Category Archives: Homes and Communities

Saluting and Supporting our Armed Forces Communities

Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Helen Holland, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Armed Forces Champion for Bristol City Council.

This Saturday is Armed Forces Day where we take the opportunity to recognise the contribution those in our armed forces communities make to our city and country. This year in particular, our armed forces have played a vital role in many aspects of the national response to Covid-19 – from distributing PPE, supporting testing and vaccinations, and working alongside countless community organisations supporting residents in need.

Since taking on the role of Armed Forces Champion in the council earlier this year, I have enjoyed learning more about the needs and experiences of our armed forces communities, and look forward to meeting those organisations in person as restrictions lift.

Bristol is home to a number of reserve units across the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. According to data published in 2017, over 16,000 veterans live in the Bristol area, and as the recent census asked the question about serving in the armed forces for the first time, we look forward to getting the results of that so that we have the most up to date information about our veteran population in the city.

All local authorities in the country are signatories to the Armed Forces Covenant, which is a commitment to ensure that members of armed forces communities receive the support they need in recognition of their dedication and sacrifice. However, we also want to make sure that members of the armed forces and veterans, and their families, are integrated into local life in the city and that we promote understanding of the issues affecting the armed forces communities in Bristol. A multi-disciplinary group of Council officers meet, alongside forces representatives, and agencies such as the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, and the DWP to ensure that our work is as joined-up as it can be, and I want to work to raise the profile of that work. 

One of the aspects of this work is making sure that veterans and members of armed forces communities are supported into employment, which is why Bristol City Council, alongside 67 other businesses have signed their own covenants. At the council, we are developing a work programme specifically to support employees who are veterans and reservists to ensure their needs are accommodated and they are supported to thrive in their careers at the council.

We know, however, that there is more work to do across a range of city services to help those who serve – or have served – in the armed forces to thrive. Access to mental health support continues to be a crucial issue. Research from Kings Centre for Military Health Research indicates that rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2014-16 had grown to 6% – higher than the population average of 4%. Information on specific support through the NHS for serving personnel and veterans is available here.

Labour’s Shadow Defence Team have set up a network of Armed Forces Champions to ensure that the voice of armed forces communities are represented in national policy. We are campaigning to make sure the Armed Forces Covenant is fully enshrined in law, to promote a new duty of care from the Ministry of Defence to give veterans better legal and mental health support, and to ensure that Commonwealth veterans have visa fees scrapped. They are also keen to hear from veterans about their experiences directly – if you are an armed services veteran you can complete their survey here.

Meanwhile it was my pleasure to attend the flag-raising for Armed Forces Week on Monday alongside the Lord Mayor and representatives of our service units in Bristol, and where we were able to #SaluteOurForces. On Saturday, I encourage you to join in.

World Refugee Day 2021

Today’s guest blog is from Forward Maisokwadzo, Mayor’s Inclusion Advisor.

Forward Maisokwadzo

‘On World Refugee Day  it’s an important time to listen to the stories of people seeking sanctuary in Bristol and to reflect on what they can teach us about the city we are and the city we want to become.’

Dana* applied for asylum immediately when he arrived in the UK and was housed by the asylum support system in Liverpool. He got to know some members of the Kurdish community – but they moved on to Bristol. Dana’s initial asylum claim was refused. Although Dana appealed, he couldn’t find legal representation and he attended the court session alone. Sadly, Dana was refused again, and his asylum support accommodation and subsidence were immediately stopped.

With no support and nowhere to go, Dana remembered the community he had met who had moved to Bristol and followed them here. Dana was homeless sleeping in a small tent in Eastville Park. Dana’s mental and physical health were poor – he felt frustrated and upset. He struggled to access the medical care that he needed. After some time, he was able to find members of the community that he met in Liverpool and they helped him a bit, sometimes letting him stay on their sofas or giving him money for food. Sometimes a local Kurdish restaurant would let Dana eat for free. The community were truly kind. But even with this limited support times were difficult – Dana was constantly moving around – never sure where he could sleep or what support would be there. Dana was always in other people’s spaces – relying on their kindness and hospitality.

