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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.

Speaking up for Bristol in Parliament

Last November, I was invited to give evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee for their inquiry on ‘Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up’. MPs explored how local and regional government structures could be better equipped to deliver growth, with specific reference to the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. Last week saw the publication of their report.

Giving evidence alongside other mayors, the Northern Powerhouse and Western Gateway, I made the point that too often the Government introduces new funding for cities and local authorities to compete over. This process undermines our ability to fund and secure private investment. The parliamentary report picks up this point, with MPs also recognising the challenge around capacity of local areas to bid for government funds.

They put a bunch of money out there and say to us, “Fight for that.” It is a limited pot of money. We are in a zero-sum game with other authorities when we are trying to collaborate across the country. We cannot have that as an approach. That undermines our ability to fund.”

Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up (page 20)

In response to the recent speech by the Prime Minister, I said that if levelling up is to translate into coherent and specific initiatives, as the MPs argue it must, it is vital that it targets those living in deprivation. The report agrees, noting that any levelling up agenda must seek to tackle inequality within regions, not least in cities that are seen to be well performing.

I also echo the select committee’s disappointment on how little detail has been put forward to explain what the Government sees ‘levelling up’ to mean and how it will be delivered, or indeed measured. The lack of a coherent framework risks undermining our ability to plan and, ultimately, deliver. As our One City Plan and focus on delivering the Sustainable Development Goals demonstrates, it’s vital to have measurable outcomes if any ambitions around tackling inequalities are to be fully realised.


A friend of mine is a senior Army officer. He says, “Make a plan, any plan. Just make a bloody plan.”

We do not have one. We have no real coherent national framework with which to work. I do not [know] what we are pointing at, as a country, at the moment, and that undermines our ability to plan.

Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up (page 17)

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.

Bedminster Lantern Parade

Today’s guest blog is from Ade Williams, chair of the Bedminster Winter Lantern Parade and Superintendent Pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy.

There is great power in togetherness, celebrating each other’s contribution to a joint endeavour. Yet as a society, we are faced with ever-present reminders that our communities are unfairly divided. Sadly the age at which we first experience this only continues to get younger, shattering something that is forever lost.

Over the last 18 months, many of us have discovered an awakened desire to see positive changes in our society. Sadly life with all its demands will start to rob us of the chance to pursue those changes. Do you remember saying, “When this is over, I will not go back to the old ways?”

Ade Williams, Chair of the Bedminster Winter Lantern Parade

Bedminster Winter Lantern Parade has launched a fundraising appeal to raise the £15,000 needed to deliver the tenth anniversary extravaganza, South Bristol’s biggest Winter event. As Chair of the organising steering group, I know a lot about the dedication and work of delivering this event. All the volunteers, artists, teachers, and sponsors that support children across our community express themselves, showcase, and celebrate their work together.

One of the core values of the Parade is that it is proactively inclusive. Children from the nine schools involved represent the ever-increasing rich diversity of our South Bristol communities. Some even over-representing the racial diversity and socio-economic profiles across our shared City.

One of the event’s ambitions is to tackle why some children create lanterns in school but do not participate in the Parade. We feel this is very important. Working with friends and peers to create something exciting must be matched with the joy and thrill of showcasing it. Suppose many more young people can see how much the community loves and appreciates them; the potential fruits of such life experiences can be transformational.

The Parade’s link to better health and wellbeing is an added bonus. Art and creativity are positive health and wellbeing influencers. Collective effort and volunteering increase self-worth while walking the length of the Parade will reduce your blood pressure, burn calories and increase your heart rate — likewise for dancing. As for dancing to the rhythm of the music, you have an expressive licence.

The Bedminster Lantern Parade is a transformational event. Your much needed financial support and contributions enrich our community, sowing seeds to produce a healthier, inclusive, equitable society. Building that better future is the collective effort linking us all together.

Join us here: https://www.lanternparade.org/

Visit Bristol!

Today’s guest blog is from Matthew Tanner MBE, Chief Executive of the multi-award winning SS Great Britain Trust, President of the International Congress of Maritime Museums, Director of Visit West, and Trustee of Bristol Old Vic.

Matthew Tanner, SS Great Britain Trust

Bristol is a city bursting with creativity and innovation, famous for its art, science, music, carnivals, nightlife, and food, and of course for its iconic links to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is a vibrant and exciting city, and a place which is a destination for visitors from across the UK, and in more normal times (if you can remember those) internationally too.

I call it ‘Brunel Country’, of course, and the visitor economy in the Bristol region is one of the biggest in the UK. Tourism in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire region is worth £1.4 billion a year to the local economy, and supports over 29,000 jobs. That is more than Airbus and Rolls-Royce combined.

