Category Archives: Homes and Communities

Ramadan

Today’s blog is by Robiu Salisu, University of Bristol Inclusion Officer (BAME)

As the month of Ramadan begins, Muslims across Bristol and all over the world prepare themselves for a month like no other. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and is regarded as a very special month as the Quran (Holy Book) was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him) during Ramadan.

There follows a great deal of excitement with this year’s Ramadan taking place after the lifting of Covid restrictions in the UK. For many communities, this Ramadan will be the first time in two years that they are mixing with other households and performing their prayers outside of their homes.

When I was young, Ramadan was all about food, fasting – not eating or drinking during the hours of daylight and Iftar (the breaking of the fast after sunset, often with delicious food). Now that I am older, Ramadan for me means a welcome break from the humdrum of life: a chance to reflect, break bad habits, renew my spiritual connection and bask in the blessings of the month. Ramadan is not an individual experience, rather it is about shared experience with others, Muslim and Non-Muslims.

For years now, Muslim communities all over the world have been inviting folks from all walks of life to break their fast with them. We have seen the success of the Bristol Grand Iftar, established in 2017, which brings thousands of people from diverse backgrounds to collectively share the breaking of fast together. Due to the pandemic, the Grand Iftar was cancelled in 2020 and then hosted online last year. We are very pleased that it will returning in person, this Ramadan.

At my own institution, the University of Bristol, we launched our own celebration of Ramadan in 2020 with our Ramadan Kareem 2020: Celebrate and Learn event which was a huge success. This has now led to a yearly celebration, last year we held a Virtual Iftar 2021 – come dine with us! And this year we are hosting an open Iftar on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th April 7:30 pm in the Wills Memorial building for our Muslim and Non-Muslim students and staff at the University.

Muslims are always sad when Ramadan ends as it is such an important month to open our hearts and come together in shared unity and solidarity with friends, family and neighbours. Perhaps that is also why the month ends with a joyous celebration of Eid Ul Fitr, which lasts for three days.

Building an Age-Friendly City

Learning from the Bristol Ageing Better programme

Today’s blog is by Bianca Rossetti, Project Manager at Age UK Bristol

Last week saw the close of Bristol Ageing Better (BAB), a seven-year National Lottery funded programme that saw over £6 million invested in projects to improve social wellbeing among older people in Bristol.  

We reached an estimated 30,000 older people, and the evaluation conducted by UWE and our team of Community Researchers (all volunteers aged 50+) showed direct improvements through reductions in isolation and loneliness. Projects like the small grants fund and group mental health and wellbeing services demonstrated the power of communities and voluntary organisations as conduits for friendships and social activities that transform people’s lives. None of this would have been possible without Bristol having a strong third sector that works collaboratively rather than in competition, and without the efforts of volunteers. Around 2,000 people gave their time for free to make the programme happen: over 63,000 volunteer hours. Many older people also volunteered to help shape the programme from the top, with our Programme Board including older people with lived experience as Bristol residents.

Changing the conversation on loneliness

The last few years have seen a dramatic shift in the way we talk about and understand loneliness. BAB began in 2015, as one of 14 areas across England successful in securing funding from the National Lottery Community Fund’s Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme. This investment came after decades of mounting evidence about the impact of loneliness and social isolation on people’s mental and physical health, and how many of common events in later life combine with problems in the built environment to create a gap between the kinds of relationships and social connections we want and those we have.

The legacy of the BAB programme has been to create lasting changes in many communities, leaving the city with a large body of evidence on the initiatives that improve social wellbeing locally. We’re also thrilled that five of these successful models will carry on through a 12-month programme funded by the NHS Healthier Together Ageing Well Fund. A new ‘Connecting Communities’ programme will see some of the successful BAB projects expanded to North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, as part of community-led approaches to improving health in older age. These models include bereavement peer support, integrated care clinics, social activities and group wellbeing sessions.