“Thankfully I have managed to get past that difficult time.”

In 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic the Central Government enacted a policy called Everyone In – which funded local authorities to temporarily house anyone who was homeless. This policy recognised that being homeless was a public health risk as it was not possible for homeless people to self-isolate to protect themselves or others from the Covid-19 outbreak. This policy applied to everyone no matter their immigration status. Dana was housed by Bristol City Council in a hotel.

“It was incomparable to where I was before.”

While in the hotel Dana received £10 per week destitution support from a local charity Borderlands. While being supported in the hotel however he had been put in touch with Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN) a local charity who provide hosted accommodation for individuals in Dana’s situation while they work to regularize their status. As Everyone In comes to an end Dana has been given temporary accommodation in a BHN house and receives a £20 per week allowance from them, this means Dana will not have to face homelessness in Bristol again.

“When I heard that the Everyone In accommodation wouldn’t be extended it was stressful. I was worried. But at least for now I get £20 weekly income from BHN and I have temporary accommodation from BHN too which is great.”

Dana’s story is not an isolated one. We have encountered several refused asylum seekers who are impacted by the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and the current Immigration policy. NRPF is a condition that is applied by the Home Office to individuals with a number of different types of immigration status. Those subject to NRPF do not have access to a wide range of benefits and support, which can leave them facing crisis and destitution without the safety net that most of us take for granted.

Today 20th June is World Refugee Day. And its theme “We Cannot Walk Alone” should challenge or rather inspire us to develop welcoming communities, including here in Bristol, a declared city of sanctuary. Dana’s story is a clear example. It’s true the Covid-19 pandemic has presented challenges to all of us and shown deep inequality in housing, health, economy etc. But it has also shown how interconnected we are and that we are part of a shared ‘us’. I witnessed the revolution of generosity across Bristol in response to the pandemic, people from our diverse communities supporting each other. And I hope this will be continued across the City and beyond.

These words “We Cannot Walk Alone” resonate across space and time including here in Bristol and across the world. The story of Dana demonstrates that by coming together and if we choose to walk side by side, share networks and resources we create deeper and longer lasting change than is possible alone. In Bristol we take a One City Approach to confront these challenges. Our collaborative work with the refugee sector to support people housed through Everyday In has shown working together produce better results. Lessons learnt from this work supporting people subject to NRPF can be accessed here.

As we celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution, let us use the occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognise their resilience in rebuilding their lives. As the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR says, “together we heal, learn and shine.” People seeking sanctuary like Dana cannot be left to walk alone.

*name changed

Bristol’s Anne Frank Tree

Today’s guest blog is from Elinor Beard, a nine-year old pupil from Fishponds. Elinor spoke at Tuesday’s unveiling of the new plaque at the Anne Frank Tree on Brandon Hill.

On June 8th I was invited to Brandon Hill park to speak at the unveiling ceremony of a plaque for a tree planted in Anne Frank’s memory. It was a great experience and there were so many wonderful speeches.

When I was six years old, my grandma bought me Anne Frank’s Diary. I was too young to understand what it meant at the time, but since then I have read it three times. It inspires me and she is like an imaginary friend. She is in my head telling me to hang in there when I find something difficult. I feel like we are connected in some way. 

Anne Frank is my heroine. She always found the positive. Even at the end of her life she still wrote about her dreams and hoped that she would come out of the war alive. When I have Anne by my side, I am not afraid. If she lasted through her terrifying experience for as long as she did, then what I am scared of looks easy.

Every day in the annex got worse for Anne and her family and they feared any knock on the door. Every day she lived in fear. What I find most horrific is how she almost made it to the end of the war. If she would have lived just a few more weeks, she would have survived and seen the world she longed for.

“In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” That’s what Anne Frank believed. She also believed people should be treated equally. During her life in hiding, her writing showed her faith in humanity even though her situation was very dark. She kept on writing and she kept making her family happy. One of the most amazing things about her was her ability to keep going when everything was falling apart. She was one of the many children in the Holocaust who lost their lives. Jewish children like me and even children who weren’t Jewish. 

