Category Archives: Homes and Communities

Mawlid 2021

Today’s blog is from Afzal Shah, Deputy Chief Executive of Wellspring Settlement in Barton Hill. Afzal was previously Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, and Inclusive Growth
and Labour Councillor for Easton ward.

The 12th day of Rabi`Al-Awaal, which is the third month of the Islamic lunar calendar, known as Mawlid, is a day celebrated by Muslims the world over, marking the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him). As a Muslim, I believe the Prophet was sent a mercy to humanity, and even as a young man was known as, “Al Amin”, or “The Trustworthy”.  

Born in the city of Makkah, in what is now Saudi Arabia, in 570AD, in the backdrop of an austere society, he promoted social justice, equality, charity, and women’s rights. After the Holy Qur’an (“the book that must often be recited”), the Hadith (based on his sayings), and Sunnah (his way of life), are the key Islamic text, reminding us all that his, was a life immersed in assertively promoting social justice. He openly called out racism in Arabian society, stating, “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of an Arab over a non-Arab, and no superiority of a white person, over a black person, or a black person over a white person, except on the basis of piety”. These words continue to have immense significance, especially in the context of the current civil rights movement.

In the Prophet’s last Sermon, made in front of the largest audience he ever had, he also spoke about social justice. Addressing humanity, “O people!” before sharing his message – a sign that his message really needed every human being to understand, he spoke about the rights of children, particularly orphan’s, the rights of women, economic inequality, and the responsibilities of the state. 

It is heart warming to have witnessed the charitable actions of our communities in Bristol, and in particular how Bristol’s Muslim community rallied for the welfare of humanity during the pandemic. We are reminded of the saying of the  Prophet, “A person’s true wealth is the good he does in this world”. Befitting then, how numerous individuals and groups, from every corner of our great city, cooked, processed, and delivered food, and other essentials for the most needy and vulnerable.

Note: Tomorrow, Saturday 23 October, the Children’s Procession commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad will take place between Eastville Park and the left-hand side of Fishponds Road from 11:30 to 13:30. There will be likely be some minor traffic delays.

BoKlok on the Brook and the UN’s SDGs

Today’s guest blog is by Graeme Culliton, Managing Director of BoKlok UK

When BoKlok was founded back in Sweden in the 1990s, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) weren’t around yet. Much like the UK today, at that time Sweden was experiencing an urgent shortage of homes, specifically for people on average incomes.

One person who saw the need for change was Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. He recognised that new homes had to be made accessible for ‘ordinary people’, and his vision was to give everyone the same opportunity to live well.

Fast forward to today and we are proud to be continuing this vision right here in Bristol. One reason we decided to start our business in the city is because it’s here that you’ll find the people that think most about sustainability and saving our planet. These are the people open to new thinking and ideas, much like Mr Kamprad.

A key to unlocking this vision has been through implementing the SDGs into our way of working. We use them to guide us in delivering homes for ordinary people, whilst – at the same time – meeting the needs of a wider community.

The main seven key goals we work to are:

  1. Good Health & Wellbeing (SDG 3)
  2. Gender Equality (SDG 5)
  3. Reduced inequalities (SDG 10)
  4. Sustainable Cities & Communities (SDG 11)
  5. Responsible Consumption (SDG 12)
  6. Climate Action (SDG 13)
  7. Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17)

Sure, we are a for-profit organisation, but it’s not just NGOs and political bodies who are responsible for following the SDGs – it’s everyone. It’s down to the private sector to adopt the goals, and we take our role in this seriously.

Sustainability and climate

You can’t read through the SDGs (or Bristol’s One City Plan for that matter) without recognising that careful attention must be given to our carbon footprint in the UK. That’s why building sustainably is one of our main drivers. But how do we do this?

We start by manufacturing all our BoKlok homes offsite in state-of-the-art production facilities using advanced timber frame construction technology. Timber is one of the most sustainable materials you can use in construction, so you won’t see a single BoKlok module made with anything else. Building our homes offsite in a factory also means that we reduce waste considerably, cut deliveries to site in half, and even reduce our time on site by over 50% compared with traditionally built houses. Good news for the planet (and great news for our neighbours!). 

