The challenge of promoting Bristol during a global pandemic

Today’s blog comes from John Hirst, Chief Executive, Destination Bristol

At a time when there have never been more travel restrictions throughout the world, the irony is not lost on our team at Destination Bristol that Sunday 27 September 2020 is World Tourism Day!

We have been focussed on attracting visitors into Bristol for over 20 years. The number of visitors has been increasing year on year and Bristol is becoming one of the UK’s favourite cities to visit.

Our target market is not only people living in this region for day visits but also people living in the UK for weekend trips or short breaks. We are also focused on the international market; encouragingly Bristol is becoming a favourite for many overseas visitors.

Our aim at Destination Bristol is to increase the value of the region’s visitor economy.  This figure stands at £1.4bn in 2019 and has been growing for a number of years. Our sector employs almost 30,000 people in our city region.

Photo: Jim Cossey

All the above reads very positively, but then earlier this year COVID-19 emerged.  There are many people who have been involved in the tourism sector for many more years than me but I don’t think anyone had prepared for anything as impactful as COVID-19.  Most of what we have built over the years came crashing down in a very short period of time.  It was like hitting the longest snake on a snakes and ladders board!

As I write the situation is still very serious making it very difficult for us to climb back up to where we know we belong.

When we look at the “Bristol offer” the list is endless, please visit our website: https://visitbristol.co.uk/, it will give a detailed picture of what is available.  The situation in Bristol and the region has been improving rapidly over the last few years and Bristol has become more popular for visitors from across the world.  Interestingly our international visitors are mainly restricted to a number of countries. It is important to note that the growth potential in our sector is enormous.  We need to re-focus over the coming months and build the foundations which will enable us to pick up from where we stopped in March of this year once the threat of COVID-19 recedes.

Photo: Gary-Newman

The future, post-COVID, will be completely different. We will need to prepare accordingly and provide our visitors with the assurances that our destination is not only welcoming and interesting but also safe. The recent announcement of new restrictions by the Prime Minister taking us through to the Spring of 2021 will delay our recovery. We need to be working behind the scenes to prepare for the new future, ensuring that we and our partners become more resilient and adaptable.

Our immediate plans within Destination Bristol are to work more closely with our neighbouring areas. At this stage we will be aiming to establish formal partnerships with Bath, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset with a view to promoting the region and not just Bristol. Our aim for 2021 onwards is to promote the whole region to the world and to attract even more visitors than before and most importantly to encourage them to stay longer in our region, spend more and to visit the wide range of attractions available.

The industry is facing its biggest challenge ever and we are all suffering badly. We must be optimistic and look to the future with realistic optimism.

Our plan to expand and promote this region to the world must be our main objective if we are to survive and prosper.  Finally our aim must be to focus on the challenge of increasing the value of the visitor economy in our region, bringing even more money and more jobs to the widest possible range of people and places in our region.

Global Goals Day

Today’s blog comes from Jenny Foster, Project Lead for the Global Goals Centre

Global Goals Day marks a turning point for people and planet. Today marks five years since the Sustainable Development Goals – or Global Goals – were agreed to by every nation in the world.

This incredible world plan could be transformational – these 17 Goals are visionary in aiming to eradicate poverty and inequality, provide access to healthcare and education for all, as well as tackle the Climate and Ecological Emergencies, and plenty of progress has already been made. A real good news story at a time when these seem to be few and far between!

Global Goals Barton Hill by @JonCraig_Photos

Bristol is one of the world’s leading cities working on the Global Goals, by pledging to build our post-Covid Recovery on the Goals, and by aligning our One City Plan with the Goals’ targets, as well as being the first UK city to carry out a Voluntary Local Review on the city’s progress on the Goals, to highlight local need and inform local action. Bristol’s SDG Alliance has over 150 member organisations from across the city region, all working to promote the Goals in their businesses and communities.

