The Paralympic Games

Gina Hopkins is the Chair of the Mayoral Group on Participation in Sport and Physical Activity. Gina poses, smiling, with her hands wrapped for sparring. Gina writes today about the Paralympic Games.
Today’s guest blog is from Gina Hopkins, Chair of the Mayoral Group on Participation in Sport and Physical Activity and CEO of Adaptive Martial Arts CIC. Photo credit: RichMCD

As we begin what must be the most anticipated ever Paralympic Games, we already know that we have an uphill battle.

In the wake of our Olympic medal turnout being modest but still very competitive, we know that Team GB has to maintain the dominance that we have been used to in the Paralympic Games. After all, in Rio 2016, we were second only to China.

The Olympic Games has its flaws and, in my personal opinion, the Paralympics are an equally flawed but necessary celebration of our Disabled athletes – and their even more incredible achievements.

The history of the Paralympic Games

The cherry blossoms in Gina’s garden

It could be suggested that the United Kingdom ‘invented’ the Paralympic Games, through Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s work as a Neurologist at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Born in Germany, he fled as a small child with his family from Nazi persecution. Guttmann became a British citizen in 1945, and his career led him to believe that exercise and sport could play a role in extending the quality and life span of spinal injured patients, at the time mainly veterans of the Second World War. He refused to believe that nothing could be done for the indirect life expectancy of two years for paraplegic (lower limb) patients and encouraged participation in sports and games as a means of rehabilitation.

It is therefore no surprise when you think of the literal fight for life at Stoke Mandeville that the Tokyo Paralympic mascot is called “Someity”, which originates from the cherry blossom “so mighty’. Our Paralympians have had to adjust their training schedules and thrive with the lack of facilities and support and still risk their health to travel to the games. I perceive this as a mighty achievement indeed.

The pandemic and Paralympic Games

Coincidentally, due to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic, we have seen increased community organising by and on behalf of Disabled people in Bristol. Both long and short Covid can cause permanent injury or illness – increasing the amount of people with ‘invisible disabilities’. People affected will also require rehabilitation, and will benefit from the physical and mental health benefits that sport and physical activity brings.

One lesson we can all take away from living through the pandemic is the value of our physical and mental health. We all need  little encouragement, whether you have been motivated by the Euros or the Olympics, or are about to be inspired by the Paralympics. I urge everyone to follow and celebrate the Paralympic Games with equal enthusiasm and to encourage your friends and family to start moving once again and enjoying doing sport, as well as watching it.

To discover a taste of what Bristol has to offer please visit and

Have your say on our top priorities

We recently launched our draft Corporate Strategy 2022 to 2027, which, once consultation is completed, will become the council’s main strategic document. Setting the overall vision for the council, its services and what we are trying to achieve alongside many partners in Bristol and beyond. It is a high-level strategic response to the opportunities and challenges facing Bristol now, and in the future, forming the basis of detailed future business plans and how the council organises itself.

The strategy includes our proposed priorities for the coming five years, taking account of major challenges like COVID-19 and recovery, climate change, the ecological emergency and tackling structural inequality and poverty in the city.

It sits along the recent quality of life survey, which showed rising satisfaction with the council and our leadership, but highlighted wider challenges facing the whole of Bristol and specific areas within it. Therefore, this strategy isn’t about just saying nice things; it is a very real challenge to us, our partners and national and international systems of government, governance and economy to make positive changes, tackle complex, ingrained and long term structural issues and work towards a values-led vision rooted in fairness and opportunity for all.

For the council’s part, we need to keep delivering good quality services and continuing our journey to become an organisation which is better at enabling and developing others. We must set an excellent example as an employer, create more efficient systems and processes, work better together, empower and enable others to act, and, in some cases, withdraw and get out of the way.

Everyone will be included in our city’s success and will have a home where they can achieve their aspirations, regardless of their background or where they grew up. It will not be easy, but Bristol can bounce back from the pandemic and rise to its challenges, supported and enabled by a council that is the right size for the job and is no longer seen as a collection of services, but as an effective development organisation that allows everyone to thrive.