Towards an Age-Friendly Bristol

It’s also a time of progress for Age-Friendly Bristol, the BAB-led project which saw us working with the city office, the council, VCSE organisations and older citizens to create a strategy that secured the city’s membership of the WHO’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in 2018. Coronavirus and other environmental changes have created new challenges and opportunities in improving  inclusion and reducing the health inequalities people experience as they age. This is why I’ve spent the last year working on a new iteration of our Age-Friendly Strategy, launched last week, which you can read below. This is complemented by an Action Plan, which sets out the detail of who’s leading on each age-friendly initiative, and I’ll be publishing an update on its progress later in the year.

We may be considered a young city – and indeed, older people do form a much lower proportion of the population than our neighbours across the rest of the south west. However to think that demographic ageing shouldn’t be a focus of Bristol’s long-term planning would be a mistake. The proportion of people aged over 75 in Bristol is set to grow by 40% by 2043, a greater percentage than for any other age cohort. Our older population is also increasingly diverse, and seeing older people as a homogenous group overlooks the experiences of older people of colour and older LGBT+ people.

All Bristolians are facing a future where they will reach pensionable age at an older age than the generation before them. We need to ensure the city can offer good jobs for all that protect workers’ health and wellbeing and provide equal opportunities to people throughout their working lives. The age-friendly goals align with the city’s other goals including zero-carbon, race equality, and economic renewal, and seek to ensure that what makes Bristol unique – our cultural institutions, the strength of our communities, and our green spaces to cite just a few examples – can be enjoyed by everyone growing older in our city.

Warm Homes (Go for It)

Today’s blog is from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, Energy, and Waste

Warmer Homes, Advice, and Money (WHAM) is an innovative project supporting Bristol residents living in fuel poverty and experiencing financial hardship.

WHAM brings together the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Talking Money, We Care Home Improvements, Bristol and North Somerset councils, Citizens Advice, Bristol Energy Network and AMS Electrical to provide a comprehensive service for vulnerable people. This includes accessing benefit entitlements, Warm Home discounts, home energy and insulation improvements, fuel vouchers, debt clearance, new heating, charitable grants, and moving onto cheaper tariffs.

WHAM has had an incredible impact so far, and has been held up as good practice by Ofgem and Public Health England. Since 2017, almost 3,500 households have are over £2 million better off through bill savings and financial/other support. It is one of many organisations who have been funded by our Bristol Impact Fund.

Many people are concerned about the cost of living crisis. Rising energy bills are part of a worsening picture, alongside Universal Credit cuts and below-inflation rises in pay and benefits. All will be compounded by the upcoming National Insurance hike.

But WHAM, with a waiting list of over 100 households, is not an emergency service. Instead, people struggling to make ends meet can access support for things like fuel bills, groceries, and school uniform through our Local Crisis Prevention Fund. We have also safeguarded the last Council Tax Reduction Scheme in the Core Cities, with some 40,000 families in our city receiving up to 100% off their council tax bills.

Bristol Energy Service also has some low-cost, handy tips on how to save energy.

Bristol Women’s Safety Charter

Last night I was honoured to join women from across Bristol – including Carly Heath, our Night-Time Economy Advisor, and members of my cabinet – to launch the Bristol Nights Women’s Safety Charter.

The Charter aims to be a centrepiece for how we all approach issues surrounding women’s safety at night, as we work to change attitudes and the culture around sexual harassment and enforce a zero tolerance approach to such behaviour. This covers women working in and enjoying Bristol’s night-time economy, which supports nearly a third of all jobs in our city.

We were also joined by Amy Lamé, the Mayor of London’s first Night Czar. Her work has helped inspire the Charter and other initiatives in Bristol and around the world to create safer spaces for women, including through this One City Approach.

The Charter is accompanied by a practical toolkit to help venues and businesses assess women’s safety. It aims to support businesses with a responsibility for staff, and follows on from training launched this month aiming to train 1,000 night-time economy workers on sexual harassment. The Charter also builds on the award-winning Bristol Rules campaign and our Stop Spiking efforts, which rolled out testing kits to venues across the city.