Bristol is also planning the world’s first immersive education and visitor Centre for the Goals. The Global Goals Centre aims to engage schoolchildren and the public with the Goals in a fun, revelatory and inspiring immersive experience, enabling them to explore the links between their own lives and people, places and issues throughout the world, and offer tools and inspiration for everyone to play their part to speed up progress towards a greener, fairer future.

We have seen how Covid-19 has hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest and makes the need to address inequality and poverty even more urgent. If we’re going to reach the Global Goals by 2030 and build our recovery on the principles of equality and sustainability, we all need to engage and take action to bring real, lasting change. Let’s help more local people and organisations to #TurnItAround:

  • Commit to make this a Turning Point for People and Planet; put the Goals at the heart of your plans and think how you can play your part to deliver the Global Goals.

Jubilee Pool

Many of us have been pleased that sport, leisure facilities and pools have gradually reopened following the lockdown. Being able to join a fitness class, play sport or enjoy a swim has huge benefits for physical and mental health and something we want everyone in Bristol to be able to have.

We have now re-opened all of our pools and leisure centres except for Jubilee pool in Knowle. All of our leisure centres and pools are ran by external operators who share the risks and operating costs with us and the operator of Jubilee pool approached us during lockdown to advise that they wanted to terminate their contract, due primarily to forecasting losses on running the re-opened pool, post-Covid.

Having reviewed the assessment of running costs, the low usage of that pool and the costs required to bring it to a long-term sustainable standard, we agreed with that assessment. It is also worth noting that Jubilee Pool was planned for closure when the Liberal Democrat administration in April 2010 signed a financing deal to open the new, larger and modern pool in nearby Hengrove. It was the right decision to open a new pool and many people have migrated from Jubilee to Hengrove for better facilities.

The decision to not reopen Jubilee is a difficult one, and is also supported by the need to sustain all the other pools in the city that are more long-term financially sustainable but also need financial support in the short to medium term as we return with reduced usage post-Covid.

As a result, we have started a consultation on what we should do next.  Council sport and finance officers have recommended its closure in the face of the financial pressures, alongside the wider financial challenges the council currently faces as a result of a funding gap, where government has not refunded all the costs the council incurred during the pandemic so far. No decisions have yet been taken, and I have publicly spoken about how we would welcome community led solutions. I have asked councillors to work with the local community to look at options for a community led solution and I am prepared to transfer the asset for free to the community if we can build a sustainable business plan. The community is best placed to find a solution and grow usage. For example, if the almost 5,000 people who signed the petition are encouraged to use the pool, it would become immediately viable. I have extended the consultation for one month to support this process.

On the wider point of Bristol’s swimming facilities, we are doing pretty well. Bristol does better than most other core cities for pool space offered. We want to retain this level and grow usage across the city with modern, viable pools. 

The tables below show that Bristol’s residents enjoy an upper quartile level of access to swimming facilities. 

Bristol’s absolute level of provision is third behind Leeds and the much larger Birmingham in core city rankings and also third in provision per 1,000 people. 

CityPublic Swimming Space (Sq. Ms)CityPublic Swimming Space Sq. Ms. Per 1,000 pop.CitySwimming Pool
One pool per x people
Leeds8,120Newcastle15.78Nottingham21,836
Birmingham6,687Nottingham15.22Newcastle23,350
Bristol6,468Bristol15.11Bristol28,547
Manchester6,461Manchester12.84Manchester35,929
Average5,768Leeds10.81Average36,504
Sheffield5,466Average 10.58Leeds39,553
Nottingham4,652Sheffield9.89Sheffield42,515
Newcastle4,422Liverpool8.3Liverpool42,400
Liverpool3,870Birmingham6.22Birmingham59,683
Source: Bristol’s Assessment of Needs and Opportunities for indoor and outdoor sport and active recreation facilities, 2017

You can share your views and solutions on the council’s consultation page here.

