Easter: hope in a broken world

Today’s blog is from Paul Langham,
Vicar of Christ Church Clifton,
and South West Regional Director for New Wine

In 1989, Bob Dylan wrote a song called Everything is broken.

33 years on, those words still resonate. From Afghanistan to Ukraine, Syria to Yemen, cities and people lie broken. In the West, the contract of trust between people and leaders is at breaking point. Fake news threatens the power of truth. The gap between rich and poor is growing, not shrinking. Women continue to live in fear of violence. Black & Minority Ethnic people still face discrimination. Too many children’s mental resilience is buckling. While these realities prevail, can we deny that our society is broken? And if we fail to avert climate catastrophe, we will leave future generations a broken planet…

Of course, Dylan was exaggerating for effect. Not everything is broken. Across the world, individuals and communities (of faith and none) are doing what they can to mend what is broken. You can read – and contribute – local inspirational stories at https://bristolthreads.co.uk/

Churches too are playing their part: running foodbanks; supporting children struggling for wellbeing and resilience; seeking creative solutions to our housing crisis; encouraging fostering… to name just a few among hundreds of initiatives.

Christ Church has recently brought the SPEAR Programme to Bristol – mentoring disadvantaged 16-24 year-olds into work or further education. We’re also preparing to become one of ten Welcome Hubs across Bristol to support Ukrainian refugees and the families who will be hosting them.

Christians find our inspiration for all we do in Easter. God’s extraordinary answer to a broken world was to enter it, and allow himself to be broken. Easter keeps me going through my struggles and my doubts. I see my God, hanging nailed and broken on the Cross, his death paying the price of my – our – brokenness.

And there’s the rub – are we willing to accept the reality of our own brokenness? To acknowledge that it’s not only tyrants and tanks that cause destruction? That our thoughtless words, our selfish actions, our hateful thoughts, all contribute to this world’s brokenness?

Many people know that Christians believe that Jesus breaks the power of sin. But few know that the word most commonly translated ‘sin’ in the bible is taken from archery. It means to ‘miss the mark,’ and I find that helpful. I can acknowledge that I miss the mark, even the mark I set myself. And being willing to acknowledge that is the first step in a journey of faith.

Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Day. His resurrection is our proof that he has the power to lead us safely through death into new life. As Jesus hung on the cross, one of those crucified alongside him said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43). Putting faith in Jesus can be that simple.

But finding faith is only the start of the Christian journey – Jesus calls us to work with him to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, set captives free, and to comfort those who mourn. All this points to the day when Jesus will return and restore the whole of creation, mending what is broken, and wiping the tears from every eye.

Everything may seem broken now. But Easter speaks a message of hope – not just for this world, but for a new world to come. In that new world, the only thing broken will be the power of sin and death.

Vaisakhi: celebrating the birth of Sikhism

Today’s blog is from Nirmal Bal, Secretary
of Bristol’s Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara

Vaisakhi is a significant event in Sikh history, where Sikh identity and practices were forged. On April 13, 1699, the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, called for Sikhs across India to gather at the city of Sri Anandpur Sahib, in Punjab, North-West India.

Sikhs believe that God is the self-existing light within all, and the ten living Gurus guided us to realise this light within. In 1699, faiths in India were being persecuted. Guru Gobind Singh Ji asked the congregation of Sikhs for a volunteer who was prepared to sacrifice their life for their Guru and faith. All were silent until a man raised his hand to volunteer, a shopkeeper. He was led to a tent. Guru Gobind Singh Ji returned to the congregation with his sword dripping in blood. He then called for another volunteer. The next volunteer was a farmer. He disappeared into the tent and the Guru returned with a bloody sword. He called for three more volunteers, and three men answered from different castes. The congregation was further stunned as the five men came out of the tent dressed in white robes and holding swords.