During the ceremony on June 8th, there were some moving speeches. I was especially moved by the words of Edward Crowson (above) from the Holocaust Educational Trust when he described his guilt of being cold at Auschwitz and the depths of “how far human-kind could hate.” Edward continued, “How could I possibly complain of feeling cold… compared to those who were previously imprisoned in the camps.” This touches me because it shows how lucky we are to have the things we take for granted. Just as Edward said, they were freezing cold with nowhere to turn at Auschwitz. What’s also inspiring is what the Holocaust Educational Trust is trying to teach. Their aim is to share the testimonies of those who suffered during the Holocaust with as many young people as possible. It is very important that we share stories like Anne’s. Soon the people who lived those terrifying experiences won’t be able to tell their stories anymore. It is up to people like me to do it. I urge you to share their stories with as many young people as you can so it never happens again.

Anne said, “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people. Even those I have never met. I want to go on living even after my death.” And she did. This tree proves it. This tree will outlive all of us and so will Anne’s spirit.

Taking on the Climate Smart Cities Challenge in Bristol

If there is one thing we rise to in Bristol, it’s a challenge. As One City, we need to urgently tackle the climate and housing crises we find ourselves in. As the first city in the UK to declare a climate emergency and an ecological emergency, and as a city committed to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we are delighted to have been chosen by Nesta Challenges and UN Habitats as a Climate Smart City for focusing on finding innovative ways to deliver affordable, low carbon housing.

The aim of the challenge is for partners to support innovators in developing, testing and scaling cutting-edge solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as well as delivering a significant social impact to local people. In January, applications were sent in from cities all over the world, with only four being selected. Makindye Ssabagabo in Uganda, Botoga in Columbia and Curitiba in Brazil will be joining Bristol in the next stage. Each city’s challenge will be formally launched by Nesta and UN Habitat at a World Expo in Dubai in October 2021.

 There is a lot to do before then so the City Office, in partnership with Bristol Housing Festival, Bristol City Council, and other city stakeholders, has already started work around defining the detail of the challenge for Bristol. As a city, we will look at devising a model of housing development that brings collaboration to the forefront whilst also making it financially viable and sustainable for the future.

At the end of last week, a two-day ‘Discovery’ workshop was held to look at our specific locale, our history, our communities, the environments we have as well as other key aspects that make sure Bristol’s needs are being considered from a number of perspectives.

Following the immediate feedback from those that attended, we will now undertake wider stakeholder engagement with city partners, before a second workshop in July where the challenge brief will be finalised before the official launch of the project towards the end of the year.

The time for change is now and being part of the Climate Smart Cities Challenge, enables us to bring new ideas to the table which will help decarbonise our affordable housing, from a grassroots level, and through a One City approach.

To find out more about the Challenge go to: Climate Smart Cities Challenge — Bristol Housing Festival

Sands United Bristol FC

Today’s blog is from Sands United Bristol FC, to mark Sands Awareness Month.

How long does a football match last? 90 minutes, 120 with extra time. Think of all the things that could happen within that time – your team could reach a cup final. What about off the pitch? You could sit with friends and family and watch a film.

For some though, during the course of that football match their world will be turned upside down. Every day in the UK nearly every 2 hours a family is faced with the devastation of the death of their baby before, during or shortly after birth.

SANDS is the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support charity. It exists to support anyone affected by the death of a baby. Here in Bristol, there is a local Sands support group – Bristol Sands (Bristol.sands.org.uk) who provide that support in a variety of ways. Sadly though, men can often feel isolated and feel that there isn’t support there for them. However, in Bristol there is a unique avenue of support for any man affected by such a loss – Sands United Bristol FC.

We are a football team providing support on and off the pitch. Founded just over 2 years ago it gives men (mainly dads) an outlet for their grief. An opportunity to be around other men and share stories and support each other through tough times – either face to face or using WhatsApp. We are a part of the Bristol Sands support group and are one of 30 Sands United FC teams around the country.