The Corporate Strategy serves as the foundation upon which all other council plans and strategies are built. When we make any major decision and, every year when we make annual plans for our hundreds of services, the Corporate Strategy is what we refer to and try to deliver. It’s vital we get it right for local people and we have listened carefully to the views of citizens, including our Citizens Assembly, when drafting the document. Now we want everyone to have their say and help us prioritise for the years to come.

We’re inviting everyone who lives, works and visits Bristol to look at the draft Corporate Strategy focusing on the city council’s draft five-year strategy for 2022 to 2027 and tell us what they think through the consultation.

The consultation will last for six weeks and people can give their feedback until midnight on Sunday 26 September 2021. The Corporate Strategy consultation, along with all relevant supporting documents, is available at

Bristol Disability Equality Commission – new chair

Alun Davies, the new chair of the new Bristol Disability Equality Commission, sits, smiling, with a background of grass and daisies.
Today’s guest blog is from Alun Davies, the new chair of the new Bristol Disability Equality Commission

My name is Alun Davies, and I’m the newly appointed first Chair of the new Bristol Disability Equality Commission. The commission is being established in recognition of the inequalities faced by Disabled people in the city, and the negative impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on Disabled people. The Disability Equality Commission will join the Commission on Race Equality and Women’s Commission as Mayoral commissions taking forward equality in the city.

I am just about an adopted Bristolian having moved here in 1991. I’ve lived all over the city, worked for the public and community/voluntary sector, and served on a number of voluntary sector management bodies. I was a city councillor, a non-executive on a health board and chaired the Disability Committee of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. On a personal level I was the parent of a Disabled child who sadly passed away at 11. I love music both listening and playing, and I have a probably slightly unhealthy interest in 1970’s rock music, tv and cricket!

I became totally blind in 1978 and have been active in the Disabled people’s movement since 1986. I understand disability entirely as a political issue. I am an adherent of and firm believer in the social model of disability.

The social model is clear and simple. People with any kind of impairment – learning difficulty, neuro diversity, mental health issue physical or sensory -are disabled not by their impairments but by cultural, economic, political, and social barriers which cause inherent and institutionalised discrimination.

That is why the commission is a Disability Equality Commission. Its role is to work to remove these barriers. My vision for the commission is that it brings together Disabled people from all backgrounds and impairments to work together in collaboration and partnership to make Bristol a city where Disabled people have choice, control, and equality.

I am under no illusions that it won’t be an easy task. Many Disabled people are unemployed, experience disability hate crime and do not have full choice and control over their own live. Housing choices are very limited, much of the pavements and physical environment is still inaccessible and Disabled people are significantly under-represented in decision-making groups and structures. Disabled children and young people often do not get either the support they need in education or the choice of the best education to meet their needs.

However, I would not have applied for the role if I wasn’t also hopeful and optimistic. The introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 followed by the Equalities Act in 2010, despite neither going as far as I and many other Disabled people would like, have at least given us some legal recourse. This has meant businesses and service providers have had to make adjustments to their services. Public attitudes and awareness is better than it was 40 years ago and Disabled people are more evident and accepted around the city.

Most of all I am positive because of what I believe the Commission will bring to the city. We will be recruiting commissioners during the next three months, and I believe we will put together a team of enthusiastic, experienced, and skilled Disabled people who will bring a vast amount of passion and wisdom to the task.

I also believe there is a genuine commitment amongst everyone involved in the city to use the opportunity coming out of the pandemic to build back better. We must use the situation we have to make equity and social justice the heart of our response, and disability equality must be fully part of this. It is a privilege and honour for me to chair the Disability Equality Commission and I look forward to playing my part with the Mayor and everyone else to make Bristol a city I and other Disabled people are even more proud to live in.

Tackling violence

Sarah Crew, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, sitting. Plants partially obscure the foreground. Her blog focuses on tackling violence against women and girls in Bristol.
Today’s guest blog is from Sarah Crew, Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset Police (Photo copyright: Neil Phillips)

A childhood spent in and around Bristol and 27 years serving in Avon and Somerset has given me an immense pride in our city and the opportunities it offers. My role as national police lead for adult sexual offences has been one of the most significant opportunities I’ve had to do that, working alongside policy makers, campaigners and victim groups to set direction for much needed improvements in tackling violence against women and girls.