Councillor Helen Holland, my cabinet lead, wrote about women’s safety in her International Women’s Day blog. I was delighted to share a foreword with Helen for the Women’s Safety Charter and Toolkit, which you can read below.

City of Sanctuary: Sailing in Solidarity

Today’s blog is by Anna Wardell, Communications Officer at Bristol City of Sanctuary

The war in Ukraine has once again shown the importance of safe spaces for people to escape to. It has shown the importance of welcome, the importance of the extension of friendship and solidarity to those fleeing unimaginable horrors. 

We have been reminded once again of what makes us human: compassion and empathy.

Whenever crises like these hit the headlines, we are always heartened by the compassion and empathy shown by communities in Bristol. People contacting us to offer a spare room, or to offer us items such as pushchairs and furniture. Emails asking about volunteering opportunities, with people wanting to use their time and talents to support wherever possible.

This empathy stands in stark contrast to the Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament. This proposed legislation would make way for some of the most draconian asylum laws we have seen in this country. In its original format, it seeks to create a two-tier system where people arriving outside of limited resettlement routes could be afforded less entitlement to protection. Put into context, it would mean that many people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan could be considered inadmissible to our asylum system. This, despite fleeing the same violence as those who came through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. 

The Bill introduces the possibility of offshore processing, where people could be held in a third-country whilst their claim is considered; a system that, when implemented by Australia, received widespread condemnation and accusations of human rights abuses. Whilst amendments passed in the House of Lords remove these clauses, the Bill is now returning to the House of Commons for MPs to vote. We wait to see whether MPs will support these amendments or continue to support the building of higher walls instead of bridges, shutting people out instead of opening the door to the protection that all would seek in these situations. 

This is not the society we want to live in. We want a country that recognises the sanctity of sanctuary regardless of which terror a person is fleeing; regardless of the colour of their skin, or which religion they follow.

It is in this context that we are sailing in solidarity and welcome through the heart of Bristol. A flotilla of boats will set off on the morning of the 21st of March, moving through the heart of Bristol to show our heart. 

We invite the people of Bristol to join us on the harbourside to cheer the flotilla as it passes by, before heading up to our Tree of Sanctuary on College Green to hear from speakers about the importance of welcome. If you would like to join us, please register here so we can send out details of where to stand.

Our message is loud and clear: our city is one of welcome. We recognise and celebrate the immense contribution that people seeking sanctuary make to our city. 

Homes for Ukraine

Bristol is a proud City of Sanctuary: a place of welcome and safety for all, including people fleeing violence and persecution, working to alleviate hardship and celebrate diversity and inclusion. Since April 2021, we have resettled 75 people through the UK resettlement scheme, as well as providing support to hundreds of Afghans following the fall of their government last summer.

We are working with the city’s refugee charities and other partners to support Ukrainians already in Bristol. Through shows of support, including the lighting of City Hall and joint statements of solidarity with Ukraine and mayors there, our city is sending a message. But I also want to highlight practical ways that Bristolians can consider showing their support.

National government has now announced a new sponsorship scheme called Homes for Ukraine, which allows Ukrainians with no family ties in the UK to be sponsored by individuals who can offer them a home. Applications to become a host opened on Monday 14 March at https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/. On Friday 18 March, Phase One of the visa application route will open for sponsors and named contacts to apply to the scheme. Security checks and safeguarding measures will be put in place as further details are confirmed by the Government. In less than 24 hours, more than 100,000 people in the UK have offered to take part.

Ukrainians will be eligible to live and work here for up to three years, and access benefits, healthcare, employment and other support. Sponsors are asked to provide rooms within a family home or self contained accommodation rent free, they are not asked to provide food and subsistence. Sponsors need to be UK citizens or have at least six months leave to remain in the UK, and have a named person who they wish to sponsor; they will be eligible for payments of £350 per month for up to 12 months. There is no cap on places, and council are expected to receive funding of £10,500 per person (with extra available for child education).