The Children’s Kitchen – recipes in 16 languages

Today’s guest blog comes from Jo Ingleby, Director of The Children’s Kitchen

Image: Eliza Moreland

The Covid-19 pandemic has created many new challenges for our community and has worsened pre-existing issues of poverty and inequality in Bristol. Food insecurity is one of the greatest of these issues, and we have seen rising numbers of people accessing foodbanks and Food On Our Doorstep (FOOD) Clubs across the city. The Children’s Kitchen is a Feeding Bristol project which focuses on encouraging children to explore, cook, grow and eat fresh food. We work collaboratively with partners 91ways, Square Food Foundation, Travelling Kitchen and Incredible Edible Bristol to bring food education into communities where families are experiencing food insecurity. We are linked to the Bristol FOOD Clubs held in Community and Early Years settings – run by Family Action with food supplied by FareShare South West. During lockdown this grew from five clubs to 14, providing affordable food to families every week in areas including Hartcliffe, St Pauls, Southmead, Knowle West and Barton Hill.

Image: Eliza Moreland

Pre-lockdown The Children’s Kitchen was working in Nursery Schools and FOOD Club settings to encourage children aged 2 to 4 to explore fresh produce and grow it on-site. Since lockdown we have adapted to the new challenges. During lockdown we produced a collection of simple, affordable and healthy recipes which have recently been translated into 16 languages as video subtitles and printable PDF files, which has been done pro bono by Lionbridge. We aim to celebrate diversity and break down the barriers that prevent people accessing resources. Alongside these recipes are cookery videos made with Bristol community cooks and their children, cooking the dishes they make at home together. These multicultural recipes have been printed as a booklet given to 750 families over the summer, along with spices, oil and other ingredients. For the Healthy Holidays programme, we took these recipes ‘on the road’, hosting over 40 Family Food Sessions across Bristol in outdoor community spaces with community cooks.

Image: Eliza Moreland

Food insecurity is rising in the city and nationwide and is going to worsen as the impacts of Covid-19, and the coming winter, grow. Initiatives like FOOD Clubs and Feeding Bristol give people access to food, and not just for a few weeks but for long-term, sustainable support. Facing the challenges of an uncertain future, we need to work collaboratively, in a focused and citywide way to tackle poverty and food insecurity.

You can help by volunteering time, money or fresh produce and raising awareness of existing work in the city. Visit the Feeding Bristol website to see how to get involved and to share the translated recipes and videos: https://www.feedingbristol.org/

More than bricks and mortar

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Families and Homes (and Lead Member for Children’s Services).

Housing is one of great challenges in our city and wider society right now. Affordable housing, quality of housing, security of housing and ending homelessness are all key issues for us in Bristol, and Mayor Rees has repeatedly clarified the commitment of this administration to build 2,000 new homes (800 of which are affordable) per year. We are on track to hit that target next year, and in doing so, have delivered 150 new council homes with over a thousand more in the pipeline. 

My intention, in combining responsibility for housing with my other cabinet duties for families and children’s services, is to ensure that people are at the heart of the work we do. It sounds simple, but managing our housing stock, homelessness and our relationship with private landlords and tenants is about building an effective system that is fair and that benefits residents while also being mindful of their individual stories. 

The ongoing impact of COVID-19 and lockdown means a ripple effect of serious economic and societal problems. As I write, many people need a safety net as they navigate the consequences of the pandemic, and a possible second wave, on their families and livelihoods. 

Despite this, yesterday (Sunday), the ban on evictions that was designed to protect renters during the pandemic was lifted. This means that at a time when so many families are concerned about their health, finances and the imminent end of the furlough scheme, there is a new concern. 

Housing charity Shelter have warned that as many as 322,000 renters may have fallen into arrears during lockdown, with more economic uncertainty to come for many families. 

Despite protests from housing charities, councils and opposition parties, including Bristol MP and Shadow Minister for Housing, Thangam Debonnaire, the government has decided to go ahead with the end of ban.  

What does this mean for renters? Some protections are still in place, especially for those facing eviction because of rent arrears. 

  • Landlords need to give 6 months’ notice of eviction (except in cases of Anti-Social Behaviour or Domestic Abuse where the notice period can be shorter)
  • Most landlords will be issuing Section 21 orders, meaning they will have to get permission from the court to evict.

