Category Archives: Homes and Communities

A new chapter for Jacobs Wells Baths

A graphic with Jacob Wells Baths building in the foreground. The Mayor of Bristol's logo is top left of the image. In the top right of the image, text reads: Chance For Community To Transform The Former Jacobs Wells Baths.

At the turn of the year, with costs rising, Fusion Lifestyle decided to withdraw from their project at Jacobs Wells Baths. They had planned to restore the swimming pool as part of a leisure, dance and arts, and community centre. We shared the disappointment of local people, as it has always been our ambition to see this Grade II listed building, first opened in 1889, and asset of community value restored to its former glory and back in active use.

Councillor Craig Cheney is pictured, smiling.
This blog is by Councillor Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor for Finance, Governance, Performance, and Culture, and Labour Councillor for Hillfields.

Our administration created the time to consider next steps for the site by deferring officer proposals to dispose of it – removing it from the list of other surplus council-owned properties which we have decided to sell on the open market. In the meantime, we have received some initial expressions of interest from a few parties, sharing their ideas for the future of the site on Jacob’s Wells Road.

Having considered their submissions with the property team and the Mayor’s Office, including the beginnings of funding plans, and after visiting the site, we have decided to open up a public expressions of interest process to formally select a preferred bidder to transform the former baths.

Organisations will have until 9am on Tuesday 2 May to send us an outline of their viable proposals (short of a fully-costed and detailed business plan). These will be scored out of 60 by the Community Asset Transfer board using the following criteria:

  • Track record of managing community assets and understanding of all legislation applicable to managing the building (10);
  • Financial viability of the proposal: capital, future revenue streams, running costs (10);
  • Ability to preserve and restore a prominent, historic, listed building (10);
  • Clear vision for the building (5);
  • Range and level of local community and social benefits (5);
  • Ability to engage the diverse communities that make up Bristol (5);
  • Ability to make a significant contribution to the arts, culture and leisure offer in Bristol (5);
  • Capacity and capability to manage the asset to a high standard (5);
  • Track record and commitment to working in partnership (5).
The interior of Jacobs Wells Baths is pictured, showing some of the rotten floor pulled up and holes in the ceiling.

Interested parties can see from the previous guide to the site, and other documents from when we undertook a full Community Asset Transfer process in 2017, that the site remains in need of significant work. The former dance studio’s floor is rotting, and the roof in particular needs a lot of attention.

To submit an expression of interest, ask to visit the site, or enquire for further information, please contact

Building homes for everyone in Bristol

Councillor Tom Renhard, smiling with trees on College Green in the background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard,
Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery & Homes
and Labour Councillor for the Horfield Ward.

We’re building a Bristol where everyone has access to a safe, secure, and warm home, but this isn’t simple to achieve. Housing has become increasingly unaffordable, with renting and purchasing a house out of reach for many.

We continue to utilise brownfield sites, while ensuring we meet our ambitious housing targets, deliver on our climate objectives, and secure investment in social infrastructure. We want people to be able to access green spaces, local shops, health services and schools near their homes. The redevelopment of Whitehouse Street is an example of us moving forward with this work for Bristol, building much needed homes for our communities.

Cabinet recently approved Goram Homes’ new development pipeline, including 15 brownfield sites that will be transformed into new homes. The use of these sites is an example of our commitment to affordable housing across the city. This will only add to the 2,563 new homes Bristol built in 2021/22. 90% of these were on previously developed land; 474 affordable homes were built, the highest number in over a decade.

The full pipeline of sites which cabinet has approved is now 15 strong. It includes One Lockleaze (Formerly Romney House) and Baltic Wharf that were both approved in 2018. Castle Park, Dovercourt Depot, New Fosseway Road in Hengrove, Novers Hill in Filwood, St Ursula’s in Westbury Park, Portwall Lane Car Park, SS Great Britain Carpark, Spring Street, A & B Bond were all added in 2021. In 2022 we transferred Hengrove – which now has a consultation on detailed plans. And now, with this paper, we’ll add the Grove & Prince Street Car Park, as well as exploring the full potential of Western Harbour Masterplan area.