Levelling the playing field

Alongside reducing our environmental impact, the UN’s goals call us to also reduce inequality in our communities. In Bristol, local policy looks to safeguard this by holding house builders like us to selling a minimum of their new builds as affordable housing (30% in our case). On our Bristol-based site, BoKlok on the Brook, that would mean 52 new affordable homes. I’m proud to say that we have gone beyond that and raised this to 46%. That means 27 more affordable homes than required, and a total of 79 homes going to the vulnerable individuals and families in the community that need them the most.

Delivering safe, quality homes for people that really need them is a major way we’ll see a reduction in inequalities in our cities. A stable home environment has many benefits: educational achievement leading to better chances on life and increased quality of health and well-being, to name just two. These matter and have a very real impact in changing the direction of people’s lives.

The BoKlok vision may have begun in Sweden back in the 1990s, but since then our ‘BoKlok way’ has taken shape and with it, our commitment to the UN’s SDGs. Are we as far along as we want to be? Of course not. We only started in the UK two-and-a-half years ago and that means we’re still making mistakes and learning from them. But through collaboration with committed partners (see SDG 17) such as the Bristol City Council or the Bristol Housing Festival, we’re extremely confident that we’ll start to see these goals realised here in Bristol, sooner rather than later.

A harbour for the whole of Bristol

The Western Harbour from above, with fields on the other side of the River Avon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Cumberland Basin Road network.

Tides of history

For many of the people that enjoy walking around Bristol’s harbour, between solid redbrick structures and lapping water, it seems permanent. But in fact, the tides of history continuously change and rearrange this place and people as it responds to the needs and hopes of our city.

The edge of the Western Harbour, looking across the water, through the lock towards the river Avon.

The most significant change might have been the engineering works to create the New Cut and Feeder Canal over two hundred years ago. The SS Great Britain now reminds us of the Victorian ambition and scale that followed these constructions.

These physical changes have coincided with other changes in demographics and uses. The slum clearances of Bristol communities in the early 20th century scattered dockers and their communities across the city into new council estates, while regeneration and redevelopment in the 1980s and 1990s eventually saw a gentrification of the area. 

Renewed engagement about our harbour

Given this heritage and history, it is clear the harbour belongs to the whole city.  That is why, as part of our renewed engagement on the Western Harbour project, we will make sure as many people, from right across Bristol speak into the future of the area as part of our ambition to make the harbour an inclusive place where people and families visit from the very fringes of the city.

We’re trying a creative approach to this engagement, with a variety of ways for people to share their thoughts. In-person and online workshops, which are open to the community in and around Western Harbour at Riverside Garden Centre, as well as Lawrence Weston, Easton, and Knowle, are designed to draw out stories of the area and establish what the harbour means to people.

Local Creative Ambassadors, and City Poet Caleb Parkin, will connect Bristol’s talent in photography, film, illustration, and poetry with local people, to help better understand the character of the area and bring ideas to life. There is an audio walking tour that gives an insight into the changing history of the area. The Harbour Hopes website and Instagram page have been created so you can follow and share your own hopes for the harbour using the hashtag #HarbourHopes.  

We’re right at the start of this process, no designs have been decided and there will be plenty more opportunities to have your say in 2022. This engagement is about getting a sense of people’s thoughts and aspirations, before developing a masterplan which will include formal consultation and the wider planning process too.

Why Western Harbour matters

Western Harbour is a huge opportunity for the city because it gives us the space to deliver:

  • Much needed homes – a thriving, mixed community with variety of tenures, including affordable homes.
  • Sympathetic flood prevention engineering – future-proofing the location and wider area.
  • City Centre revitalisation – bringing families (and customers) to the city centre and North Street at a time our high streets are struggling.
  • A sustainable, climate friendly development, inside a high active travel area – connecting people to jobs and leisure, enabling people to live without a reliance on cars.
  • Opening access to the waterfront and enhancing the important heritage there – making it a destination all of Bristol can use and enjoy.