Bristol City Council is the landlord for 30,000 people. Evictions are a last resort, and this will continue to be the case; except in cases of domestic abuse and serious and repeated anti-social behaviour. We are also committed to helping people maintain tenancies in the private rental sector, and can provide helpful advice and guidance to help try to resolve issues and get the tenancy back on track for landlords and tenants.

If you are a landlord considering commencing eviction proceedings, please email private.renting@bristol.gov.uk to see if we can explore other avenues.

If you are a tenant that needs advice, then support and information is available via Shelter, Citizens Advice Bureau and our Housing team here at Bristol City Council

Equal Pay Day

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Finance, Governance and Performance.

“There can be no doubt that this afternoon we are witnessing another historic advance in the struggle against discrimination in our society, this time against discrimination on grounds of sex.”

Barbara Castle, introducing the Second Reading of the Equal Pay Bill in Parliament, 9 February 1970

Today marks the first International Equal Pay Day, recognising the longstanding efforts towards the achievement of equal pay for work of equal value. This is a longstanding mantra within the Labour movement, enshrined in law through landmark legislation such as the Equal Pay Act of 1970, and the Equality Act of 2010.

Yet we know that without concerted effort from employers, local and national government, we risk losing ground in the progress towards gender and racial equality, and in recognising the equal value of work done by disabled people.

Illustration by Verónica Grech

The government announced in March that as a result of Covid-19 there will be no expectation for employers to report their gender pay gaps for the 2019/2020 financial year. The publication of pay gaps in and of themselves doesn’t necessarily tell us whether equal pay is being delivered. There are many structural issues which can produce pay gaps on the basis of gender, ethnicity and disability such as a predomination of men in senior roles, without necessarily entailing that people are being paid differently for the same work. However, publication of this data is an important way to measure equality within organisations and in our society more broadly.

In addition to this data gap, we know that Covid-19 has already had an impact on gender equality. Mothers are 23% more likely to have lost their jobs than fathers, more likely to work in lower paid and less secure jobs than men, and more likely to pick up additional burdens of childcare as children were kept away from school and nursery over lockdown. Evidence suggests that BAME women face particularly acute pay gaps, with research from the Office of National Statistics indicating, for instance, that Bangladeshi and Pakistani women experience an aggregate gender pay gap of 26.2%.

It is incumbent on all of us to use data-driven approaches to guarantee equal pay across our economy. Bristol City Council has not only published our average gender pay gap, but also pay gaps for ethnicity and disability within our organisation. While we are pleased to see these gaps narrowing, we know there is more to do to ensure equality of pay and opportunity within the council. We have brought in initiatives like Stepping Up, the Bristol WORKS programme and the City Leadership Programme to ensure that everyone in Bristol is able to take advantage of opportunities across the public and private sector, regardless of their gender, race or whether they are disabled.

We are determined that Covid-19 doesn’t impede our progress towards delivering equal pay in Bristol. That is why in our One City Statement of Economic Renewal, we have made explicit commitments to inclusive economic growth and to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals through our city’s recovery from coronavirus (this includes the goals of Gender Equality and reducing inequality within and between countries). We also reaffirm our commitment to our One City Plan goal to eliminate all ‘pay gaps’ in our city, across all private and public sector organisations, by 2045.

Rewards and realities of fostering teenagers

Today’s blog comes from Alex, foster carer for teenagers.

“Yeah, whatever” is a response I’ve heard many times over the last two years of fostering teenagers – and growing up, many of us have probably heard similar things from our parents or carers, including:

“You need to be in by 9.30pm.”
“If you don’t have breakfast, you’ll be hungry later.”
“Can you pick up your wet towel from the bathroom floor?”
“Your teacher said you didn’t attend your afternoon lesson.”

I remember when I was a teenager and I responded to my Mum’s questions with the same phrase, “yeah, whatever”. We have all been there – staying out later than we should, leaving mess all over the house or missing a few lessons at school. But, the difference is, many of us had parents or others looking out for us and boundaries were put in place, helping to guide us through these difficult years. And what did we try to do with these rules? We pushed and pushed until there was an argument, ignored our parents for a few days and then made up, like nothing ever happened.