We’re committed to putting that change into action in Avon and Somerset. Our pioneering new approach to investigating rape and serious sexual offences, Bluestone, is seeing us increase resource, tighten our grip on offenders and better support victims. I’m delighted that this approach is to be rolled out nationally.

Now, with the national spotlight firmly on tackling violence, against women and girls and in wider society, and a commitment from the Government to fund much needed solutions, we have the opportunity to make real and sustained change. 

To do that we need to look beyond enforcement and build a better understanding of what drives violent and abusive behaviour. Prevention and early intervention must be part of our strategy as well as educating young people on healthy relationships. 

Bristol’s Violence Reduction Unit, established in 2019 and made up of representatives from the police, health, education and local authorities, is doing amazing work; guiding and protecting those most vulnerable to becoming involved in serious violence either as a victim or perpetrator. 

Its success shows what can be achieved when we come together and I know that I am joined in my commitment to finding more opportunities for change by leaders across the city including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, colleagues at North Bristol NHS Trust and Public Health England and the Crown Prosecution Service. 

We must also support those without a voice, many of them women, many in marginalised groups, who feel unable to seek help when faced with violence and abuse. 

This isn’t something that we can tackle alone. In Bristol we’re fortunate to have many organisations that share our passion and commitment, including The Bridge, which I’m proud to have played a role in establishing in 2009. I was also involved in setting up our Independent Sexual Advisors service which provides invaluable support to victims of domestic and sexual abuse as part of Safe Link and Next Link; and there are many others. 

We also want to hear from you – to understand what you feel we can do better or differently, to support you so that we all have the chance to live in a city where we feel safe in our relationships, in our homes and in our communities – where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Bristol’s NHS is under pressure

Maria Kane, Chief Executive of North Bristol NHS Trust, covering one half of Bristol's NHS
Today’s blog is from Maria Kane, Chief Executive of North Bristol NHS Trust, covering part of NHS healthcare system in Bristol

I joined North Bristol NHS Trust in April 2021 and I’m delighted to be here at this significant point in the NHS’ history. I have relocated to Bristol, where some of my family live, and can already see what a fantastic city it is. I’m looking forward to continuing to get to know the area and the local people.

Summer is usually the chance for Bristol’s NHS to recover from the busy months that have come before and prepare for the Winter ahead. But for this year that has not been the case.

We are in the middle of a Summer that feels like Winter. People are suffering with respiratory illnesses that are usually prevalent in the colder months. As a result, we are seeing more people coming into our Emergency Department, alongside complaints that do not need the expertise of our teams and could be better managed closer to home.

We have also seen a rise of patients in Southmead Hospital with COVID-19, which brings challenges because we need to care for these patients in dedicated areas. This limits the number of beds we can safely make available.

These extra challenges come at a time when all of us – particularly our NHS staff – need to recover more than at any other time in our NHS’ history, having come out of a prolonged period of pressure on our services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I pay tribute to and thank our NHS wonderful staff who have worked so hard over the last 18 months. We needed this Summer to recover from the demands of the busiest period we have ever faced, to start catching up on the waiting lists which grew over lockdowns.

And so, my ask of you is to please help us and our staff.

How can you help support Bristol’s NHS?

If you have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, please book your vaccination, or attend one of the walk-in clinics. You can find details on You can even get vaccinated while doing your shopping with the new clinic that has opened in Cabot Circus!

If you become unwell or suffer a minor injury, you may be able to take care of yourself at home. If you’re not sure how to deal with a minor illness or injury, such as a cold or sprain, your local pharmacy can help. They will probably be able to advise you much quicker than our busy Emergency Department, which is intended for serious and life-threatening emergencies. Obviously, if it is an emergency you must call an ambulance and we will be here waiting to treat you in a timely way.

You can also help by supporting your loved ones if they are ready to leave hospital: perhaps by preparing things at home so that they can leave hospital sooner, or by picking them up so they do not need to wait for hospital transport. All of these things take pressure off our services and our staff and mean your friends and relatives get to where they will best finish their recovery sooner – home.