To start tackling the national housing crisis, we need to keep using brownfield sites effectively. Global estate consultants, Knight Frank, have released a report which states that over 2,000 homes could be built on government-owned car parks in Bristol and, while they won’t all be possible, this is a clear indicator that building more affordable homes is possible, if we look in the right places. Just look to Hope Rise, our award-winning project pioneering this concept in Bristol that many other areas of the country are now adopting.  

Our Whitehouse Street regeneration is another excellent example of brownfield land use, creating much needed housing and providing communities with amenities and work opportunities within the development. Since 2021, Bristol City Council has been working in partnership with The Hill Group, Galliard Apsley, Goram Homes, and the local community to develop a plan for Whitehouse Street in Bedminster which will inform the future transformation of the area into a genuinely mixed-use community of new homes, employment, and community spaces.

The photo is an Arial shot of the area for the Whitehouse Street regeneration.

For local people, the Whitehouse Street plans will deliver:

  • Around 2,000 new homes
  • Up to 15,000m2 of employment space and the potential for jobs growth
  • Employment opportunities that will complement the existing businesses on East Street and Bedminster Parade
  • Increased footfall to support the high street
  • New and improved public space incorporating pedestrian public spaces
  • Planting of new street trees
  • Sustainable urban drainage
  • Active travel routes connecting Bedminster to Temple Meads and the city centre
  • Improvements to Victoria Park
A sketch of the Whitehouse Street regeneration, this image represents the new look St. Luke's Road.

The Whitehouse Street area was historically a dense and active neighbourhood that combined homes and industry. The vision for the future is to create a new vibrant and sustainable neighbourhood which incorporates a mix of uses including homes, employment space and community space, new active travel routes along with improved public realm. 

The potential for new homes and the provision of high-quality workspace as part of this development means the Bedminster area will grow as a mixed-use development and inclusive community. This is possible due to a diversity of land uses providing opportunities for living, working, and for leisure. There will also be a temporary secondary school on land at Spring Street, whilst the new secondary school at Silverthorne Lane is built, demonstrating our commitment to building more than just homes.

A sketch of the Whitehouse Street regeneration, this image represents the Plaza View.

Our work on Whitehouse Street sits alongside our Bedminster Green/River Malago work, which sees new and inventive ways to heat homes, utilise the space available, and work with the local community to develop the area for their needs. This regeneration includes work on the River Malago, including creation of natural habitats, building new public and green spaces and restoring the existing character of the area, while reducing flood risk.

Our development pipeline includes plans across the city to use previously developed land and utilise the space to build new homes. We’re building in the majority of wards, including Portwall and Grove car parks and Baltic Wharf.

We will continue to work with local community groups, the combined authority and businesses, to improve bus links and metro bus links into South Bristol, alongside building affordable homes, supporting the provision of space to allow for the growing health infrastructure needs and green spaces. 

We are on a journey, with an ambitious vision for Bristol’s future. We will continue to work together with residents to build a better Bristol, so we can all share in the city’s future prosperity.

The Spring Budget and the Cost of Living Crisis

The impacts of the cost of living crisis will continue to be felt beyond this winter. Nationally, the latest data shows the number of households where children are experiencing food insecurity has doubled in the last year, with an additional 2 million households falling into fuel poverty over the same period.

In Bristol, the cost of living has been most intensely felt by households in deprived areas; our annual Quality of Life survey revealed that 16% of respondents from deprived areas had experienced some form of food insecurity in the last 12 months, compared with 8% across Bristol. With prices set to steadily rise throughout 2023, we’re continuing to work across the council and with partners to provide the local support that people need.