These are important goals for Bristol, but we know that in a complex city any decision has trade-offs. We must recognise that any decision is balanced. Our responsibility is to balance them as a city to achieve the best for us all.

Building in and up, not out

Two weeks ago at Full Council, members debated a motion about the protection of green belt land in the face of our housing need. I will continue to work with councillors as we develop a revised Local Plan which will take into account these considerations. But as I keep asking people that ask me not to build somewhere – “if not there, where?” I look forward to those councillors now, supporting and advocating for the development of this brownfield site in the centre of the city.

The harbour, from beneath a bridge of the Cumberland Basin road network. The red brick 'A' and 'B' Bond warehouses sit across the water.

The raw material of the city isn’t changing. We are a city with an area of 42 square miles, a population of around 460,000 and rapidly growing. 15% of our residents live in areas that are among the 10% most deprived in England and 16,000 people are on our housing waiting list. This all happens while we face a climate and ecological emergency requiring urgent action.

If we are going to avoid urban sprawl and protect space for nature, we need to build more densely on the brownfield sites.

Bristol’s harbour has adapted to respond to the challenges our city faces, and in the 21st century, as we wrestle with housing and climate crises, taking the opportunity to plan for what could replace an ageing 1960s road system is a citywide discussion. Everyone has a role to play in that and we want everyone to have a voice.

Protecting Bristol’s renters

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

Today, we took another step forward in protecting Bristol’s renters — with an updated policy on enforcement action we will be taking where landlords charge fees that are now banned under the Tenant Fees Act (2019). It also noted an updated enforcement policy we have introduced where landlords fail to deliver their obligations around electrical safety.

This progress will allow us to continue to take enforcement action under the Tenants Fees Act 2019 and associated lettings legislation. Local authorities must adopt an enforcement policy detailing how we will deal with decisions under the policy, including financial penalties and how we make decisions to prosecute. Our policy is also widely used as the foundation for enforcement policies adopted by other local authorities.

The private rented sector has grown enormously in Bristol – we estimate there are over 60,000 rented properties, making up 30% of the 202,000 properties in the city. The national average is 19%.

We have limited opportunities to redress the power imbalance between tenants and landlords and to ensure tenants are not exploited by those unscrupulous landlords that focus only on profit and not on providing good quality, well maintained and safe homes. Therefore it is important that we have policies which reflect the powers and responsibilities we do have as the enforcing authority and that we use them.

In accordance with our enforcement policy, most landlords and agents were given the opportunity to repay banned fees and were then audited to ensure compliance with other Trading Standards legislation. Out of a total of 24 breaches, only 3 were dealt with by way of enforcement action against the same persistent landlord. In total £24,153 was recovered for tenants in Bristol during the last financial year.

New regulations in relation to electrical safety in rented properties will protect most renters by requiring landlords to have regular safety checks on the wiring in their homes by competent electricians. Any unsafe works must be attended to by landlords, otherwise they face potentially significant financial penalties. Tenants can now by law also expect to be provided with a current electrical safety certificate before they start a new tenancy. Landlords are also under a duty to advise the Council when unsafe installations have been made safe.

These are more tools we have in the work we are doing protecting Bristol’s renters and making sure that all homes in Bristol are safe and landlords responsible. If you are a tenant in Bristol and concerned that you may be being charged illegal fees, then I would encourage you to access support available to you to enforce your rights. Want to know more about types of fees that are banned? You can read more in this guide produced by Shelter.

Bristol’s Vehicle Dwellers – The Road Not Travelled

Vehicle dwellers' vehicles at a previous, temporary site. The image shows half a dozen vehicles, spread out in a field.
Vehicle dwellers’ vehicles at a previous, temporary site

Our debate on Bristol’s vehicle dwellers and housing can often feel like there is no place for nuance, but that is not the case. Muller Road was scheduled for temporary closure today in order to evict an unlawful encampment of vehicle dwellers to make way for the construction of 32 social houses for the residents of Bristol. However, thanks to the engagement work of our Gypsy, Roma Traveller team, all vehicle dwellers have now peacefully left the site. Muller Road remains open and the eviction does not have to take place. This is not the first time that we have had to involve the Courts as a last resort regarding an encampment of vehicle dwellers in Bristol – this is a citywide challenge.