We would also ask anyone who can offer practical support to get in touch – particularly those with Ukrainian language skills – to help us coordinate, support, and welcome people to Bristol. bristolrefugeeteam@bristol.gov.uk

Bristol residents who do have friends and family in Ukraine, who they would like to sponsor, please contact the national website  https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/

We welcome this move by the Government, but we see this as an ad hoc and top-down approach, launched because the Home Office failed to respond quickly to our obligations. The political decisions that created a “hostile environment” for refugees has left us as a country with a system unable to respond to humanitarian crises. There is a reason this work has had to be moved from the Home Office to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities: it’s because delivery happens at a local authority level.

I shared at Full Council that our condemnation of Putin’s oppressive, unequal regime and his aggression is unequivocable and support for the Ukrainian people is unconditional. I cannot unsee some of the scenes I have seen. I have deep concerns about the treatment of black and brown migrants caught up in this crisis. This is significant for Ukraine, bordering countries, destinations beyond them and journalists.

It is painful that within the scenes of desperation of those seeking to flee sites of conflict in the Ukraine, there are distressing accounts of those seemingly being denied the same opportunity to seek refuge on the basis of race. The coverage by some media is inconsistent with they way they reported on humanitarian disasters in other parts of the world. Afghans in Bristol, some in hotel accommodation, are still deserving of our compassion. We must be careful we don’t subconsciously and accidentally endorse a two-tier refugee system in the world. Everyone is deserving of safety. We have raised this in the conversations we’ve been a part of this week, including the World Economic Forum, LGA, Mayors Migration Council and a convening of European Mayors.

Bristolians have already shown support to Ukrainians in many ways. Primary schools have held cake sales, organisations and councillors have set up collection points, and members of the public have supported the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal for donations. Supporting funding mechanisms, such as DEC or local funds, are an important way of supporting people in the crisis.

I know that we will continue to step up and help welcome those who need our support at this difficult time. As a City of Hope we’ll do whatever we can.

Celebrating Commonwealth Day

On International Commonwealth Day, we celebrate our links with 53 other Commonwealth countries. I currently represent our United Kingdom on the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), which brings together cities and regions from every continent. Such city diplomacy is essential to help shape the policy context that impacts on our city and our citizens, on issues such as migration, climate change, and trade.

People who are from/have heritage links to Commonwealth countries make a huge contribution to Bristol. Some five per cent of Bristol’s population were born in other Commonwealth countries. With over 60% of the 2.4 billion people living in the Commonwealth are under the age of 30, there is real potential for young people to shape future collaboration and deliver a common future across the Commonwealth.

As we continue to work with local, national, and international partners to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies, this theme is crucial for our planet’s future. Through CLGF, I have been supporting the push for Sustainable Urbanisation and encouraging all cities and governments to follow Bristol’s lead in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

75% of emissions come from cities, but so does innovation. Necessity is proving to be the mother of design, as Amartya Sen said. We are developing more just and green economic development, alongside more efficient energy, waste, and transport infrastructure. By 2050, an extra 2.5 billion people will be living in towns and cities, with nearly 50% of those new urban dwellers projected to be in the Commonwealth.

This year, we can look forward to more opportunities to strengthen our Commonwealth ties. The Commonwealth Games will take place in Birmingham this summer, giving us the chance to celebrate sport and the positive role it can play locally and around the world. We will also be celebrating the 60th anniversary of Jamaican independence, with the return of St Paul’s Carnival events giving us another chance to celebrate our heritage across the Commonwealth.

One of Bristol’s newest International Ambassadors, Marti Burgess, said:

The links we have because of the Commonwealth benefit us as a city. The connections that diaspora communities living in Bristol have are very valuable and should be fostered to promote trade and foreign direct investment, create businesses and spur entrepreneurship. I travelled to the Caribbean as part of a DIT trade trip and realised that because of my Jamaican background, and my many visits to the Caribbean, I had a better understanding of the opportunities being presented to us.