Our collective response to the cost of living – just as it was for the pandemic – has shown the best of Bristol. I’m grateful to our voluntary and community sector who we’ve worked with to establish a network of around 95 Welcoming Spaces across the city. Our One City approach to taking on the challenge has recently been highlighted by the Local Government Association. Our funding of Community Hubs and advice services has ensured that Bristolians have been connected and well informed during the winter period.

We’ve worked hard to target government supported funding and our local discretionary fund to those who would benefit the most. Since April 2022, we have supported 22,000 school children with food vouchers throughout the holidays, awarded 660 Discretionary Housing Payments and supported over 6,200 emergency payments and household goods awards through the Local Crisis Prevention Fund. We’re developing plans for the next round of the Household Support Fund with the likes of WECIL, Bristol Age UK, Feeding Bristol and the Centre for Sustainable Energy to make sure our funding goes further.

I’m proud of the way Bristol’s communities, businesses and organisations have come together to offer support to people who have reached crisis point during the last year, but it’s clear that these responses have only become necessary because of the government’s sustained underfunding of public services and lack of any long-term ambition to tackle poverty and inequality.

As the latest figures on food and fuel poverty show, the government cannot assume that the worst of the cost of living is over. We are calling on the government to use Wednesday’s Spring Budget to continue to protect those households and communities who are most impacted by increased costs. I want to publicly support the following asks of government:

These interventions would cost a small amount to government but would give people much needed stability and protection, and would make a long-term difference to the number of people who require more costly interventions from the NHS or homelessness services. In Bristol we will continue to build a city of hope to people who find themselves in crisis, but we’re calling on government to do more to prevent people from reaching that point in the first place.

Welcoming Spaces: Bristol Rovers Community Trust

Today’s guest blog is from Costa Chard, Welcoming Spaces coordinator at Bristol Rovers Community Trust.

For over a month now we have been running our Welcoming Space at the Bristol Rovers Memorial Stadium, also called our ‘warm hub’, joining over 95 other spaces with open doors to the community. Not your typical Welcoming Spaces venue to be sure, yet one that has given us the opportunity to support those in our community who may be struggling with high energy bills during this national cost of living crisis.

Working together with the Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust, our local area has some fantastic Welcoming Spaces available, offering a variety of activities for all who attend and I wanted to highlight what makes our warm hub space special in its own way.

We are located in the Bristol Room opposite the Thatchers Bar at the Memorial Stadium, offering a warm space every Tuesday afternoon, from 1pm until 4pm. We can guarantee everyone who turns up to our warm hub will receive a friendly greeting and be made to feel very welcome. Thanks again to the Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust, we are also able to offer freshly made organic soup every Tuesday with bread rolls, tea and coffee available throughout, as well as the opportunity to charge your phone if needed.

Fans are pictured on the pitch at the Memorial Stadium following Bristol Rovers' 7-0 win in May 2022.

Our Welcoming Space has a unique setting, looking out over the beloved Memorial Stadium turf, as well as our wide range of activities which range from chess, quizzes, scattegories, games and cards and everything else in between. I have been taught by those who attend a card game called estimation whist, which I have to admit, up until our warm hub, I had never even heard of let alone played and it did take me quite a while to get used to the rules! It was a very enjoyable game, even though I lost, a great experience bringing our group together in what I am sure can at first appear, if you’ve never been before, a rather daunting experience.

We aim to be a Welcoming Space for everyone. It doesn’t matter how the rising cost of living is impacting you, if you want to meet other people or relax overlooking our grounds, we are here to welcome you. If you are interested in attending or wish to know more then please feel free to contact us:

All of us at the Bristol Rovers Community Trust hope to see you at our Welcoming Space soon, even if it’s just to share a warm cup of tea or coffee – it’ll be great to meet you.

To find out where your nearest Welcoming Space is visit the Bristol City Council website, where there is also lots of cost of living advice and signposting available.

