless of their background. I’m proud that it so clearly reflects our vision of creating a true city of hope where everyone can share in its success.

Labour Leadership: Getting Stuff Done

Yesterday and today, I have been at Labour’s local government conference in Nottingham – discussing the future of local government and how we can work together for the best interests of our citizens in Boris Johnson’s post Brexit world.

I took some time out to look at Nottingham’s famed tram network and a bus service which runs every seven minutes. One service even stops in Nottingham’s very own “Clifton”. Compare this to the decades of absent vision and failed delivery for transport in Bristol that have left our city woefully underserved. And we are dealing with consequences of that failure with disconnected communities, economic exclusion, and car dependency.

Nottingham is a case-in-point of the ambition which I and my colleagues here have for our communities. Nottingham is proof what can happen when a council aligns vision with a commitment and ability to deliver.

Bristol is now a city with that ambition and is getting stuff done. The cranes across the city scape, new homes, the opening of Channel 4 Bristol, a city able to end period poverty and  organise with no national government funding to supply and distribute 55,000 meals to tackle holiday hunger, and a Bristol at the heart of the Western Gateway, the UK’s latest regional powerhouse.

We have taken this vision and delivery into transport through our work on the Bristol Bus Deal and our plans for a long overdue mass transit system. The Bus Deal is already seeing investment to double the frequency of bus services and make them more reliable. This chapter change comes alongside the arrival of the UK’s biggest order of bio-gas eco buses here in Bristol, cleaning up our air at the same time as cutting congestion.

It’s often said that the best time to plant a tree was forty years ago, and that the second best time is today. Transport networks, like trees, don’t appear overnight.  Transport networks need time, planning, and finance.

Nottingham’s tram network, for example, was first talked about in the 1980s. Thanks to investment from the Labour Government, the first phase was then completed between 1998-2004; the second in 2015. Like Nottingham, Bristol should have understood the challenge, set the vision and put the foundations in a place decades ago. But it didn’t. And so we have been doing so for four years. We have to start from where we are, rather than where we wish we were.

In a video which I posted from the conference, I said that we have to get past the nay-sayers: the people who call progress a pipe-dream, who deride serious plans as pie-in-the-sky. Instead of being guided by what Bristolians need, they let the city’s historic non-delivery and their own lack of ambition and confidence limit our future. Newcastle, Liverpool, and Glasgow have all proved that’s it’s possible to deliver an underground outside of the capital. These are all cities with similar metro-region populations to Bristol. Now, with Bristol uniting around delivering mass transit, after the youth mayors and youth council chose to make it a city priority for 2020, there is real hope for the future for us too.