Fostered teenagers are just like any teenagers. They might try to push the boundaries and make some mistakes, just like many of us did in the past, but that shouldn’t mean they don’t get our support. They want independence and may like to do things their own way. But just like all of us at this age, what they need most is to feel safe and listened to. 

They also have similar challenges to other young people their age – school, relationships, social media and hormones to deal with. But they also have complex emotions as a result of their past experiences or traumas, which may cause challenging behaviour sometimes. There’s no way of skating around it. Even just coming into care is traumatic, let alone dealing with the circumstances of why they are there.

That’s where me, or you as a potential foster carer come in. We all find things challenging from time to time and just need a little extra help from those around us. What’s important as a foster carer is that you are there, no matter what, to support them if they are going through a hard time, help them to manage their emotions and simply provide a safe place to live.

To be a foster carer, it doesn’t matter what your age is, your relationship status, gender or whether you own a home or not. It’s what you can offer a young person that counts. For me, I know I’m pragmatic, unflappable and patient, as well as able to set boundaries for those who need it most. What young people in care need is stability, someone to be there for them, to sit, to listen and to not pass judgement. This matters the most.

Of course, fostering teens comes with its challenges. One day I can have a teenager scream “I hate you,” the next day we will be playing FIFA together. I’ve had young people trash rooms, girls coming home late after visiting friends and I’ve been called every imaginable swear word. Sometimes I think – why do I bother? – but, and it’s a big but, I know why I bother. Fostering also comes with huge rewards. The positive impact you can make on a young person’s life far outweighs the challenges. I know that even when it feels difficult and we are going through a rocky time, the fact that a young person who has only known me for a short period of time is still coming home every night, is a good sign. I also know that when a teenager can show me they are upset, fed up and angry, the relationship we have is working and they trust me enough to share this with me.

It really is the simple things that mean so much. One of the most joyous things said to me since becoming a foster carer was from a teenage boy, after a weekend staying with me.  As he was leaving, he said: “Next time I stay over, can I cook again?” A month earlier, I surprised him by asking if he wanted to do a cooked breakfast. I had already bought the eggs and bacon, in the hope that he was up for it. He had no idea how to turn on the hob, let alone crack an egg. We had raw egg, burnt egg, nearly-made-it-on-to-the-toast-but-ended-up-on-the-floor-egg, and then finally a fried egg with some bacon on toast. And you know what, it was half decent and it was the start of what has become regular cooking at my house, which has helped build the connection and relationship between us. 

This may seem like a small, simple thing but, helping teenagers develop practical skills like cooking is part of what being a foster carer is about. Helping them grow into confident young adults, to be independent and have all the skills they need to build a brighter future. Those wins I treasure because looking after teens can be, well, lots of “yeah, whatever” – which I’m sure is how my parents felt twenty years ago – but it is also full of so many special moments.

37 teens and counting…Bring on the next!

If you are interested in becoming a foster carer for teenagers, please visit: www.bristol.gov.uk/fosterteens or speak to our fostering team on: 0117 353 4200 for an informal chat. We will answer all your questions and explain what it’s like to be a foster carer.

You can also follow Bristol City Council fostering on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about fostering.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for communities, equalities and public health.

With so many unique challenges this year in particular, it has never been so important to look out for the mental health of ourselves and each other.  Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day, a day that encourages us all to reflect on the mental health struggles faced by those in our communities and to think about how we can better support each other.

Last week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shared that the UK’s suicide rate is now the highest it’s been for two decades.

It is a scandal that suicide remains the single biggest killer of men aged 20-49 in one of the richest countries in the world. The latest figures also highlight an increase in suicide rates among young people, and especially women under 25. This is deeply concerning, and we will continue to work with partners such as Off The Record and Bristol’s universities to ensure tailored support for young people is available.  