Community-Led Housing in Barton Hill

Ruth Pickersgil (Left) and Abdullahi Farah (Right) from Bristol Somali Resource Centre are pictured in front of the former Tenants’ Hall building.
Today’s guest blog is from Ruth Pickersgill (left) and Abdullahi Farah (right), from Bristol Somali Resource Centre

The former Tenants’ Hall in Avonvale Road has stood empty for years. It is unsafe, covered in ivy and surrounded by rubbish (but a perfect home for a few bats who will be provided with alternative accommodation before the demolition takes place). This historic building has a proud history of being the Barton Hill Tenants Association Social Club, providing a place of safety and solidarity for the local community.

After the club closed, the site was taken back by the Council. It subsequently became clear that the building was in such a poor state of repair with collapsed floors etc., that it had to be demolished. This will happen in the next few months once planning permission has been secured. However, soon the site will be brought back to life by the community, for the community.

The Mayor’s Visit

Mayor Marvin Rees and Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Lead for Housing, were invited to the former Tenants’ Hall site on Friday by the Bristol Somali Resource Centre (BSRC) staff and trustees, to hear about their exciting vision for its future. BSRC has campaigned for many years for more community space in Barton Hill, led by the enthusiasm of trustee Samira Musse, (who also runs the Barton Hill Activity Club) and is constantly looking for places for their children to meet in the holidays). The proposed development of the site will include a multi-use community space for local groups on the ground floor, (probably with a café and outdoor space), with social housing flats above (local homes for local people on the Housing Register).

A photo of Tenants Hall building, in Barton Hill.

Key Partnerships will make it happen

This is only becoming a reality due to a unique set of partnerships, and the commitment and vision of local people. Nothing would have happened without the proactive support and facilitation of the administration and Council officers, who secured a grant from the Brownfield Land Release Fund to bring a number of difficult sites around the city back into use for housing, and to meet the costs of the demolition of the building. They then embarked on a competitive process which has led to BSRC being the ‘preferred bidder’ for a long- term lease on the land. Initial design work was funded through a grant that the Council secured through the Local Government Association Housing Advisers Programme, which allowed us to ‘match make’ architects to community led housing projects.

While BSRC have a proven track record in advice and community work, we are just starting out in housing development so have needed dependable partners who understand our vision. We have been so lucky to be supported by Bristol Community Land Trust at every stage, advising and levering in the funding and expertise we need. We are also partnering with one50studio architects to develop the designs, ensuring sustainability and local needs will be central.

Community-Led Housing model is leading the way

Everyone knows we have a housing crisis in the city. As well as building new homes, including social and affordable housing, it’s important that we also think about the needs of communities. This is where community-led housing initiatives should be leading the way. Not only can this model deliver what local people want and need, but, as in this case, it can ensure the land is owned by the community in the long term, and so its future is secure.  

A group picture with Mayor Marvin Rees (third from the right) and Councillor Tom Renhard (fourth from the left) outside the former Tenants’ Hall building.

Developing the Vision into Reality

What is exciting about this development is that it is really is ‘community-led’. Supported by the Black South West Network and our other partners, BSRC have organised a number of consultation events and surveys to find out what local people want, and there is now a steering group to move us into the more detailed stage of the design process. It is really important we recognise the history of the former Tenants’ Hall. The Barton Hill History Group will be  preserving key artefacts  and we aim for the new build to be in keeping with the character of the local area.

The next stage will be to create the funding strategy and business plan and to identify a Housing Association to work with us to deliver the homes we desperately need in the area- so watch this space as our vision becomes a reality.

Building affordable homes for Bristol

Councillor Tom Renhard, smiling, with trees on College Green in the background.
This blog is from Councillor
Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member
for Housing Delivery and Homes.

Affordable housing projects are underway across Bristol and our new interactive map can show you where. 

The delivery of new affordable housing is a key priority for our administration, with a target of delivering 1,000 new affordable homes a year by 2024. The Mayor pledged to get Bristol building again and we have delivered much needed new homes for the city. Last year Bristol built 2,563 new homes with 474 of these being affordable, the most in more than a decade. Our data shows that there are over 1,300 new affordable homes currently being built across the city, with many more due to start on site over the coming months.