Every player in the team is a part of a club that nobody wants to be a part of, but a club that has the highest cost of membership.

We’ll never know what interests our babies would’ve had as they grew up. For example, would they have been into playing sports. A couple of times a month, at training and in matches, we have a go at answering that question and we play with our babies and for our babies. Each player in the squad plays with a shirt that has very personal meaning to them. It carries their babies name or names and a squad number chosen for them.

We aren’t interested in your football ability, we aren’t interested that the last time you played football was at school (and that’s more years ago than you care to remember!!), we aren’t interested in your level of fitness either.

The football team is only interested in one thing – that you are looking for support!!

If you’ve experienced the death of a baby and are looking for support then please just search for ‘Sands United Bristol’ on any social media channel, or go to our website sandsunitedbristol.com

As one of our players once wrote ‘We play for the best worst team in football’.

We are Sands United Bristol FC

Housing rights

One of my priorities as Mayor is for more people in our city to have a stable, secure home. We’re delivering this not only by bringing forward the new homes that Bristol needs, but also through our work to stamp out illegal evictions in our city. It’s a practice that we want to see ended in Bristol.

Tenants and lodgers have legal protection against harassment and illegal eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This means that to evict a tenant from a property, landlords must follow strict procedures. If they fail to do so, they can be guilty of a criminal offence. This includes if they do not give tenants the correct notice to leave the property, or if they harass tenants to make them leave.

Despite there being a ban on evictions in place during the pandemic, it is estimated that more than 90,000 people in the UK have been threatened with homelessness, with more than half having lost their accommodation. And it is likely that the scale of illegal evictions taking place across the country is underreported.

As a Council, we are committed to working proactively with tenants and landlords to maintain tenancies, and when appropriate, to prosecute where there are cases of harassment and illegal eviction.

In order to prosecute cases of illegal evictions, the Council must consider whether it is in the public interest, and the standard of evidence must be sufficient to meet a criminal standard of proof. This is why we advise residents to write down the details of everything that happens including dates, times and what was said; to encourage your landlord to confirm anything said verbally in writing; and to try and have someone with you to give you support and be a witness.

Our Tenancy Relations Team work closely with the Police to investigate and take legal action if necessary. This work has included providing the Police with an aide memoire for officers to use if they attend incidents related to tenancy disputes, and officers from the team are engaging with the police to offer training to call handlers and officers.

We know, however, that agencies in our city have an important role to play and there is more to be done to empower tenants, advise landlords on their responsibilities, and to take enforcement action when illegal evictions occur. The council, police, letting agents and support agencies all have a role to play in ending illegal evictions in Bristol, and in pointing people to services where they can obtain legal, financial or emotional support.

That is why I am pleased that Councillor Tom Renard, our new Cabinet Member for Housing, with considerable experience in campaigning for tenants rights, is taking on this important portfolio within the council. I also welcome the work that ACORN has done to raise awareness of this issue, and the work they are undertaking through our Homes and Communities Board to raise the importance of illegal evictions with partners across our city, and to ensure those affected are properly supported.

Who we choose to remember

Today’s guest blog is from Professor Tim Cole – chair of the We Are Bristol History Commission, Professor of Social History and Director of the Brigstow Institute at the University of Bristol.

One of the many things that we’ve learnt over the last year is that monuments still matter.

Who and what is remembered (and not remembered) on the streets of our cities is very much a live question. A year on from the toppling of the Colston Statue, it feels timely to take stock.

Over the last few months, the We are Bristol History Commission have been working with staff at M Shed to create a temporary display that gives the city a chance to see the statue again alongside some of the many Black Lives Matter placards that were placed around the plinth last June.

This temporary display offers a chance to learn a little more about the history of Edward Colston and the rise and fall of the statue. But we also wanted to invite the city to participate in the ongoing conversation about the events of last June and the future of the statue and plinth.

We’d love visitors to M Shed, as well as those visiting the virtual digital exhibition, to reflect on how their thoughts and feelings have changed over the course of the last year. We are also keen to hear what they’d like the museum to do with its most infamous recent acquisition, as well as what we as a city might do with the now empty plinth. We hope it will be an exhibition that prompts questions.