Marti Burgess with the Head of the Guyanese Chamber of Commerce

Bristol Climate Smart Cities finalists

Today’s blog is by Jessie Carter, Projects and Policy Lead at Bristol Housing Festival

The Bristol Climate Smart Cities Challenge has entered an exciting phase of co-creation following the announcement of 14 finalists on 20 January, after technologists, businesses, and investors were invited to enter the competition and contribute to a new model for delivering affordable, carbon-neutral homes.

This is the next phase in the international city-based open innovation competition, hosted by Nesta Challenges and UN-Habitat, in which four cities were chosen to invite innovators from around the world to help solve their challenges relating to greenhouse gas emissions. Other participating cities are Bogota, Colombia; Curitiba, Brazil; and Makindye Ssabagabo, Uganda.

At an introductory webinar last week, the Bristol finalists not only heard from the project team, which included Bristol One City, Nesta Challenges, UN-Habitat, and others, but listened to each other’s elevator pitches, the beginning of what will arguably be the most crucial part of the challenge. At this stage, each finalist will need to go beyond their own proposal and form teams to collaborate to support system change, leading up to the announcement of the winning teams at the World Forum in Poland in June.

The brief was clear that the barrier to this was not just the technology itself (we have an increasing number of emerging green technology solutions), but the underpinning economic model used to deliver housing by multiple stakeholders that isn’t currently viable. We may be able to build beautiful carbon neutral homes but if we can’t make these affordable – and tackle the very real social inequalities that manifest themselves in housing – then we’ve stopped short of the system change the most vulnerable in our society need.

Secondly, the brief recognised that to achieve system change requires collaboration. We had a lot of questions and clarifications over the application period. That wasn’t unexpected: we knew we had put forward the wicked challenge which our city faces. As the applications rolled in, assessors and judges were looking for not just the capability of each organisation, but the extent to which they were willing to build a coalition for change with other finalists. We were excited to receive 47 applications from around the world and 14 finalists were selected, three of which are local Bristol organisations and twelve are UK based.

From Bristol, the Bristol Community Land Trust and We Can Make presented their pitches to see the community-led housing model become part of this solution, as well as Brighter Places housing association. Other finalists included housebuilders Greencore Construction, Igloo Regeneration, Ilke Homes, EDAROTH, and Innerspace Homes Group. Social enterprise Bioregional Hill are pioneering an innovative affordable housing model, while green energy schemes are offered by Microgrid Foundry and Swedish company Ecoclime, and bringing data solutions are Changebuilding and Parametric Solutions. Finally, Pyterra brings an innovative finance model. We are excited by each of these finalists, but even more so about the potential they bring together.

As the co-creation phase progresses, our hope is that the finalists will work to collectively understand the systemic challenges that Bristol City Council and other commissioners of social housing have grappled with and become ‘more than the sum of their parts’ – addressing multiple points of the system to develop an ecosystem solution and bring in city stakeholders to help them achieve this goal. This will look like considering technology solutions alongside financial and outcome led commissioning supported with data solutions (among others). Ultimately, it will mean finding a new way of delivering housing based on value (and not just cost) so we can combat the climate and ecological emergencies while never losing site of those who don’t have a secure or adequate home in which to live.  

In the next phase of the competition, the ambition of Bristol City Council and the project partners is that the winning teams will be funded to complete a system demonstrator. For us, the best outcome of this competition will be that we don’t just drive change but see affordable, carbon neutral houses built in our city.

International Women’s Day

Today’s blog is by Councillor Helen Holland – Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care & Integrated Care Systems, with responsibility for Women’s Safety, and Labour Councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood.

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) seems to have a particular resonance, and at the joyous – and back in-person – celebration on Saturday, there was space for women from across our city to reflect on the last couple of years, and the current situation. 

There is no doubt that Covid and the pandemic’s ongoing impact has hit women harder. Women make up the biggest proportion of carers, both paid and unpaid, and were on the frontline during the worst of the crisis. Many women had to make the decision to live away from their families in order to protect those they cared for, and worked longer hours. Many were also expected to juggle working from home while home-schooling their children. 

