Author Archives: marvinjrees

Tackling violence

Sarah Crew, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, sitting. Plants partially obscure the foreground. Her blog focuses on tackling violence against women and girls in Bristol.
Today’s guest blog is from Sarah Crew, Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset Police (Photo copyright: Neil Phillips)

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.

Building more affordable homes for Bristolians

Today’s guest blog is from Councillors Don Alexander and Tom Renhard

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.

Plans for Romney House, showing a wildlife haven being enjoyed by families -- alongside trees and new homes.
Goram Homes’ plans for Romney House

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 energy cap rise: the triple hit – the cap doesn’t fit

Today’s blog is from Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, Waste and Energy, and councillor for St. George Central.

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.

Changing Futures for vulnerable adults

Today’s blog is from Helen Holland, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood

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.

Working as One City as the pandemic changes

Today’s blog is from Christina Gray, the Director for Communities and Public Health.

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.

We are Bristol.

We are Kind.

We are Safe.

Rough sleeping – let’s end it for good

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

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.

It is now vital we are supported by Government to maintain this progress and secure long-term housing. In the last two years, supporting tenants in the private rented sector at risk of homelessness has kept a roof over their heads and saved the council taxpayer £12 million in potential costs such as rehousing. While supporting our most vulnerable citizens remains the top priority, that principle of investing now to save later is also true when it comes to helping people with a history of rough sleeping. Meaningful intervention now reduces the likelihood of more taxpayers’ money being spent on costs down the line on health services and criminal justice.

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.

City of Sanctuary – celebrating ten years!

Anna Wardell, Interim Manager of Bristol City of Sanctuary
Today’s guest blog is from Anna Wardell, Interim Manager of Bristol City of Sanctuary

2021 marks ten years since Bristol officially launched as a City of Sanctuary, where hundreds of people gathered under a sea of blue umbrellas on College Green to celebrate a movement of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers in our city. Tonight, City Hall will be lit up in blue to honour the anniversary and demonstrate Bristol’s continued commitment to building a city of welcome and safety for all.

City of Sanctuary in Bristol originated when a Bristol City Council official, the late Loraine Ayensu, heard about Sheffield becoming a City of Sanctuary and fed the idea back at a Refugee Week steering committee meeting. A group of people from Bristol’s diverse communities, including faith groups, community groups and, most importantly, those with lived experience of seeking sanctuary, came together. This culminated in a motion from the late Cllr Ron Stone at Full Council on 16th November 2010, winning the backing of councillors. Bristol was officially recognised as a City of Sanctuary in 2011.

The idea behind the movement is one of welcome and safety. It is a network of dedicated individuals and organisations who all recognise our shared humanity and the immense contribution that people seeking sanctuary make to our city. The movement for welcome is a powerful one in the city; from the incredible organisations that work with people seeking sanctuary to the local schools and colleges who strive to become Schools of Sanctuary, it really is something to be proud of. But there is still a lot of work to be done to make it a City of Sanctuary in nature, not just in name, especially against the backdrop of policies that make seeking asylum in this country so difficult. 

People often have to wait years for a decision on their asylum claim, subjected to not only an intolerable wait but also a culture of disbelief from the Home Office. They are effectively banned from working whilst waiting for a decision. Hostile policies and visa conditions force some people seeking sanctuary into poverty and destitution. This hostile environment will only get worse if the Nationality and Borders Bill passes through parliament. It would create a two-tiered asylum system that focuses on punitive proposals rather than sanctuary and welcome.

However, over the years working with our supporters across the city we have achieved a great deal towards our vision of sanctuary. We have established our Schools of Sanctuary initiative, working with local schools and colleges to encourage and foster welcome within the community; set up a Sanctuary Transport Fund, which provides bus tickets to people seeking asylum; and run campaigns to influence local and national policy, including our current campaign against the Nationality and Borders Bill. None of this would have been possible without the coming together of so many individuals and organisations in the city, along with the support of the Mayor of Bristol, Councillors, Bristol City Council, and our local MPs. 