Nevertheless I fear we do tend to take our tourism and culture sector for granted. If we could only see our cultural attractions and hospitality industry housed in one large factory in the city then of course we would all know and value it as a major employer and source of cultural and economic wealth for us all. Instead it’s made up of a wonderful myriad of small, diverse, and often quirky businesses scattered across Bristol.

Culture is a key driver for tourism and the visitor economy, but it is important not just for its significant economic impact, it is integral to placemaking – what makes a place distinctive and special, bringing richness and enjoyment, building curiosity and connections, and supporting wellbeing.

A major recent development has been the combining of forces of Destination Bristol, the tourism support business for Bristol, with its counterpart Visit Bath, to form a new organisation, Visit West. Bristol and Bath together are an amazing set of destinations and cultural attractions worth £2.33 billion every year and supporting some 45,000 jobs. A critical mass like this propels our part of the world to be the fourth most visited city region in the country.

Brunel’s SS Great Britain

In the pandemic people have faced profound challenges, and our cultural sector and visitor attractions have also been hit hard. This is a crucial summer for the future of many of the member organisations in Visit West, big and small. To ensure that they are able to survive, to continue to provide significant economic benefits, supporting inclusive and sustainable growth within Bristol and beyond, then we must all visit them. It’s a fun day out, it’s time with family and friends, a unique experience, whatever it gives you we must indeed cherish this industry – use it or lose it!

Bristol and Unite – a unique combination for hope

Today’s guest blog is from Brett Sparkes, Regional Officer at UNITE South West.

Brett Sparkes, Unite the Union

In the last six weeks or so we have seen the very best of our hope and desire for success. The England men’s football team  had us all believing “it was coming home”. But despite the best performance for over half a century, what has grabbed the narrative has been the ugly and frightening  racism and hate. I am no football pundit, and have the soccer skills of a haddock, but I can imagine the bravery required to step up to take a penalty when the whole nation is watching.

The disgusting abuse and threats directed at Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, and Marcus Rashford were not a surprise to me. Elements of the media and some politicians have  spread both covert and overt messages of hate for many decades, not only directed at people of colour but at many people with protected characteristics.

According to the Office of National Statistics, recorded hate crime in England & Wales has increased from 40,000 in 2012/13 to 105,000 in 2019/20, an increase of 162.5%. And that is only the recorded incidents!

Recent years have only made  hidden hate more visible and emboldened the hate-mongers, including on social media but also in public and at workplaces

So can we be optimistic that we can beat the scourge of hate, the plague of racism? I believe we can. Despite what we see around us we as a society are on a progressive curve. Take LGBTQ+, in just a generation attitudes towards the members of this community have changed significantly. Openly gay, lesbian and trans people are accepted by my children’s generation, a vast improvement to people’s attitudes compared to my South London Comprehensive in the early 1980s.

Yesterday we took another small but significant step towards our goal of eradicating hate from our society. Mayor Marvin Rees and Steve Turner (Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union) signed the Unity over Division Charter.

With the Mayor signing our charter, Bristol City Council has committed to working with Unite to continue to build more inclusive and harmonious workplaces. Both the Council and Unite will appoint inclusion champions, to collaboratively monitor, facilitate, and promote workplace inclusion.

The Charter also commits the council to training staff around its Equality and Diversity policy, which will be annual reviewed, and to provide materials to promote equality in the workplace – as well as condemning examples of hate crime and discrimination, particularly in Bristol.

By agreeing to confront hate in all its forms, bringing people together and giving them the true story instead of the media’s spin we can make a better Bristol and a better world.

Working together, Bristol and Unite can make a real difference in combatting hate. Together we can rid hate from our workplaces, as well as our pubs and social clubs, our communities and from our terraces.

Let’s make hate a thing our children will only read about in their history books.

Tolpuddle

Today’s blog is from Nigel Costley, South West Regional Secretary of the Trade Union Congress. Nigel also sits on the Bristol History Commission.

On the third weekend in July, before the pandemic, hundreds of trade unionists and their families would head off to the Dorset village of Tolpuddle for a festival to celebrate a key episode in winning rights for working people – and have a great party.

In the early 1800s public unrest over poor wages, unfair taxes, enclosures and voting reform burst out through riots and machine wrecking, including here in Bristol. The ‘Swing Rebellion’ saw farm workers smashing new threshing machines and burning ricks in their demand for more than the starvation wages they received. The violence was supressed with brutal force.

With this fresh in their minds farm workers around Tolpuddle started to form a trade union – a peaceful and legal means to combine in mutual support – to protect themselves from further pay cuts. The local landowners and employers panicked and demanded that the Home Secretary stop this dangerous development.