500 vehicle dwellers in Bristol

The number of vehicle dwellers has grown in Bristol in recent years due to: the impact of the pandemic; the housing crisis; gentrification and the growing appeal of Bristol as a desirable city in which to live. Bristol is estimated to have a population of about 500 vehicle dwellers in various locations across the city. Wider city factors and the national picture which surrounds the rise in numbers means the number of vehicle dwellers is likely to increase across the country and in Bristol.

We believe that Bristol has the largest number of vehicle dwellers of any Local Authority in the country, but we are doing more than any other area to work with this. Bristol is at the forefront of providing facilities for vehicle dwellers, and we have been contacted by a number of other areas, who are interested in what we do and are looking to model their own provision on what is seen as good practice. I am proud of our work in this area, and the approach we are taking which acknowledges the complexities of these circumstances.  

We continue to engage with the vehicle dwelling community, local residents, and to build more houses to reduce the need for so many people to live in vehicles. Our teams work with vehicle dwellers, including vulnerable groups, to offer support and manage the relationship with local residents. Any new encampments are initially approached by council officers, receive a welfare assessment, and are offered any support which may be available to them. There are many reasons why somebody may be living in a vehicle including heritage, out of financial necessity, a profession of travelling work, as an alternative to homelessness, or a different reason entirely. Every situation is unique.

One group that may live in a vehicle are Gypsy, Roma Travellers, who are an ethnic group protected by the Equality Act 2010. Our dedicated Gypsy, Roma Traveller team take our responsibility to this community seriously. However, it is a misconception that all Gypsy, Roma Traveller families live in caravans or vehicles. In Bristol, about 95% of the community live in houses or flats.

Muller Road vehicle dwellers

The Muller Road group are not Gypsy, Roma Travellers, but in order to act fairly and listen to their needs, our council teams have been engaging with the group for months. During this time, the group agreed that they would leave the site by 28th June. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

Where travellers of any type have set up an unauthorised encampment on land (as opposed to on the public highway) the landowner can apply for a possession order through the County Court. Once this order has been granted, the landowner can then arrange for a warrant of eviction to be served on that land and the site can be legally cleared of trespassers. As the Muller Road site is owned by Bristol City Council, we applied for and were granted the possession order and an eviction could now be legally carried out. We do not have the same legal powers in relation to our highways, and as the numbers living in vehicles gains traction, our legal powers have not moved with the times. Central government has issued no legislation to support Local Authorities in navigating this growing cultural issue. Instead we have a problematic Police and Crime Bill which approaches it punitively and could potentially criminalise vulnerable people.

Sites for van dwellers

Some of Bristol’s vehicle dwellers are receptive to our offers of support and alternative provision, and have good relationships with our teams. Other groups do not always fully engage. The group at Muller Road were offered access to meanwhile sites but decided to decline this offer in this instance. A meanwhile site is a piece of land which is not currently in use, or is earmarked for future development, which we offer to vehicle dwellers for a small charge where they are able to access toilets and clean drinking water. We think that it is right and fair to charge a small fee for the services we provide, as everyone who can should contribute to the running costs of the city they live in.

We currently have two successful meanwhile sites with more in the pipeline, which are due to come into operation over the next two to three months. However, we do not have capacity to offer a pitch to every vehicle dweller in the city. Land is in high demand for much-needed homes, especially affordable and social housing. We remain committed to building 2,000 new homes a year, with 1,000 of these being affordable in order to tackle the housing crisis. We know that a lack of affordable, good quality accommodation is a key reason why so many people are now choosing to live in vehicles. We believe a good quality, warm, stable home in a community is one of the single most significant interventions we can make to continue to tackle inequality and turn Bristol into a city of hope.