Our Project 1,000 Affordable Housing Delivery Plan outlines how we will focus the council’s land, time, money, and influence to improve the way affordable housing is delivered in Bristol. It is not just about the number of new homes we build; we are committed to developing mixed and balanced communities, working hard to make sure any new homes are suitable for the surrounding local area.

As part of this project, we have developed this online map of where affordable homes are being delivered across the city so everyone can keep up to date with the progress being made. This development pipeline map gives you information on the affordable homes currently being built and where future affordable homes are likely to be built.

The development pipeline map includes affordable housing delivered directly by the council, from our housing company Goram Homes, and third-party providers. Third party providers include our partner housing associations (registered providers), community-led housing groups, developers, and Build to Rent providers.

Examples of developments currently on the map include:

  • One Lockleaze – in partnership with Countryside Partnerships, Goram Homes is building 268 homes on a brownfield site in north Bristol, of which 55 percent will be affordable housing.
  • St Peter’s House – 28 council owned homes which are a mix of flats, houses, and maisonettes, a new Children’s Home, and a Community Centre are being built on a brownfield site in Horfield.
  • Broad Plain House – developed by Curo, Broad Plain will be 100% affordable housing, with 47 new homes including Social Rent, Affordable Rent and Shared Ownership.
A map of Bristol (right) highlighting where new affordable homes are being built. The Mayor of Bristol's logo is in the top left of the image. Below that, text reads: "1,300+ New Affordable Homes Being Built Here in Bristol, #DeliveringForBristol".

On the map you are able to see for each development:

•             The development name and postcode

•             Information on the developer and registered provider

•             Scheme description

•             Total homes

•             Total affordable homes

•             What type of affordable homes are being delivered e.g. number of social rented, shared ownership, or other affordable housing types.

•             Expected completion date

•             Link with further information on how to apply for the affordable homes

•             An image of the development

This key information can be used by people interested in renting or buying affordable homes in the city. In Bristol we have more than 19,000 households on our waiting list for social housing, along with over 1,200 households in temporary accommodation.

It is crucial that we continue to build a range of affordable homes to rent and to buy across the city, meeting the varied housing needs of the Bristol citizens who cannot afford to pay market prices. We’re moving ahead with plans to build social housing with the recent HRA budget approval putting forward £453m to deliver 1715 new council homes - over five years.

The Housing Delivery Team will be updating this information regularly.  As more affordable homes come through the planning system, we will be adding them to the map to make you aware of the opportunities.

This interactive map helps demonstrates the impact of Project 1000 and the council’s commitment to the delivery of affordable homes across the city. I hope you find it useful.

Ending homelessness in Bristol

Councillor Tom Renhard, smiling, with trees on College Green in the background.
This blog is from Councillor
Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member
for Housing Delivery and Homes.

People rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, but we know that this is only a small part of the problem. Ultimately one person living on our streets is one too many and we will keep doing everything we can to work with people to help them turn their lives around and find a home to call their own. We remain committed to ending rough sleeping and building a city where nobody is left behind.

Figures published today suggest that the number of people sleeping rough in Bristol has fallen by around 15% in the last year. Nationally, having soared over the last decade, the figure is 3,069.

During the official annual count that took place last November, 58 people were found to be sleeping on the streets, down from 68 in 2021. We also know that during our own counts that take place throughout the year, the figure fluctuates. During the pandemic, additional support from government helped see the figure fall to around 20 – 80% down on earlier years.

While I am pleased to see that our continued efforts to support people who are rough sleeping has reduced the numbers sleeping on the streets, we are aware that there is still a constant flow of people ending up homeless, with many blockages to getting individuals back off the streets.

We receive a number of funding strands from government every year, including the Homelessness Prevention Grant, the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), and the Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme (RSAP), but the short-term nature of these pots makes it difficult for us to plan for the long term.