We know that the causes of suicide are complex and can be linked to past trauma, abuse or a major life event. It can affect anyone, but certain groups are more at risk, such as care leavers, those in our LGBTQI+ communities or people who have been through the criminal justice system.   

We also know that the majority of people who take their own lives will have struggled with their mental health for some time. They may have tried to get help. They may not have been able to access the support they needed at that time.  

Fundamentally, suicide is preventable.

It’s clear that mental health services have been historically underfunded by successive governments and there are countless stories of people who couldn’t access the help they needed in time. With everyone from the Royal family to public figures like Alastair Campbell shining a light on the issue of poor mental health, we must seize the moment and continue to push for adequate funding. 

As cabinet lead for public health, I’m only too aware that people in Bristol have higher levels of poor mental health than the England average. Acting to reduce this is a top priority for me. 

Thrive Bristol is our ten year plan for doing this. It focuses on how different parts of our city – such as our communities, our places of education and work, and our homes, can keep us mentally healthy, recognising that as little as 10% of our population’s health and wellbeing can be linked to access to healthcare.

Taking a One City Approach, we will continue working with teachers, employers and the voluntary sector to achieve our vision of a healthier and more resilient city.  

Our Director of Public Health, Christina Gray recently published her annual report, focussing on the broader concept of mental wealth. It focuses on how we can encourage thriving communities and social support, but also on the need to provide people with quality work and to invest in our young people.  It’s clear now that this work has never been so critical. 

The data published by the ONS tells us what happened in 2019, but we can’t ignore the toll that this year will have had on many people’s mental health. Although we are not yet clear if the pandemic will result in an increase in suicide, Samaritans research has found the pandemic to have exacerbated known risk factors for people who may already be vulnerable.

We are re-framing our work in light of the events of this year and renewing our focus on mental wellbeing as a key aspect of our recovery.

While we are working hard to ensure the people of Bristol can lead fulfilling lives, I’d also like to remind people to take a moment to check in with one another. Send a text, make a call, grab a coffee. Making time to talk and looking out for each other is something we can all do to take steps towards a future in which nobody feels they have no option but to take their own life.  

If you or someone you know is struggling, speak to someone, whether that be a friend, a colleague or a professional. Information on some of the organisations offering support in Bristol can be found below.  

Off the Record Mind 
Heads Together 
Samaritans 
NHS 

Late but still arriving – one more year for housing target to be met

Today’s blog post comes from Councillor Paul Smith, Cabinet Member for Housing.

This year we are on track to deliver 500 new affordable homes in the city. This would be the first time since 2010 that Bristol has brought forward this many new affordable homes (for comparison, in 2013/14, Bristol only built 102).

Yet while I’m proud of this achievement against the odds, I’m disappointed that it means our stretching ambition to build 800 affordable homes a year by 2020 has been delayed by a year.

Why haven’t we hit this target? Covid-19 has had the single most substantial effect on construction across the city and there have been additional causes of delay. So I want to set out why it’s next year, rather than this, that we’ll hit this deliberately ambitious target.

Firstly, we have high standards. We don’t count “pretend” affordable homes with a 10-20% market price discount (still out of reach for many families). We could have hit the target if we didn’t care about the long-term impact of what was being built, but we’ve always been clear we wouldn’t build poor quality homes just to hit a target. They have to be the right homes in the right place, built to a good design and technical standard. To take an example of one area which would by now have delivered 1,000 homes (with around 300 affordable): Bedminster Green. Sites kept changing ownership as instead of profiting from building homes, developers were making their money by selling on the land. To ensure good design and consistency and to respond to local concerns, we put in place a masterplan for the area. This has taken extra time but it has allowed us to filter out schemes that don’t meet our standards.

Secondly, our flagship scheme at Hengrove Park has faced a form of trench warfare: a call-in as soon as it was started, extended consultation to meet residents’ concerns, a councillors’-led challenge at planning committee, and when it finally received planning permission, it was referred by an opposition councillor to the Secretary of State to cause even more delay. All of these delays have an impact on our city. The longer it takes for large-scale developments like this to be approved, the longer families on our waiting lists have to wait for an affordable home to call their own.