So, what happens if meanwhile sites are not wanted by vehicle dwellers? Where does an encampment go once it has left a development site/highway/local park? The answer is that, more often than not, they simply move to another part of the city. Some members of the Muller Road group have already set-up another unlawful encampment at another Bristol location. It is therefore hugely important that we consider the unintended consequences of removing an encampment from a site. We must take into account where the group is likely to move and how this will impact the wellbeing of Bristol’s residents and vehicle dwellers alike.

Vehicle dwellers' vehicles at a previous, temporary site. The image shows four vehicles, spread out, in otherwise empty car park.
Vehicle dwellers’ vehicles at a previous, temporary site

The wider picture

Vehicle dwellers are a visible element of wider systemic issues around inequality, the impact of a growing population and the issue of rising gentrification within Bristol. Many residents and vehicle dwellers are attracted to Bristol due to our reputation as a progressive and welcoming city. Bristol’s popularity with those from other parts of the country and abroad, although increasing wealth in certain areas, has resulted in an escalating cost of living, with private rents and house prices unaffordable to many. For this reason, we are seeing a higher level of people who feel forced into vehicles for homes.

The majority of our vehicle dwelling community find themselves living in vehicles out of financial necessity and many are considered vulnerable by our teams. In recent years we have also seen a rise in a percentage of the vehicle dwelling community who have driven to Bristol, attracted by our cultural offer and in response to the recent exposure in the media. Whilst we aim to offer all support that is available and needed by the community, there are some people who have the financial capital to support themselves and live in a building if they chose.

I can understand the frustration of some residents towards people who live in vehicles, particularly those who have been impacted by an encampment. As we saw at the M32 encampment, there can be considerable waste and anti-social behaviour. However, as a city we need to accept that vehicle dwellers form part of our cityscape. As a Local Authority, we want people to have the opportunity to live in a good quality, safe home. How we meet this challenge will define the nature of our relationship to this community. We will support community-led solutions to resolve tensions between all those who call Bristol home and we will continue to improve our response and provision as leaders in this space. In the meantime, I ask that both residents and vehicle dwellers treat each other with respect and act as good neighbours as we continue to build a city in which everybody can thrive.

A graphic showing the names, faces, and contact details of Bristol City Council's GRT team. Contact

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.

Mining in Bristol – A Rich Seam of Solidarity

While Durham may be almost 280 miles away from Bristol – the 150th anniversary of the Miners’ Gala yesterday has given me cause to think about the legacy of our city and region’s mining history, and the ongoing importance of the trade union movement in Bristol today. The Durham Miners’ Gala has a special place in the heart of the trade union movement, alongside the South West’s own Tolpuddle Martyr’s Festival.

Coalmining in and around Bristol has a long history. Bristol sits on the Bristol and Somerset coalfield which stretches for over 240 square miles, and was likely mined for coal by the Romans (more information about the history of the coalfield is available from the University of Exeter’s The Mines of the Bristol and Somerset Coalfield project). More recently, however, in the 19th century there were pits in Easton and Bedminster, as well as in Kingswood. The Dean Lane Colliery employed over 400 men and children. By the early 20th century, most pits in Bristol had closed, though coal mining continued at two pits just outside Radstock in Somerset until 1973.

Mining was dangerous work. It is estimated that one worker a month died in mining accidents at Dean Lane Colliery. An explosion in 1886 claimed the lives of 10 people, the youngest just 14 years old. Even outside the pit, health concerns for miners and their families remained – work was not well paid (particularly for children who worked in the mines) and densely packed terraced housing which sprang up particularly in Bedminster were often vectors for disease.

It is the trade union activism which sprang up in response to these dangerous conditions and low pay that is commemorated by events such as the Miners’ Gala and the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. That energy extends beyond remembering the strikes by mine workers in Easton in 1911 for fair pay, and the solidarity shown to those participating in the miners’ strike in 1984-5 after mining had ended in Bristol.