On his advice they arrested the leaders for administering a secret oath and six men were quickly tried and sentenced to seven years’ transportation into the slave colonies of Australia. With no means to pay for their return, the men feared they were never see home again and the families were left in absolute destitution.

The fledgling unions rallied to their cause with public meetings all over the country and a huge petition – not surpassed in size until the recent anti-Brexit petition. An enormous procession marched through London demanding their freedom and the right to organise in a union. If it was unlawful to take a secret oath, they asked why freemasons, Orangemen and others including members of the royal family were not arrested.

Funds were raised to sustain the families.

The government backed down and the Tolpuddle Martyrs were brought home with free pardons.

Today, workers still have to meet together in secret to protect themselves from bad employers. Care workers in Bristol have been sacked and disciplined for complaining they are not getting sick pay when forced to self-isolate. In the coming days others will be under pressure to work despite being in close contact with covid-19. But with the backing of a trade union, workers have secured safer workplaces and better conditions. It was unions that brought us the weekend and paid holidays.

So this weekend in July the village of Tolpuddle will again be alive with a procession of banners, great music, debates and speeches – only this year it will be filmed and streamed online for all to see free of charge on www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk

Marvin will join the launch event on Friday evening.

We must build back a better and fairer society after the pandemic and in so doing build on the sacrifice of those Dorset farm workers.

Happy birthday, NHS!

Today is our NHS’s 73rd birthday. Throughout its history, the service has undergone extensive changes to meet the changing health needs of generations of Bristolians. And few years have seen our health service tested in the way covid-19 has.

This pandemic gives us pause to consider how we can safeguard the NHS for the future, and how we can better recognise the dedication, skill and compassion those working in our health service bring to their work every day. Here’s what we want the government to give the NHS for its birthday to keep our health service fit for Bristol’s future.

Bristol leaders mark NHS, Social Care, and Frontline Workers' Day -- 5 July 2021
Bristol leaders mark NHS, Social Care, and Frontline Workers’ Day — 5 July 2021

Rewarding health and care staff

The scale of the mobilisation that has taken place across Bristol’s health and care service in response to covid-19 has been extraordinary. Hospitals across the country have cared for around 400,000 covid-19 patients, and the NHS has rolled out the biggest vaccination programme in health service history. In Bristol, 68% of the population has received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine. Care staff have been particularly vital in this effort – 88% of residents in social care settings across England are now fully vaccinated. This could not have been achieved without the skill and dedication of NHS and social care staff and the support of thousands of volunteers. Their commitment must be remembered and rewarded – and we especially need to offer better support for unpaid carers in the future who do so much to keep friends, family members and loved ones safe and cared for in Bristol.

A sustainable settlement for social care

The pandemic has shown that pressures on the NHS can accelerate and intensify without a sustainable social care system that ensures residents are cared for and healthy before and after they receive hospital care. Yet Bristol, like many other places, faces significant financial pressures in adult social care. We’re doing what we can to help meet the growing demand for social care in Bristol, transforming our systems to that people live healthier and more independent lives in their own homes for longer, while ensuring people can easily get the help they need at the right time. But our reforms will only go so far without a wholescale national reform of how care for residents is delivered and funded.

It is not just Labour politicians like me calling for the government to deliver the plan for social care that the Prime Minister promised on his first day in the job. Nine out of ten councillors from across the political spectrum have called on the government to give greater priority to social care and to give our care systems more resources now. This needs to include more investment in prevention, a strategy for meeting unmet care needs, as well as long-term investment to tackle the scale of costs facing the sector – including preventing people from having to sell their homes to pay for care when they need it.

A Health and Social Care Bill that works for – and with – Bristol

These challenges could be met – in part – by the upcoming Health and Social Care Bill which the government is due to publish this week. We expect that the Bill will more closely integrate health and social care, and do away with the “Lansley” reforms introduced through the Health and Social Care Act in 2012. In theory, this would enable the NHS, local government, and Voluntary and Community Sector to work as equal partners, creating a much more collaborative environment without the competition that the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government introduced in 2012.

NHS, Social Care, and Frontline Workers' Day flag flying above City Hall
NHS, Social Care, and Frontline Workers’ Day flag flying above City Hall

On this basis, we would support these reforms – though I remain concerned about the impact of such a dramatic reorganisation of the NHS when our health and care services are still dealing with high numbers of cases of covid-19. If they get it right, there is an excellent opportunity to invest in community health and preventative measures to ensure that the NHS and social care have a sustainable foundation for the long term. But that vision won’t be realised if this is a Bill cooked up in Whitehall with no reference to local people, places and contexts. This Bill must ensure that any reforms can be shaped to suit local circumstances, allow for meaningful integration of health and care services, and – above all – empower Bristol residents to drive the health and care services they want in their communities.