Saturday’s events included a panel discussion discussing the ‘double disadvantages’ faced by disabled women. Bristol Women’s Commission are working with WECIL on some research on this, and we heard some fascinating insights from that. In the discussion everyone recognised the “intersectionality” of gender with other protected characteristics, and expressed our commitment to hearing more from those with lived experience to shape our policies, in everything from public transport to commissioning care providers. 

We also know that the incidence of domestic violence increased hugely, and it was good to hear our Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Shelford, reiterate the priority that this work is being given by Avon and Somerset Police, led by the Chief Constable, Sarah Crew. 

This past year has also seen the shocking murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and over a hundred other women, so the work that we are doing, along with our partners, to make Bristol a women-safe city, feels as if it has never been more important. Next week will see the launch of the Women’s Safety Charter, and as this initiative progresses, we must draw on the experience and expertise of all women and women’s organisations right across our city. 

As we know, and as we heard in many of the discussions on Saturday at the IWD event, having more women in decision-making roles improves those decisions, and I have always been passionate about everyone’s responsibility in encouraging women to put themselves forward for all sorts of elected positions, and roles in public life, such as the magistracy, school governors, and health bodies. 

Our Cabinet in Bristol has women in half of the portfolios, leading on critical issues for the city: including climate change, equalities, public health, children’s and adult’s social care. It is a privilege to sit alongside these committed colleagues, who are working to #BreakTheBias every day, but we can’t do it alone. So when you see leaders in your community, those volunteers who always go the extra mile, the women making opportunities for young people, remember: #AskHerToStand 

Giant plans for affordable housing delivery

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

Goram and Vincent were the giants of legend who created Bristol and some of its features, such as the Avon Gorge. They were the inspiration for the name of our Council owned housing company – Goram Homes – and now we are helping them to change the face of Bristol again.

This week at Cabinet, we approved the Goram Homes pipeline of council-owned sites to be developed by Goram and its partners. These sites will now be brought forward for new market rate and affordable homes.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the need for new homes in Bristol, particularly affordable homes, and what the council and its partners are doing about it. We recently approved ambitious proposals to accelerate affordable housing delivery in Bristol to deliver 1,000 affordable homes each year from 2024. Goram Homes and their pipeline are going to play a major role in us hitting this target.

Because the land in the pipeline is council-owned, we have a greater opportunity to build the kind of homes that are needed in the city. Through the partnership model that Goram uses, we can also build developments at a faster pace, using new approaches like Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to deliver homes that are more sustainable than those made with traditional building methods.

These aspirations are reflected in Goram’s updated pipeline. To take the city’s biggest and most ambitious future housing site – Hengrove Park – as an example, by adding this site to Goram’s pipeline, Bristol will benefit from over 700 new affordable homes when the build is completed. A significant proportion of these will be social rented council homes. That is 50% of the overall total of just over 1,400 sustainable new homes that will be delivered. In fact, out of the 2,992 new homes in Goram’s list of sites, 48% of them will be affordable – a far higher percentage than is likely with developers operating under a more ‘normal’ market model.

Affordable to whom?

We’re very aware that when we talk about “affordable” homes, it means very different things to different people. Put simply, it means housing for eligible households who cannot afford to pay market rents or are unable to buy homes at market value. Types of affordable housing include social rented properties, affordable rented properties, and shared ownership homes.

National policy defines affordable rents as 20% below the market rent. In Bristol, we’re committed to going further than this. Our priority is Social Rent, which is the most affordable of rented homes. Affordable housing providers in Bristol also cap each new letting at Local Housing Allowance levels, which are well below 80% of the market rent.

If you want to know more about affordable housing, this blog from the Bristol Housing Festival is a good place to start.

The council and Goram Homes’ approach will remain focused on building and supporting mixed, balanced communities. That means a mix of affordable and market homes, with sustainability and community at their heart. By delivering homes in such a way, we can make sure that we build the homes we need to give people from across Bristol the opportunity to call somewhere home.