The Guru and Mata Sahib Kaur conducted the first Amrit Sanchar (Sikh initiation ceremony) where the five men – the Panj Pyare (five beloved ones) – took their vows to practice the central tenets of Sikhism. This is summarised by the term Sant-Sipahi, saint-soldier, where one aims to remember God and act according to spiritual values of humility and compassion for all.

The Panj Pyare were inducted into the order of the Khalsa, the pure ones. The Guru was then initiated by the Panj Pyare himself. He proclaimed the Panj Pyare to be the embodiment of the Guru and that wherever five initiated Sikhs meet the Guru is met as well. This underpins Sikh leadership. Then the caste system was prevalent in India, causing inequality. To establish equality, Guru Gobind Singh Ji conferred the same surname to Sikh women and men that identified them as Sikh and transcended caste and the circumstances of one’s birth. Sikh women are given the name Kaur (princess and female lion) and Men are given the surname Singh (male lion and a popular name amongst royals), denoting grace and courage. The Guru bestowed the five K’s , five sacred symbols worn at all times by initiated Sikhs, that represent core Sikh values. Sikh practices do not discriminate according to gender and Amrit Sanchar is the same for women and men, as are the responsibilities of organising worship. 

Today Sikhs in Bristol all over the world, those initiated and those heading towards it, celebrate Vaisakhi with love and devotion. Sikhs will conduct a procession, carrying the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, through the streets, singing prayers and taking Langar (kitchen open to all) on the road. Vaisakhi is a time to connect with our faith and communities, remember the Guru’s commands and be inspired by the Panj Pyare to practice Sikh values of love and justice. Amrit Sanchars will be conducted all over the world. Many Sikhs will choose to be initiated into the Khalsa, dedicating their lives fully to God and following the Khalsa code of conduct.

In Bristol the four Gurdwaras, Sikh temples, will be celebrating Vaisakhi throughout the week. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji will be recited from beginning to end, continuously throughout the day and night, beginning this Friday morning. This will be followed by a congregational prayer thanking the Gurus and God and for the goodwill of mankind. The congregation will then sing shabads, Sikh holy prayers. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written in 42 different Raags, melodic scales, and music is at the heart of Sikh worship. The Nishaan Sahib, the saffron flag pole that stands outside every Gurudwara will be cleaned and a new flag will be erected. Gurdwaras will continue to serve langar, their kitchens are open to all regardless of faith, caste or creed. Sikhs will practice Gatka, martial arts, with competitions held for children. We will remember and discuss important lessons of Vaisakhi and how we can act according to Sikh values. 

For more information please check out these links: https://www.sikhpa.com/campaigns/sikhvaisakhi/; https://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Vaisakhi

LEDs: keeping the lights on and bills down

Today’s blog is by Councillor Don Alexander, Cabinet Member for Transport

Street lighting is something that some of us take for granted, but it’s critically important for our safety and quality of life. Technology moves on and an exciting new opportunity has now presented itself.

We will be replacing 27,000 of our now outdated street lights with Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and will operate them through a new Central Management System (CMS). The LED and CMS combination will reduce electricity consumption by 45 to 50%, saving taxpayers around £1.8 million each year and reducing Bristol’s carbon emissions by a stunning 17,741 tonnes over a decade. In addition, this system requires less maintenance so it will reduce the number of vehicle trips around the city with their associated costs and pollution.

I am really excited about this project, as given the climate emergency and with energy bills rising across the UK, it has never been more important to find ways to reduce our energy consumption across the city. 

The Central Management System provides remote control monitoring and energy measurement over a wireless interface, giving it the ability to dim or brighten individual areas of the city. Examples of the possible benefits of this could be improved women’s safety, more appropriate lighting for wildlife and reduced light pollution.

The variety of lamp posts, which are a welcome feature of our historic streetscape, has required some technical work to allow the LEDs to be used on the more traditional models. As LEDs use less energy, this creates new possibilities for our ongoing work on devising approaches to on-street charging models for electric vehicles, more of which will be announced soon.