The story of our journey would not be complete without a special mention of Forward Maisokwadzo, who was hired as Development Worker (thanks to a grant support from the Bristol Legacy Commission) to make the vision of City of Sanctuary a reality in Bristol. He has worked tirelessly for over a decade to embed this vision and continues to be a leading voice on what sanctuary means in Bristol, now working as Inclusion Advisor to the Mayor of Bristol.

Tonight, as City Hall is illuminated in blue, we say a huge thank you to all those in Bristol who support our vision and work. Working together we can build Bristol as a city of welcome, safety and hope for all.

Have your say on Colston

Today’s blog is from John Wayman and Alice Towle, Bristol’s Youth Mayors. John has just finished at North Bristol Post-16 Centre and Alice has just completed her first year of sixth form at Bristol Grammar School. Both John and Alice also sit on the Bristol Youth Council, representing north and east-central Bristol respectively, and were elected in 2019 through the Bristol Big Youth Vote.

Bristol’s Youth Mayors, John Wayman and Alice Towle

We often think of history as simply something that was: events that, although important in bringing the world to its present state, lack the same influence they possessed at the time. However, this could not be further from the truth: the public’s understanding of the past has long served as a tool to consolidate power. By controlling what history gets told, you can decide who and what holds significance in the narrative of our past, thus influencing the public’s mindset by painting a certain picture of why things are the way they are. 

Yet, history is, above all, complex, representing an interconnected web of cause and effect, with a range of perspectives and ideas that matches ours today. Even if it may not appear that way given the often limited source material we have to peer back into the past, we have to acknowledge that there is always a more complicated and nuanced story to tell.

Edward Colston serves as a good reminder of this complexity as in many ways he was a man of two halves: the slave trader and the philanthropist. The philanthropy was and is generally considered beneficial to society whereas the slave trade represents an unquestionable moral blemish on Colston. There are discussions to be had around the extent of Colston’s philanthropy, as well as whether the source of his income invalidates the philanthropy’s benefits, but in the broadest sense these conflicting aspects highlight the complexity surrounding Colston.

The central issue Bristol faces today regarding Colston lies in how, up until recently, only one side of his story has been widely told. Buildings, street names, and chiefly the statue present only the image of Colston the philanthropist, as a great man whose name deserves to be enshrined in the built environment of the city. The lack of context surrounding these monuments to Colston hides the reality of the morally bankrupt means by which Colston acquired his fortune.

It is also worth noting that discussions around whether it was wrong to judge Colston by ‘the standards of our time’ also undercut the nuanced understanding of history that should be the end goal. The idea of applying universal moral standards to large groups of people at a particular time seems ridiculous: the slaves who suffered so that Colston could obtain his fortune would certainly have objected to his commemoration. Even considering only Britain, abolitionist sentiment was present during Colston’s lifetime particularly amongst some Quakers, and the statue itself was erected over 60 years after slavery in the British empire had been abolished. 

Although these issues may seemingly present a huge challenge in how we tackle our history going forward, in many ways now is a time for hope. People arguably know more about Colston’s history following the statue’s toppling than they did while it stood in the centre, demonstrating a widespread desire to engage properly with our past. The display of the Colston statue at M Shed provides an excellent opportunity for this engagement to continue. Bristol has long been and continues to be a wonderfully diverse city whose strength lies in the myriad voices that make it up. By bringing these voices together and deciding as a city how we want to move forward, with both Colston and Bristol’s slaving legacy as a whole, perhaps we can reach some kind of appropriate conclusion regarding this complex and deeply relevant history.

Book your tickets to see ‘The Colston Statue: What Next?’ display at M Shed.

Join more than 5,000 people by completing our survey, sharing your views on the future of the Colston statue.

Watch ‘Statue Wars: One Summer in Bristol’ on BBC iPlayer.

Love Parks Week

Today’s blog comes from Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities, Equalities and Public Health, Councillor Asher Craig.

Parks have been more important than ever for many people in the past year.

During the pandemic, parks were some of the only spaces where people were able to socialise safely. Access to parks is also good for our mental and physical health, with Natural England finding that 9 in 10 people agree that visiting natural spaces is good for their wellbeing.

That’s why we were determined to keep parks open during the pandemic and why we’re working on a new strategy to ensure the sustainability of our parks for years to come.