Cost of living crisis

Despite the drop in the number of people recorded as sleeping on the streets, we know that the national housing crisis is inextricably linked with the current national cost of living crisis. Many people face difficult choices of whether to heat or eat. Households across Bristol are struggling to afford to keep a roof over their heads, and we now face a perfect storm of spiralling rents and rising bills that threatens to push many towards the brink of homelessness.

Without significant government investment and positive movements in national policy, the levels of people reporting as homeless and ending up rough sleeping risks rising due to the pressure of rising bills and costs, coupled with the lack of affordable move on accommodation.

We remain committed to making sure as many people as possible do not return to, or end up on, the streets, but really need more long-term financial support from government, especially if we want to reduce the number of people housed in emergency accommodation.

In Bristol we have more than 19,000 households on our waiting list for social housing, along with over 1,200 households in temporary accommodation. House prices are beyond the means of most Bristolians, rent rises continue to outstrip wage growth, and the blight of section 21 evictions persist and threaten to destabilise the lives of households across the city. It is crucial that we continue to build a range of affordable homes to rent and to buy across the city, meeting the varied housing needs of Bristol citizens who cannot afford to pay market prices.

The main reason for this remains the national housing crisis, and the lack of affordable move on accommodation available for people to progress on from the emergency accommodation we provide. We have accelerated our own council house build programme, as well as supporting partners to build more affordable homes. Last year Bristol built 2,563 new homes with 474 of these being affordable – but these will obviously take time to construct, and we need to be able to support people much sooner.


Preventing homelessness also remains key and, working with partners, the council offers a range of prevention services including a welfare rights and money advice service, targeted support for people leaving hospital and prison, and a Youth Homelessness hub (Bristol Youth MAPS) to help young people to stay with their families where possible.

We also continue to develop our Housing First offering for people who have struggled with getting off the streets. This approach gives people access to housing, without them having prove they are ready for it. Once housed, they are then provided with intensive wrap around support to enable them to manage and sustain their tenancy. The Housing First model has shown some great results and helped to support some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

We must remember that homelessness is complex, and not everyone wants the support being offered at the time. People’s reasons for sleeping rough are often multi-layered and deeply personal which is why our approach with partners is to focus on understanding the individual’s needs whilst aiming to offer longer term stability. We will continue to work with people who are rough sleeping, reviewing their options and developing individual plans for everyone to leave the streets.

There remains a lot of support and services available for people who are rough sleeping, or at risk of homelessness, and I would encourage people to take that first step to reach out and get help.

Taking early action can avoid reaching crisis point. For more cost of living support and advice visit our cost of living webpage.

You can also call the We Are Bristol phone line on 0800 694 0184, Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm.

If you are concerned about someone who is sleeping rough, you can make a referral via Streetlink.

A young person is pictured, wearing a blue and black jumper, holding a carboard cut out of a house, with street art in the background.

Restoring the River Malago in a revitalised Bedminster

Today’s blog is by Cllr Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, Resilience & Floods

We’ve taken an exciting next step in the regeneration of Bedminster Green and have submitted a planning application to restore a section of the River Malago that will allow us to bring back wildlife and reduce the risk of flooding in the area.

Restoring the river is one of the many benefits the regeneration of Bedminster Green will bring to the area, along with building much needed homes in our growing city, making it easier to travel and heat homes more sustainably, and helping to revive the local high street, East Street.   

The planning application also outlines proposals to restore heritage features, create a seating area on the green that will overlook the newly emerged river, and install an accessible path and boardwalk to improve access to the edge of the Malago. The project will run between plots 1, 3 and 5 of the Bedminster Green regeneration area along Dalby Avenue/Malago Road, Hereford Street, Whitehouse Lane and Clarke Street.