Making an upfront investment to speed up our switch over to LED street lighting is a simple way to make energy savings. This is good news for the environment and will dramatically reduce our energy bills, freeing up future resources to be invested in other frontline services. Using smart city technology, this project which will make sure our street lighting network is responsive, reliable and fit for purpose for years to come.

The street lighting replacement programme will be completed over three years at a cost of £12 million, which will soon be recovered at current energy prices.

Working together as One City

Working together as One City has delivered far more than the council ever could have alone. By bringing together public, private, voluntary, and third sector organisations around shared goals, we are accelerating work to make Bristol a fairer, healthier, and more sustainable place: a city of hope and aspiration, where nobody is left behind. The pandemic highlighted the importance of collaborative working with our NHS, businesses, and other organisations.

Late in 2021, we decided to take a closer look at our One City Thematic Boards to see if we could improve how they operate. After a process involving workshops with our Board members, and taking feedback on our opportunities and challenges, we started an Expression of Interest process for new (or existing) members on 24 January. We’re pleased to announce that the refreshed membership of the Boards has now been finalised, with our new members are now listed on the One City website

Our City Office received over 120 Expressions of Interest from new and existing partners from across Bristol, to join one of four Boards: Homes and Communities, Children and Young People, Transport and Economy and Skills. The Environment Board also took this opportunity to recruit two new members to fill a recent vacancy. 

Why did we decide to refresh our Boards?

Many of the Thematic Boards launched in late 2019, meaning that they had met only once or twice before the pandemic started. Initially designed to be spaces to work together and implement responses to the One City Goals, during the pandemic they became important spaces for our Public Health team to relay key updates, and for our partners to share best practice. This space was invaluable. 

What did we and our partners achieve?

Throughout 2021, the Health and Wellbeing Board have been focusing on reducing social isolation, their work attracting funding for a City Lab project working with communities to highlight what citizens need to improve mental health. In October, the Children and Young People’s Board launched the Belonging Strategy (owned by Children’s Services) that set out a collective vision to ensure the voices of Bristol’s children and young people are heard in the city.

The Environment board lead the rollout of a citywide communications campaign in the build-up to COP26 about #BristolClimateAction and #NatureRecovery. Board members also led the delivery of a world-leading Bristol and Avon catchment market to deliver nature recovery and carbon reduction, meeting another of the Environment priorities for 2021. Members of the Homes and Communities Board were active in supporting the challenge definition phase of the UN Habitat ‘Climate Smart Cities Challenge’ along with representatives from other One City boards and forums, including the Bristol Advisory Committee on Climate Change and the Environment board. It’s still been a productive time.  

We’re excited about this new phase, but it would be remiss of me not to highlight the importance of the work contributed by all our Board members so far, as we wouldn’t have got to this stage without you – thank you. And, to our new members: we look forward to working with you, in partnership, to continue improving the lives of our citizens over the coming years. 

Ramadan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City of Sanctuary, City of Hope

Yesterday I spoke at the launch of the ChangeMakers project report, From Sanctuary to Opportunity, with Ashley Community Housing and the RAMP Project. ChangeMakers works to connect refugees’ lived experience with policy, helping build regional capacity to welcome and include refugees; create pathways to meaningful employment; and close the two-tier gap on refugee support.

I was pleased to write a foreword for the report, and to see videos of support from fellow Mayors Migration Council members Mayor Giuseppe Sala of Milan and Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala.

The report can be read in full below.

“The movement of people makes cities what they are – places where people come together to share and exchange. Where people make safe homes and futures. But to share in the success of the city and to foster genuine integration, we need to have confidence in our identities and promote economic, social, political and cultural inclusion.

“As you deliver The Change Makers Project as part of other great work in Bristol, let us remember that attitudes to migration are not just polarised, they are highly complex. Attitudes to migrants have hardened as populations across Europe and North America have turned to populist politicians and rejected globalisation, of which migration is a central part. But in Bristol we know that with the right policies and structures in place, migrants and refugees can bring fresh ideas, resources and perspectives that contribute economically, socially, and culturally.