Royal Fort Gardens, Bristol.

We’re fortunate to have access to so many great parks and green spaces in Bristol, with studies finding Bristol has the largest amount of green space of any English city. In addition, we are proud to say that in 2015, Bristol became the UK’s first ever European Green Capital.

We’re committed to protecting these spaces and supporting sustainable environments for both people and wildlife. Bristol’s One City Plan includes an ambitious target of doubling the tree canopy by 2045 and supporting the return of species such as pine marten, red kite, and beavers to our natural environments by 2033.

We recognise the role parks play in responding to the ecological emergency. As a result, the One City Environment Board have developed a working group of over 30 organisations across Bristol, with an aim of taking action to restore the natural systems that we all depend on.

Parks are not only vital for nature; our city’s green spaces are used to support events, food growing and organised sport.

We understand as the weather gets hotter and the summer holidays are fast approaching, many of our parks will see a rise in footfall.

If you’re out using our parks, make sure you’re being respectful of others and tidying up after yourself. This is a simple way of helping our staff, other park users and the environment. Keep Britain Tidy have more great information on how we can all take steps to look after our parks.

There are lots of ways you can get involved with improving our parks and green spaces and we always welcome ideas – you can find out more and have your say here on our website. 

Crucially, as restriction lift, we are asking everyone to continue to follow the hands, face, space, fresh air guidance. Many more people will continue to use our parks to see family and friends, or to exercise. Therefore, it is important to reduce our risk of catching or passing on the virus by using green spaces safely.

Covid rates in Bristol are the highest we’ve seen, so let’s do our bit to keep each other safe.

Jiu Jitsu for everyone!

Today’s guest blog is from Luke Chamberlain, who I met at Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu during a recent visit to Southmead.

Gracie Barra is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and self defence martial arts club for children and adults in the heart of the community. Gracie Barra Westbury is the embodiment of the “Jiu Jitsu for everyone” motto, with over 200 members ranging from 3 to 60 years old.

Men, women, boys and girls from all walks of life come together to enjoy this incredible martial art, developed to enable the smaller, weaker practitioner to overcome the bigger, stronger individual. Training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the perfect way to empower yourself, gain confidence and get in shape amongst a community of positive and supportive teammates. 

With over 30 classes per week spread across 7 days, including kids, adults, beginners, advanced, competition training and open mat sessions, there is something for everyone regardless of your age or experience.

The club is run by me and my brother, Clayton, both lifelong martial artists and students of world champion and head of the Gracie Barra organisation in Europe, Professor Victor Estima. Training since 2009 and having competed on the international stage, we have developed a strong reputation in the Jiu Jitsu community, which has lead to us receiving the honour of being promoted to their current ranks of black belt (Luke) and brown belt (Clayton) by their renowned Professor. 

After opening in May 2017 starting in David Lloyd Westbury on Trym, the club fast outgrew it’s training space and relocated until finding a home in its current venue, The Youth Centre on Greystoke Avenue, a fully renovated space large enough to sustain the club’s ever expanding member base and timetable. 

Amongst our many successes on the competition scene through the efforts of both kids and adult students: from local level, securing best academy at the Bristol Open to national level, winning gold at the British Championships, and all the way to an array of medals at the European Championships. What the club regards as it’s biggest achievement is its community of members and families that have supported the club during the challenging times of the last year. Without this commitment to each other and the common goal of sharing the benefits of Jiu Jitsu with as many people as possible, Gracie Barra Westbury would not have become such a success. 

One of the club’s main goals has always been to make roots in the local community spreading its message of Jiu Jitsu for everyone. This goal has recently been further realised with coaches taking women’s self defence sessions at both Redmaids’ High school and also girls groups within the youth centre itself, helping to empower young women to navigate the world with confidence. 

Moving forward and working closely with local charity, Southmead Development Trust, plans are in place to take the club into a purpose-built academy. There, we can continue to provide the best possible service for our members and further serve the community by offering sessions to more local groups that could improve their quality of life and enjoy the many benefits of training Jiu Jitsu and learning self defence.

Get in touch now for your own two-week free trial.