We are still all in this together and your support of our NHS team is really appreciated.

Building more affordable homes for Bristolians

Today’s guest blog is from Councillors Don Alexander and Tom Renhard

We’ve built some 9,000 new homes since 2016, and are delighted to keep building more affordable homes for Bristolians. When plans for Romney House come to a planning committee for approval, we can build on these strong foundations.

Goram Homes, Bristol City Council’s housing company, hopes to get the go-ahead for these exciting plans for Lockleaze on the 1 September. This is the most advanced of their projects, working together with Vistry Partnerships. The site won outline planning permission in 2018. Architect and campaigner George Clarke visited last October for his Channel 4 documentary highlighting the UK’s lack of social housing. George came to see our plans and find out more about Bristol’s innovative work to tackle the housing crisis.

Our Labour administration are committed to ensuring local residents benefit from local development. The Romney House development will be a mixture of homes for private sale (45%) and affordable housing (55%). Affordable homes will be mainly for social rent with some units for shared ownership, helping to address the housing crisis. We are also developing a local lettings policy, enabling local residents in Lockleaze to have first refusal on Council homes. This will be the first of its kind on this scale in Bristol.

This site will also enable us to deliver on our ambitions to be net zero by 2030. The homes will be heated by air source heat pumps and exceed all environmental requirements. The development will generate a biodiversity net gain on a brownfield site. New homes will also boost the case for another new train station in the area. There will also be a new wildlife meadow and community park, as part of a green corridor between Stoke Park and Concorde Way.

Plans for Romney House, showing a wildlife haven being enjoyed by families -- alongside trees and new homes.
Goram Homes’ plans for Romney House

We estimate that the development will generate over £30m in local social and economic value. This includes over £10 million to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Vistry Partnerships have an ambitious onsite training programme for 36 apprentices. There also be a Skills Academy, giving the next generation the skills to build homes for the future. Goram will donate some £30,000 to the One Lockleaze Community Fund for a range of local initiatives. 

We believe that this award-winning project will make an invaluable contribution to the Council’s wider plans for the regeneration of Lockleaze. This development will deliver over 100 affordable homes, provide jobs, economic benefit to SMEs and social value to local residents. It’s time to move this forward and ensure we keep getting homes built for Bristolians without further delay.

We are sure that the planning committee knows what could well happen next if they defer or reject these plans – because it already has on other sites in Bristol. Our city can’t afford to risk losing more land to private developers building more unaffordable homes or student flats, rather than building more affordable homes for Bristolians.

Mining in Bristol – A Rich Seam of Solidarity

While Durham may be almost 280 miles away from Bristol – the 150th anniversary of the Miners’ Gala yesterday has given me cause to think about the legacy of our city and region’s mining history, and the ongoing importance of the trade union movement in Bristol today. The Durham Miners’ Gala has a special place in the heart of the trade union movement, alongside the South West’s own Tolpuddle Martyr’s Festival.

Coalmining in and around Bristol has a long history. Bristol sits on the Bristol and Somerset coalfield which stretches for over 240 square miles, and was likely mined for coal by the Romans (more information about the history of the coalfield is available from the University of Exeter’s The Mines of the Bristol and Somerset Coalfield project). More recently, however, in the 19th century there were pits in Easton and Bedminster, as well as in Kingswood. The Dean Lane Colliery employed over 400 men and children. By the early 20th century, most pits in Bristol had closed, though coal mining continued at two pits just outside Radstock in Somerset until 1973.

Mining was dangerous work. It is estimated that one worker a month died in mining accidents at Dean Lane Colliery. An explosion in 1886 claimed the lives of 10 people, the youngest just 14 years old. Even outside the pit, health concerns for miners and their families remained – work was not well paid (particularly for children who worked in the mines) and densely packed terraced housing which sprang up particularly in Bedminster were often vectors for disease.

It is the trade union activism which sprang up in response to these dangerous conditions and low pay that is commemorated by events such as the Miners’ Gala and the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. That energy extends beyond remembering the strikes by mine workers in Easton in 1911 for fair pay, and the solidarity shown to those participating in the miners’ strike in 1984-5 after mining had ended in Bristol.

