Today, we are celebrating the outstanding community work carried out by Bristol’s COVID marshals, with a new video marking the first anniversary of their introduction to the city.
The team of 16 were initially brought on board on 11 November 2020, as part of Bristol’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last twelve months, the marshals have achieved so much. They have built trusted relationships with our communities and businesses in Bristol: speaking to people about their concerns, clarifying government guidance, and distributing thousands of documents like safety posters, workplace guides and letters.
They have walked up to 17 miles per day carrying out their important community work, treading Bristol’s streets even when they were completely empty. They have handed out over 86,000 face coverings and thousands of lateral flow tests to the public, equipping people with the tools they need to keep themselves and the people around them safe.
Working closely with the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucester Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG), the marshals have also been involved in helping over 100 vaccination clinics run smoothly across different areas of the city. Their involvement has meant that more and more of us have had the opportunity to receive life-saving vaccinations safely.
Two years into this pandemic, it is more important than ever for us to look after and protect each other. That community spirit, duty of care, and generous attitude is what has brought Bristol together during challenging times, and the marshals have truly embodied that. During lockdowns, the ‘Tier’ system and since COVID measures have become de-regulated, the team have checked in on people who are self-isolating or shielding, and helped to deliver that crucial on the ground support to vulnerable areas.
To pay tribute to the tremendous efforts of the marshals, we are sharing a video with contributions from both within the council and partners, including Avon and Somerset Police, and the Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) Vaccination Programme.
Please join me in watching and sharing this video, to thank our marshals:
We are so incredibly proud of the work that has been done, and continues to be done to keep us all safe. It is important that we continue to play our part by following the precautionary measures to protect ourselves and others around us.
We were there in our own right as a city taking real action, three years on from the words of declaring an climate emergency. We were also there as part of a collective of cities — global networks of city mayors and leaders including C40 cities, ICLEI (International Local Governments for Sustainability), Eurocities, and the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission (UKCCIC).
First, that cities and their mayors should be put front and centre of any COP26 commitments. The battle against climate change will be won or lost in cities. Cities already account for three-quarters of global carbon emissions, and by 2050, 68% of people will live in urban areas. Bad urbanisation is a threat. But good urbanisation can plan for more efficient living that reduces carbon emissions, supports the recovery of wildlife, and builds more just and more inclusive societies.
Second, national governments, international organisations, and private finance must work together to enable mayors to access the scale of investment they to decarbonisation as their existing cities and the future of urbanisation.
Ensuring a just transition
Third, we need a just transition. I pointed out the triple hit of climate change: that people have been exploited hand in glove with the exploitation of the planet; that those people will then be hit first and hardest by the consequences of climate change; that those people are most at risk of being further disadvantaged by the economic restructuring we must go through if we are meet the 1.5c target. Failure to deliver a just transition will not only be a moral failure but could generate a political backlash as people lose hope and predatory, extremist political actors move to take advantage of the confusion.
The need for fairness, with social justice hand-in-hand with environmental justice, has proved essential in developing our Clean Air Zone plans. We have taken the time to get things right – including on hospital staff and visitor exemptions, and support for people and businesses to transition. The same is needed for our work tackling the twin challenges of the climate and ecological emergencies. We must be thorough because while time is in short supply, it is also true that we don’t have time to get this wrong.
Cities offer hope
I opened this blog with a sobering reality check, but I also want to share grounds for some hope.
First, COP26 did, for the first time, start talking about cities. Cities and local governments are mentioned in the final agreements. This is a source of hope because with the right kind of finance, cities can deliver irrespective of the ability or inability of national governments to agree targets that meet the scale of the challenge. And from London to Los Angeles, from Bristol to Freetown, that is what we have committed to do.
Second, COP26 has been talking about city finance. As part of UKCCIC we have identified £205 billion of decarbonisation opportunities and needs across the UK’s 12 biggest cities (representing 60% of the population and over half of the economy). Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney worked up £130 trillion of private sector finance commitment under the Glasgow Finance Alliance for Net Zero. We need to ensure that this and government announcements focus on timescales and places, and the regulatory change that will enable us to access funding and deliver projects.
Getting stuff done
This is all very welcome but I have concerns.