We have declared climate and ecological emergencies, committing to do as much as we can to combat climate change and bring back lost wildlife in Bristol. A big part of the river restoration project is about enhancing the channel and banks of the Malago to a more natural condition to encourage biodiversity. This will include widening the river corridor, altering the flow speed to allow vegetation to grow, and removing and treating invasive non-native species to allow native species to thrive.

An artist's impression of Bedminster Green shows a restored River Malago in the foreground, with trees and green space visible before buildings in the background.

On top of being a wonderful new feature for the community to enjoy, restoring sections of the river will help to reduce flood risk in the local area. We’ll do this by lowering ground levels in the green, installing a grid across the entrance to where the river goes back underground under East Street to trap debris and prevent blockages, and making the channel narrower to improve the speed of flows to prevent stagnation.

Our proposals also deliver improvements to the heritage of the river and will facilitate the repair of historic river channel walls. The river restoration will restore the existing penstock structure, which is a metal sluice gate that’s part of Bedminster’s industrial heritage.

If the planning application is approved, construction work will take place in phases from 2023 and will be coordinated with the other Bedminster Green development works. When complete, it will help to restore the river and heritage features, reduce flood risk in the area, and create high quality green space for existing and future residents of the proposed homes in the surrounding Bedminster Green and Whitehouse Street developments to enjoy for years to come.

The planning application can be viewed on the council’s website using the reference number 23/00611/FB.

Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine: One year on

Tetiana Konieva and Serhii Sharban are pictured with their sons, Mykhailo Kolkbrodov and Maksym Koniev. Tetian's mother, Olha Ryzhkova, is also pictured, along with  two dogs, Bruno and Zhan.

Today (24 February) we mark the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is a sad day, and our thoughts are with the people of Ukraine. Thousands of people have lost their lives and millions have been displaced by the conflict.

Tetiana Konieva and Serhii Sharban, were forced to flee Ukraine last year with their young family, when the Russians invaded their city. Here they tell us of their long journey to freedom and why Bristol now feels like home.

Our “great journey” to England began on 24 February 2022. That day, we were awakened at 5am by powerful explosions. It was Russia launching their first missile strikes before invading our city. We lived in Kharkov, the second largest city in the Ukraine, which is located about 40 km from the border with Russia. That morning Russian tanks were already 1 km from our house.

Not suspecting anything, thinking that this was a misunderstanding, and it would be resolved, we went to work and treated it like any normal day. You don’t imagine that your country is going to be invaded. But many people had already left the city or evacuated. It soon became known that because the city had not surrendered there would be a bombing raid by planes. We were afraid. Having collected our documents, children, and dogs, we went to the dacha [traditional country house] 100 km from Kharkov.

The next day there was fighting on the outskirts of the city, and every day we saw and heard the shelling of our beautiful city. Our street was badly damaged. Four shells flew into our house, and our neighbours’ houses were destroyed and burned. We felt that this could not be happening to us, like a bad dream, but unfortunately, it was. We felt like our whole world collapsed, all our happy days ended, and anxious days came. We were confused, didn’t know what to do. We had lost our jobs, lost our peace and the kids were confused and very scared. After two weeks, we learned about the Homes for Ukraine programme and, with the help of our friends who live in England, we started looking for sponsors. To our delight, we found them!

My youngest son and I decided to leave immediately, because the situation was very difficult. We knew Russian forces could come any day now. Thus, on 20 March 2022 we became refugees and began our journey across Europe. I never imagined that something like this would happen to us. We gradually made our way across Europe to England and saw a lot of people on the move, refugees from Ukraine.

Finally, a month later, my son and I obtained a visa and arrived in Bristol. We were very warmly welcomed. Our sponsors, Jane and Steve Storey, were very welcoming. They provided me and my son with a small apartment and surrounded us with care and attention. There was financial and moral support. My son went to school, I got a job. Later, my eldest son arrived. And six months later, my husband and mother. I also managed to get my two dogs out of Ukraine as well.