“Three global issues – the pandemic, racial inequality, and the climate emergency – show what we have in common as human beings is far more important than our differences.

“We are at the dawn of a decade when the decisions we make as a city and as society on how to address economic inequality, climate change, technological innovation, and political polarisation will shape our shared future for generations to come.

“I challenge all communities, new and established, to ensure migration works for all. A Local Authority on its own cannot guarantee that someone seeking sanctuary will be able to thrive in their new community. But for Bristol we do have a corporate vision to “play a leading role in driving a city of hope and aspiration where everyone can share in its success.”

“At both a national and global level we need to see more city-to-city cooperation. Cities and global networks of cities working together as equal partners in shaping national and international policy. We want to see global south / north cooperation at the city level. I’m encouraged by efforts now being driven by the Mayors Migration Council, a new initiative to support cities to become more influential at the global level.

“I am proud to sit on the Leadership Board of the Council alongside mayors from across the globe, and together we are determined to make progress on expanding the role for cities. I hope this report sets a roadmap for the Change Makers Project and contributes to creating an inclusive city, which works for all.”

Building an Age-Friendly City

Learning from the Bristol Ageing Better programme

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

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

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

Changing the conversation on loneliness

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

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

Towards an Age-Friendly Bristol

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

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

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

Temple Cycles

Today’s blog is by Matthew Mears, Founder and CEO of Temple Cycles, one of the Bristol businesses who I have recently visited.

We are a Bristol based bicycle designer and maker and we make some of the world’s most beautiful and high quality bicycles at our production facility in Bedminster. We have an emphasis on making versatile bikes for touring, commuting and also gravel riding, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and making sure our bikes will become vintage. We’ve also now introduced some incredible electric bikes into the line-up.

Sustainability

Temple Cycles was started in 2015, born out of my lifelong passion for cycling and a dream of producing bicycles here in Bristol. Since the start, making high quality machines has been the objective and we want all of the bikes we make to become vintage someday. Too much of the bicycle market is geared around upgrading and replacing your bike every few years. We don’t agree with this and make products which will last a lifetime.

Sustainability of our products and production processes are very important to us. That’s why we only make bikes from 100% recycled steel. This means that our bikes have a very long product lifecycle. If they are properly looked after they will last over 30 years, and when they do reach the end of their time, they can easily be recycled. On top of this, we make sure all of our bikes are very easy to service, maintain and find spare parts for.

The pandemic

There has been a significant change in the way we do business since COVID-19 and Brexit. Supply chain disruption and shipping delays have added extra pressure on the business. We used to operate in a leaner way, holding less stock of parts and materials in the warehouse. Now we hold a higher proportion of this to make sure we have enough to keep production running if we get hit with unexpected or extra supply delays. The demand for our bikes has risen significantly though, as people look for green modes of transport. We only see this becoming more and more important, especially as our cities grow and cars are certainly not the best mobility solution. As governments invest more in cycling infrastructure, we’re excited to see how much of a cycling nation we can become.

Cycling in Bristol

Cycling in Bristol is fantastic. We’re really proud to be part of this cycling city, and we see more and more people on bikes each year. There is so much to do if you like to cycle, with great access to the surrounding countryside and Sustrans national cycle routes. There’s something for everyone here, including great mountain biking in Ashton Court, access to beautiful and quiet country roads, an improving network of cycle lanes, and hundreds of parks and green spaces within the city to cycle to.

We’re really excited to continue growing our business in Bristol and for what the coming years will bring, as our city transforms to become a vibrant ecosystem for sustainable mobility and active travel.

Fostering in Bristol

Today’s blog is from Sarah Parker, Director of
Children, Families and Safer Communities

We’ve all been horrified by the images on the news of innocent people, and children, becoming victims of war. It’s heart-warming to see how many people have already offered up their homes to support Ukrainians seeking refuge. More broadly, more foster carers and more homes are still needed, and more people will hopefully step forward.