Thirdly, some of our housing association partners have not moved as quickly with schemes as they had expected. One major association ground to a halt as the result of a merger, another got bogged down in a large development arguing about renewable energy requirements, another reached the end of its borrowing capability. Some have been excellent partners but unfortunately their collective delivery has not matched their aspiration to build 600 affordable homes per year by 2020.

As with all developments, there is also a story to tell for each one.   These can be as diverse as slow worms, bats, badgers, private ownership of access to sites, financing problems for some projects, Japanese knotweed, highways issues, legal disputes over land ownership and borders and asbestos buried in the ground.

However, we remain on track, optimistic and determined. We have built up a council housing programme of over 1,200 homes: the largest council housing development programme in this city for over 35 years. When we add the pipeline of projects our housing company Goram Homes is working on, this rises to almost 2,500 council homes to be built in Bristol. Housing associations are also picking up speed and their programmes are growing with plans for more than 1,500 genuinely affordable homes coming forward. We also now have the largest community-led housing sector in the country, with plans for around 600 homes at an advanced stage and ambitions for almost as many again in future years.

Have we missed the target during a global health pandemic? Yes we have. But if we have no further lockdowns, we will hit it next year. And with the work we have done over the last four years we will be able to sustain that level of development well into the future. That means so many more families will be able to find an affordable home here in Bristol.

Back to the classroom

For my family– and families across the city – this is a “back to school” week like no other.

For huge numbers of children across the city, this week is the first time they have stepped back into their school and classrooms since the beginning of lockdown in March. And for those children who have been able to attend school – whether because their year groups were permitted to return, or because their parents are key workers – this will be the first time they have been reunited with the rest of their class. I know that while many will be looking forward to reuniting with friends, nonetheless this will be a big adjustment for Bristol’s young people.

We recognise that lockdown posed unprecedented challenges for families, school staff and especially children. For me and my wife, it is a relief to have our children going back into the classroom in the knowledge they face an exceptionally small risk from Covid-19 – but qualified of course by a natural concern for the safety of their teachers and school staff. The council have therefore launched a hub of resources to support parents, carers and children as schools reopen to all students.

I know that despite the efforts to provide home learning for families, not all children have had the space or the resources to access and work through material provided by their schools. Getting children across the city back into the classroom safely has to be our collective priority. We know without this, many parents will not be able to return to work. And if children fall even further behind in their education, we will exacerbate inequality and disadvantage in our city, and the task of bridging that widened divide will stay with us for generations.

The challenge for us all then, across the city, has been to interpret changing government advice to get pupils back safely. It is why schools are a particular focus in our Local Outbreak Management Plan. There will be outbreaks as lockdown eases. That’s inevitable, it’s the way pandemics work. We must be sure we are able to identify any cases that emerge and isolate them. Our priority throughout has been to trust and support school leaders with their decision-making, and we will continue to do so, making sure that schools’ knowledge of their pupils, their local context, and their physical environment are central to our response.

While we have taken these steps to manage the health risk coronavirus poses, I know too that the economic effects of the pandemic have been felt by families across Bristol. I thank everyone in Bristol that has donated to our uniform drive – led by Cllr Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families – ensuring pre-loved uniform is available for families that need items as their children return to the classroom. Please let your local ward councillor or me know if you need any unbranded items for your children. I also pay tribute to Cllr Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, and our Education team, who have secured funding from government to help parents who are struggling to meet the costs of uniform – families can apply for assistance via the Local Crisis Prevention Fund.

But our focus is not just on the immediate task of ensuring that children’s return to the classroom is safe. Yesterday at Cabinet we took a decision on a new programme of capital investment to increase the provision of specialist educational places to meet growing demand, and ensure that children with special educational needs and disabilities have access to high quality learning environments, designed specifically to meet SEND teaching needs.

We have continued to plan for the future for Bristol’s school system to ensure we have an education system fit for our changing and growing city.