Dean Street Colliery

The closure of the pits destroyed communities and still today, unemployment remains high in ex-mining areas. The changing attitudes to coal and fossil fuels and a better understanding of the impact of carbon on the environment mean the coal industry may have been unworkable today. But the adverse impact on the communities for generations highlights the urgent need for a just transition to green jobs. Investment and transition needs to ensure jobs aren’t just removed. We link the need for a strong economy and high employment to the demands of our response to climate change.  

Today, we work closely with trade unions in the city to continue to secure good pay and healthy working conditions across all parts of our city’s economy and public services. Working together, we have secured important advances for working conditions in Bristol. Chief among these is our recognition by the Living Wage Foundation that Bristol is a Living Wage City. But we also recognise we work in a new context where, for instance, the delivery of public services is more fragmented than previous generations, and institutions like the NHS or the city council have less direct oversight over how contractor’s deliver services and treat their workers.

That’s why we continue to take a collaborative approach, ensuring we use the Council’s purchasing and procurement powers to achieve social value, and engaging with initiatives like Unite’s Construction Charter and Unison’s Ethical Care Charter. We want to continue to make Bristol a city of good work by mapping our goals in the One City Plan and our Economic Recovery and Renewal Plan to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – particularly Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. Working collaboratively with our trade unions in this way allows us to understand the complexities and realities which shape people’s experiences of work in Bristol.

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.

Dementia-friendly allotments in Bristol

To mark the start of National Allotment Week, today’s guest blog is from Isobel Jones, CEO of Alive, a charity working to enrich the lives of older people in Bristol and around the country. I recently visited their dementia-friendly allotment in Brentry with Councillor Helen Holland, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care.

Isobel Jones, CEO of Alive, pictured at Brentry's dementia friendly allotment

We all know how being outside can lift our spirits. Working outdoors surrounded by nature, nurturing fruit and vegetables or just sitting in the garden can bring a smile to our faces and help us relax after a difficult day. Allotments are incredible spaces for escaping from the normality and stress of our busy lives. They provide us with a real sense of achievement when we harvest crops we’ve tended from day one (and at times a sense of frustration when the cabbages get eaten again!)   

For those who live with dementia, gardening can be a source of joy and achievement. Maintaining physical activity, cognitive function and social interaction all help someone living with dementia to remain stimulated and to feel valued and helpful.

However, accessing gardens and allotments can become more challenging as dementia progresses. 

So, when the idea of developing and running an allotment for people living with dementia was suggested to us, we jumped at it.  We were already facilitating regular gardening sessions for groups in care settings across the city and through them witnessing the joy and satisfaction they brought to many older people. But we also wanted to provide a space for people living in the community to experience the benefits of horticultural therapy. 

Mayor Marvin Rees visiting Brentry's dementia-friendly allotment, pictured with a volunteer from BRACE Dementia Research

We were handed the keys to plot 18A at Charlton Road allotments in Brentry in March 2019. The  ground hadn’t been cultivated for about four years and was overgrown, unloved and close to being unworkable. However, my incredible team of volunteers and staff have put hours of love and hard work into the plot and have transformed it into the most magical, peaceful and calming space.

We’ve also put in a compost loo, a large social shed, accessible beds and lots of seating so we can meet all needs and garden in all weathers. It has been a real community effort, with support from local funders, businesses, fellow allotment plot holders and a sizeable team of volunteers, who have all supported us in our vision to enable those affected by dementia to have access to the outdoors and feel the sense of achievement and purpose that comes from “growing their own”.  

We are proud to say the Alive allotment is now fully open and is running regular supported sessions for people living with dementia and their carers. Participants can choose what they do there; they can come and potter about on personal projects, work with a volunteer, or just sit and have a cup of tea and chat. We are already seeing the positive outcomes on people’s wellbeing and are looking forward to seeing the groups grow.

We need to ensure there are more opportunities like this for those affected by dementia. In the words of one of our service users,  “Gardening, it’s almost medical. They need things like this to keep people going.” We couldn’t agree more. 

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.