We have a number of children who have fled war zones who need foster care already in Bristol now, and this number will grow when Ukrainian children arrive. Already 52 children from orphanages in Dnipro in Ukraine have arrived at their temporary new home in Scotland.

Welcoming children who have come from war zones isn’t always easy, and some children will arrive traumatised, needing a few weeks in a settled environment so they can find their feet. Others are more worldly then you can imagine, the things they’ve seen you wouldn’t expect an adult to cope with. But above all they are resilient, wonderful children, who need your help to find the joy in life again. You can make the world of difference to a child.

And of course we have lots of UK children who need homes. I am a foster carer myself, and the children I have cared for are not the only ones who benefit. It has totally changed my life for the better.

Foster caring doesn’t mean you have to give up work, stop going out, or have lots of space in your house. We need carers from all backgrounds and all walks of life. You don’t have to have children already, or be in a relationship, and some carers can only offer weekend respite cover for other foster carers who need a break. Fosters receive an allowance of up to £1,000 per child, per month, with additional payments available for fosters for whom these payments are their main source of income.

There is no typical foster child. And there is no typical foster carer. If you’ve ever wondered about it, then call us on 0117 353 4200 or visit our website to find out more. If you think you can’t do it, then call us anyway – we can give you all the information before you rule it out. There are so many children, who deserve so much better than the hand they have been dealt. Please help us, to help them.

Two years later

Two years on from the UK’s first national lockdown, Wednesday was a time to remember all those lost to the pandemic – and continue to reflect on lessons we need to learn from COVID-19.

It is also a time to thank fellow Bristolians for all they have done to heed public health advice and help keep one another safe during the pandemic. Together, we have doubtless saved the lives of many citizens of our city.

With remaining national restrictions continuing to lift, Bristol has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country. From getting the added protection offered by vaccines to choosing to wear masks in crowded spaces, we can all keep protecting each other.

To mark the anniversary, and share best practice from our city, I represented Bristol in a panel discussion with the International Public Policy Observatory: The pandemic two years on: what have we learned, and are we better-placed to deal with future crises?

We know that stemming the spread of the virus itself, has had impacts across society: from education to loneliness, mental health to domestic violence, unemployment to hunger. These impacts cluster around poverty and inequality. As I set out in my 2020 State of the City address, this means we have faced, and still face, a syndemic – not a pandemic.

And on Thursday I spoke at the Annual Public Health Conference, hosted by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health, focusing on the impact of climate change on the wider determinants of health. I shared more about the impact of climate change on public health, noting the increase in recent years of emerging diseases like COVID-19. Deforestation, global temperature rises, and habitat destruction have all contributed, and Stanford University research has found that the geographical spread of infectious diseases through mosquitos and other insects is likely.

There are important lessons to be learnt about the way we’ve all responded in the past two years. I hope the government’s inquiry is an honest assessment and looks widely and the unintended consequences of decisions. I share the concerns expressed in a letter to The Times newspaper signed by 50 experts including Russell Viner, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Andrew James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has expressed concerns about the draft terms of reference for the government’s inquiry because they made no specific mention of children or young people except for a single reference to school attendance.

More widely, lessons from the pandemic can also help us tackle the climate and ecological emergencies, but it will ultimately come down to finance. As the vaccine roll-out and initial support schemes, the national government can support people. We have already invested locally in insulation, to reduce energy bills, carbon emissions, and the ill health felt by those who have been forced to choose eating over heating. As a result, council homes are twice as likely to be in the top energy performance bands as the rest of the city’s homes, and we have committed £500 million more.

With a £10 billion bill to decarbonise Bristol and become a Net Zero city, and all the benefits that brings in terms of active travel, locally grown food, and much more, we need further investment from both national government and the private sector to make it happen.