Dean Street Colliery

The closure of the pits destroyed communities and still today, unemployment remains high in ex-mining areas. The changing attitudes to coal and fossil fuels and a better understanding of the impact of carbon on the environment mean the coal industry may have been unworkable today. But the adverse impact on the communities for generations highlights the urgent need for a just transition to green jobs. Investment and transition needs to ensure jobs aren’t just removed. We link the need for a strong economy and high employment to the demands of our response to climate change.  

Today, we work closely with trade unions in the city to continue to secure good pay and healthy working conditions across all parts of our city’s economy and public services. Working together, we have secured important advances for working conditions in Bristol. Chief among these is our recognition by the Living Wage Foundation that Bristol is a Living Wage City. But we also recognise we work in a new context where, for instance, the delivery of public services is more fragmented than previous generations, and institutions like the NHS or the city council have less direct oversight over how contractor’s deliver services and treat their workers.

That’s why we continue to take a collaborative approach, ensuring we use the Council’s purchasing and procurement powers to achieve social value, and engaging with initiatives like Unite’s Construction Charter and Unison’s Ethical Care Charter. We want to continue to make Bristol a city of good work by mapping our goals in the One City Plan and our Economic Recovery and Renewal Plan to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – particularly Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. Working collaboratively with our trade unions in this way allows us to understand the complexities and realities which shape people’s experiences of work in Bristol.

International Youth Day – a voice for young people

Today’s blog is from John Wayman and Alice Towle, Bristol’s Youth Mayors. Both John and Alice also sit on the Bristol Youth Council, representing north and east-central Bristol respectively, and were elected in 2019 through the Bristol Big Youth Vote.

This year’s International Youth Day comes at perhaps a sobering moment when considering the future (and for many the present) of today’s young people. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s damning report concerning humanity’s destructive impact on the climate once again reminds us that this generation seems to have been born into a world on fire, both literally and metaphorically. Indeed, to avert disaster, action needs to be taken on multiple fronts by both current leaders and young people.

The transformation of food systems, the theme of this year’s International Youth Day, certainly constitutes a key aspect of our global response to the climate crisis given the significance of both food production and food transport to global greenhouse gas emissions. It will require the aid and input of young people to ensure we strike a balance between radically transforming food systems to remove their impact on the climate and maintaining food security to avoid disastrous consequences of another kind.

What has the Youth Council been up to?

In a world more globalised than ever before, as both the climate crisis and the covid-19 pandemic have thrown into stark relief, making global connections has been more important than ever before. This need for collaboration is the reason that we started the International Youth Mayors’ Association (IYMA) , a group of young leaders from five countries (and growing) who meet every month to discuss best practice and the various youth issues we face, both similar and different. Past topics have included how to set up youth mayors, youth involvement in environmental politics, and different countries’ political systems. Although we are a relatively new organisation, we hope to expand our membership and grow into a group that can represent both the unity and diversity of young people around the world.

However, although taking action on an international level is important, local action remains crucial. For instance, active travel brings benefits to both the environment and to students’ mental and physical health. That is why the Youth Council’s Environment and Transport group have been running a project centred on encouraging young people to walk and cycle to school. Earlier this year we launched a survey hoping to identify the primary barriers that stop young people from walking or cycling to school. The survey was immensely successful. We had over 1,300 responses from around the city and now we aim to run a series of focus groups to brainstorm solutions to the barriers identified by the survey. Hopefully the views of the city’s young people will be able to meaningfully shape its transport policies.

Although the looming threat of climate change combined with the immense uncertainty of covid-19 may present a bleak reality facing today’s young people, there is still hope for the future. With young people sharing their voices and leaders acting on them, perhaps a fairer and more resilient world can be built.

OFGEM’s energy cap rise: the triple hit – the cap doesn’t fit

Today’s blog is from Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, Waste and Energy, and councillor for St. George Central.