If the government delivers on these crucial issues, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of our thriving NHS for many more years to come.

Bristol – Gold Food Sustainable City

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor for Communities, Equalities, and Public Health and Chairperson of the Going for Gold Steering Committee.

You may have noticed some eye-catching billboards popping up like mushrooms across Bristol this week, heralding our new status as a Gold Food Sustainable City.

As the Chairperson of the Going for Gold steering committee, I know this exciting accolade is the result of our 18-month long Going for Gold campaign which included the whole city.

The Going for Gold movement was about a collective ambition to make Bristol’s food system better – better for our people, our city and the planet.

It builds on the incredible work of over 120 organisations supporting a Good Food Movement (GFM) in our city that led Bristol to receiving a Silver Sustainable Food Cities award in 2016.

As only the second city in the UK to achieve Gold (Brighton and Hove were awarded Gold last year), the Sustainable Food Places Board recognised us for our innovative approach towards tackling food inequality, reducing waste and increasing urban growing.

The accolade also acknowledged Bristol’s GFM and our efforts in tackling the impacts of food on public health, nature, and climate change.

Sustainable Food Places leads a growing movement of people and organisations across the UK, who are working towards making healthy, sustainable, local food, a defining characteristic of where they live.

The bid was a One City collective effort led by Bristol City Council, Bristol Food Network, Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Resource Futures, as well organisations, citizens and food outlets across the city who logged almost 2,000 positive food actions on the Going for Gold/Bristol Bites Back Better website.

Now we have achieved Gold it is not the end of this journey. The pandemic was a powerful catalyst in heralding in a much-needed change in how we feed our city.

This work has rallied a powerful momentum in Bristol and sown the seeds for a decade of building a diverse, inclusive, resilient and flourishing food community that can bring real change by 2030.

Our focus is now the One City Food Equality Strategy and Action Plan and the Bristol Good Food Plan 2030. On World Hunger Day, the Mayor reaffirmed our city’s commitment to help over 10,000 households in the city that are experiencing food poverty.

Working with a number of partner organisations and in a One City collective approach, we are developing a Food Equality Strategy and a Bristol 2030 Good Food Action plan.  The pandemic has increased levels of food insecurity in our most vulnerable communities and our success as a Gold Sustainable Food City has given us the added momentum to tackle food insecurity head-on.

To continue our journey towards a resilient food system in Bristol, we all need to be involved, at home and at work, in communities and through our institutions and I am excited to see the next phase of this work take shape.

Bristol Disability Equality Commission Chair Recruitment

Last year, Deputy Mayor Asher Craig announced that a new Disability Equality Commission would be established in recognition of the inequalities faced by Disabled people in our city, in addition to the particularly negative impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on Disabled people.

We are now recruiting for the independent Chair of the commission to lead the establishment, development and delivery of the Bristol Disability Equality Commission and embed Disability Equality in policy and practice across the City. Following the appointment of the independent Chair, they will then lead on the procurement process to assign the organisation that will hold the Disability Equality Commission and recruit the Commissioners. It is hoped the commission will be officially launched by Autumn 2021, when it will be handed over to a Disability Equality organisation in Bristol who will help to support and co-ordinate the commission’s work.

If you are a Disabled person, a Disabled staff network, an organisation of Disabled people, or an organisation working on Disabled people’s issues and would like to be included in the initial consultations please email: mayor@bristol.gov.uk 

Apply for Bristol’s Disability Equality Commission Chair role by the deadline of midnight on Thursday 22 July 2021. If you have any questions email mayor@bristol.gov.uk   

Over the coming months the commission will hold a series of consultations to listen to Disabled people in Bristol. Engaging Bristol’s diverse and under-represented Disabled people in meaningful dialogue about their experiences and issues that affect their lives and what they feel the priorities should be e.g. transport, employment, housing, social care support. There will be discussions about the implications of current government policies around choice and the importance of recognising how to empower communities through engagement, building and strengthening effective working relationships for ongoing partnerships with stakeholders and service providers across the city.

These consultations will support the commission to identify an initial list of priorities to review and develop a strategic plan to tackle disability inequality in Bristol, including through influencing future decisions and presenting recommendations to the Mayor and One City boards.

Bristol’s Disability Equality Commission will be a Mayoral commission, alongside our Women’s Commission and Commission on Race Equality. It will likewise receive support from the Council, but will focus on the whole city and will therefore be firmly rooted within the One City approach, involving and accessible to everyone to start a more inclusive conversation about disability.