For me, history is first and foremost always about asking questions of the past. That is why we have organised the History Commission around a series of questions that we ask of, and with, the city:

  1. What have we remembered?
  2. Where have we come from?
  3. What have we made?
  4. How have we lived?
  5. What have we believed?
  6. What have we fought for and fought over?

We’d love that first question to be in the thoughts and on the lips of the city this summer. While it starts by asking what we have remembered, it leads to a why question: why have we remembered some, and forgotten others? As you see the paint-covered statue on display in M Shed, you might want to ask why Colston was honoured in central Bristol in the 1890s, so many years after his death?

As you leave M Shed, keep asking those questions. What and who have we remembered on the streets and in the squares of our city? Why do you think we have chosen to remember some and forgotten others?

In June, the History Commission will be launching its ‘Bridging History’ website that will host a range of activities in which the whole city can get involved. One is an invitation to be a ‘monument detective’, to be someone who asks questions of what and who is remembered in the statues, plaques, street art and street names in Bristol, what and who is missing and what we as a city should do about it?

Symbols aren’t everything, but they still matter.

International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia

Today’s blog has been written in partnership with Bristol City Council’s LGBT+ Employee Group

If you go past City Hall today, you may notice the Progress Pride Flag flying over College Green. This is to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), which since 2004 has commemorated and coordinated global action to promote LGBT+ rights on 17 May.

We want to make sure our commitment to making Bristol a safe city for LGBT people is visible, from lighting up City Hall for LGBT History Month to the forthcoming rainbow crossing we’re installing on Wine Street for Bristol Pride. But, as important as these visible symbols are, we also want to deliver real action. As a local authority, we’ve been working to put equality and inclusion at the heart of everything we do: from making sure LGBT staff have a meaningful voice in how the council operates, to improving representation and improving the city-wide response to hate crime.

We know that the pandemic has had specific effects on Bristol’s LGBT+ community. Loneliness and isolation have been particularly difficult for those cut off from their social spaces and contacts during lockdown. We also know that lockdown for many people – particularly young people – meant sharing their home with people who don’t know, or don’t support, their sexuality or gender identity.

The LGBT+ Employee Group have therefore made supporting colleagues through the process of easing restrictions a priority in the coming months. More broadly, I’ve pledged to commission a Mayoral Equalities report to look into and address anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in Bristol. We’ll work across the city to make sure Bristol is a city where everyone can thrive.

It’s not only through local action that we achieve equality. As a global city, we work with city networks across the world to promote human rights. In this spirit, we’re joining with our twin city Hannover in flying the flag to show our solidarity with cities who also want to make their cities safe and welcoming for LGBT+ people.

Eid Mubarak!

Today’s guest blog comes from Mohammed Elsharif, from Muslims 4 Bristol.

Our Bristol Muslim community in the past thirty days has been blessed with the holy month of Ramadan, a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and devotion to the worship of Allah, with a special focus on kindness, love and looking out for the poor, the vulnerable and the the less fortunate in our society.

The essence  of Ramadan is not only the spiritual connection but the human connection that goes beyond common religion to neighbours and fellow citizens.

The Muslim community of Bristol throughout the month has lived up to the values and spirit of Ramadan. We have reached out to the city with spiritual prayers for the end of the painful pandemic, and prayed for social and economic recovery. Acts of kindness abound, to the poor and homeless through sustainable food provision, by sharing space, and giving generously to good causes. We have also continued to volunteer to support shielding and vulnerable citizens, providing emotional support to and befriending those who are socially isolated.

The month of Ramadan is also time to be grateful for the numerous blessings in our lives: health, family, friends, and homes. We feel lucky to be part of the great city of Bristol with its beautiful diversity and coexistence.

As we celebrate Eid today we renew our commitment to the city to act and work together with our fellow Bristolians to celebrate the diversity and to encourage kindness and amend differences to build one strong and coherent society.

May Allah bless us all with health and happiness