The apartment that our sponsor had kindly provided us with came to an end, and we started looking for a home. By then I had become friends with British people, and they helped us find a home. With the help of Bristol City Council, the city authorities and its employees, we now all live together in a house. England has become a second home for us. We feel safe here, we like our neighbours. They are kind, sympathetic people who are always ready to help. I think Ukrainians and British people are very similar in lots of ways. The natural politeness of the English was surprising too, it is their way to always say “sorry”, even when it’s not their fault!

The support of the Mayor’s Office is very much felt. My mom is provided with medical care and medication. We are eternally grateful to everyone who helped us, we are grateful to God, we appreciate the help and support of the city authorities, the Mayor, and people like Larysa, our Support Worker from the Bristol City Council Refugee Resettlement Team who is always interested in our lives and help us to feel like we are welcome and can belong here.

During the time that we have lived here, I’ve managed to get a better job and my eldest son also works. My husband immediately got a job when he arrived, but after a while he was let go and is now looking for a new job. We really like this country, its people, and we want to integrate into society and to be useful. We try to remove barriers, so we are learning the language, its history, laws, customs, and rules. We are so very grateful to the people of Bristol, and the UK, and want to contribute positively and be a part of this society.

Find out more about how Bristol City Council is responding to the crisis in Ukraine and how you can help here: The resettlement of vulnerable refugees in Bristol

Building a better Bristol for everyone

People gather at College Green's flag poles to raise the GRT flag on 1 June. The GRT flag is a red wheel on a background split between blue (top) and green (bottom).
The GRT flag being raised outside of Bristol City Hall on 1 June 2022.

Bristol built 2,563 new homes last year – exceeding our ambitious targets. The housing crisis affects everyone, and we’re determined to keep building a city where everyone has a safe place to call home.

Our population grew by 10% in the last decade, so we need to build more homes in every community, including our Gypsy Roma Traveller community. So, cabinet recently invested in a new site with six to eight permanent pitches. This will add to existing sites in Ashton Vale and Lawrence Weston/Avonmouth, which opened in the early 2000s, and one in Bedminster which has been operating since the late 19th century. These are, it’s worth clarifying, different to the meanwhile sites for vehicle dwellers set up relatively recently.

Feedback from the housing provider who manages another of our permanent sites, is that the proposed site is “perfect” for the job. But our wider, longer-term approach will go beyond utilising one vacant site in Hengrove. We will be looking at applying to a new £10 million Traveller Site Fund announced by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities and looking at other potential sites around our city.

This proposal fits with our wider commitment to reflect the contribution of the traveller community to our city, and reaffirm their rights. Its initial reception has, though, sadly shown that some people still see racism directed towards our GRT community as the ‘last acceptable form’. It’s not, and it’s right to challenge such attitudes whenever we encounter them. After all, such discrimination has fed into 91% of gypsies and travellers having experienced discrimination in the UK.

We are committed to supporting a community disproportionately affected by ill health, infant mortality, imprisonment, child poverty, domestic abuse, illiteracy, mental health issues, and suicide. And, as well as reducing isolation, we are also determined to tell more about their contribution to our city, both historically and in the present day.

Bristol has been home to the Gypsy and Roma Traveller community for more than six centuries. Irish travellers were among the workers that helped build Broadmead, many of our city’s high rises, and industrial areas. Last summer we raised the GRT flag outside City Hall for GRT History Month and plan to do the same again this June. Ian Bowen, the Council’s GRT Service Coordinator, wrote a brilliant blog to mark the occasion last year.

As we have noted more widely, such stories too often go forgotten or, worse, go deliberately untold. That’s at the heart of why we set up the History Commission. Not to talk about one statue, but to help highlight the fullness of an entire city’s story: across race, class, and gender; remembering workers, Chartists, and suffragettes; and teaching current and future generations about how war, poverty, and slavery are dyed into the fabric of Bristol. All of these people’s lives are part of why our city is how it is today.

We Are Bristol – and that includes our Gypsy and Roma Traveller community.