OFGEM’s announcement that the energy cap will see household energy bills rise by up to £153 a year is just the news we didn’t need. October 2021 now looks to be the season of the triple hit: winter energy use, the £20 a week Universal Credit cut, and now the energy cap rise. Following over a year of pandemic and economic uncertainty, and with the furlough scheme tapering down, this news will make many people many anxious about the months ahead.

Government spokespeople will say that the cap is a back-stop for the market, and that people can always switch provider. But the cold reality is that yet again it is the poorest paying for deeply flawed energy and housing policy.

There are often loads of reasons why people can’t switch their energy providers, many linked to the consequences of poverty: debt, stress, adverse previous experiences resulting in a loss of confidence and ill health. Never mind pre-payment customers, who typically are some of the most deprived, frozen out of the market by a lack of providers.

Because of a decade of poor policy, the cap is a plaster on an open wound. Our lack of energy autonomy and our dependency on global fossil fuel markets has made us vulnerable to the macro energy challenges which are now being blamed for this rise. But we would be far better insulated against these fluctuations if we generated more of our own renewable energy.

The failure is compounded by the Government’s housing policy. The narrow rails around the warm homes grant aren’t good enough. We need support for homeowners at scale to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. After all, the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use.

Had the national government invested to generate renewable energy in the UK, home energy efficiency, and supporting a workforce transition then we wouldn’t be in this exposed position we find ourselves in this winter.

The solution is out there and it’s been there for decades. With less than 100 days until world leaders meet at COP26 to discuss the climate emergency, we are left wondering how much longer our poorest will left be picking up the bill for this inadequate approach to powering the UK.

Dementia-friendly allotments in Bristol

To mark the start of National Allotment Week, today’s guest blog is from Isobel Jones, CEO of Alive, a charity working to enrich the lives of older people in Bristol and around the country. I recently visited their dementia-friendly allotment in Brentry with Councillor Helen Holland, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care.

Isobel Jones, CEO of Alive, pictured at Brentry's dementia friendly allotment

We all know how being outside can lift our spirits. Working outdoors surrounded by nature, nurturing fruit and vegetables or just sitting in the garden can bring a smile to our faces and help us relax after a difficult day. Allotments are incredible spaces for escaping from the normality and stress of our busy lives. They provide us with a real sense of achievement when we harvest crops we’ve tended from day one (and at times a sense of frustration when the cabbages get eaten again!)   

For those who live with dementia, gardening can be a source of joy and achievement. Maintaining physical activity, cognitive function and social interaction all help someone living with dementia to remain stimulated and to feel valued and helpful.

However, accessing gardens and allotments can become more challenging as dementia progresses. 

So, when the idea of developing and running an allotment for people living with dementia was suggested to us, we jumped at it.  We were already facilitating regular gardening sessions for groups in care settings across the city and through them witnessing the joy and satisfaction they brought to many older people. But we also wanted to provide a space for people living in the community to experience the benefits of horticultural therapy. 

Mayor Marvin Rees visiting Brentry's dementia-friendly allotment, pictured with a volunteer from BRACE Dementia Research

We were handed the keys to plot 18A at Charlton Road allotments in Brentry in March 2019. The  ground hadn’t been cultivated for about four years and was overgrown, unloved and close to being unworkable. However, my incredible team of volunteers and staff have put hours of love and hard work into the plot and have transformed it into the most magical, peaceful and calming space.

We’ve also put in a compost loo, a large social shed, accessible beds and lots of seating so we can meet all needs and garden in all weathers. It has been a real community effort, with support from local funders, businesses, fellow allotment plot holders and a sizeable team of volunteers, who have all supported us in our vision to enable those affected by dementia to have access to the outdoors and feel the sense of achievement and purpose that comes from “growing their own”.  

We are proud to say the Alive allotment is now fully open and is running regular supported sessions for people living with dementia and their carers. Participants can choose what they do there; they can come and potter about on personal projects, work with a volunteer, or just sit and have a cup of tea and chat. We are already seeing the positive outcomes on people’s wellbeing and are looking forward to seeing the groups grow.

We need to ensure there are more opportunities like this for those affected by dementia. In the words of one of our service users,  “Gardening, it’s almost medical. They need things like this to keep people going.” We couldn’t agree more.