First, that large sums of money will be announced but they will not address the problem of cities’ limited ability to actually access the money. Second, that having seen the need for finance, governments, international organisations, and foundations will begin announcing pots of money in an uncoordinated way that will add to the financial complexity cities already face difficulty navigating.
We have some next steps. On my first at day at COP I shared the stage with Treasury Minister Helen Whately MP. I suggested the UKCCIC have a day with the Treasury where we map out the investment need and journey and agree a decarbonisation plan. That meeting is being arranged and could enable Bristol to plan and embark on its own £10 billion decarbonisation journey, while other Core Cities and London embark on theirs.
Next year, the Commonwealth Heads of Government will be having their biannual meeting. I suggested we undertake the same exercise with a collection of Commonwealth cities with the intention of announcing their journey at the gathering in Rwanda. 50% of the urbanisation up to 2050 will happen in the Commonwealth, so this presents a huge opportunity.
We have been raising issues of finance, social equity, and the need for an inclusive approach to climate action to raise the ambition of other cities and national government through our own ambitious policy and green business and industry strengths in Bristol. Speaking the same language, through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, can cut through the complexity of cities. The SDGs show the interdependency of to-do lists for places like Bristol, and the interconnected benefits of invested in cities across public health, economy, housing, and environment.
Actions, not just words
This year’s COP was particularly significant because it comes on the third anniversary of our declaration of a climate emergency.
We haven’t been sitting around, waiting for the international community. We delivered lots since the motion – including much work behind the scenes like City Leap procurement and building the case for investment. Energy and transport remain the two major carbon contributors in Bristol, and we are proud to have insulated some 70% of council homes to EPC level C standard. This is around double the figure for the city as a whole, and last week we announced a new scheme to ensure that private landlords improve energy efficiency in their properties.
We have been creating the conditions to enable other organisations to join us in delivering for Bristol.
COP26 has enabled us to build more momentum both in terms of what we are saying to government and business, and in increasing climate action by local engagement of citizens and businesses. We want every community in Bristol to make and take ownership of their own community climate action plan, and Hartcliffe and Lawrence Weston have gotten off to a great start. No two plans will be the same – and they shouldn’t be – and the Bristol Disability Equality Forum’s community climate action project shows just how we can leave nobody behind in making a just transition.
Since 2016, we have invested over £30 million into low-carbon energy projects, like heat networks, solar panels, electric vehicle charging, and energy efficiency. This programme is delivering England’s largest wind turbine in the north of the city, and, through City Funds, and Bristol’s first hydro-powered dam at the Feeder by St Annes.
Doing, not delaying
I want to finish with this. On Thursday Sadiq Khan told the UN Secretary General and other delegates that C40 had mobilised an international alliance of investors to deliver $1bn (£750m) for zero-emission buses in Latin America.
“In cities, we are the doers, in contrast to national governments who are the delayers, kicking the can down the road to 2040 or 2050,” he said. “National governments can talk a good game, but then refuse to put in place the plans, action or funding we desperately need. Unfortunately, we have seen more examples of this at COP26.”
Cities want to work in partnership with national government: only together can we have any chance of averting the climate emergency.
The challenge is a city-based open innovation competition that will invite technologists, businesses, and investors to develop, test and scale cutting-edge solutions in four cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Bristol has been selected alongside Bogota in Colombia, Curitiba in Brazil, and Makindye Ssabagabo in Uganda. The focus of the Climate Smart Cities Challenge is to design a project at neighbourhood level that will showcase how cities can co-create new ideas together with innovators that make cities more sustainable and climate smart.
As we know, Bristol is currently facing a housing crisis, a climate crisis and a construction skills shortage, and the problem we’re interested in solving is how we deliver new housing, so it becomes a positive contributor to reducing greenhouse gases in the city.
The challenge, or barrier to this, is not the housing technology itself. Where innovation is truly needed is in the model used to deliver housing by multiple stakeholders. The challenge is both in the collaboration required and the financial model and mindset that currently costs, values and processes transactions based on immediate capital return.
There is a challenge of ‘best value’; what does this really means in context, and how does it release the right kind of finance. We need to find a way to demonstrate how an enlightened and informed development appraisal process (looking at the intended outcomes and revenue saving, not just repayment of capital) can create the business case for low carbon, affordable homes with decarbonised energy supply.
Drawing from the knowledge and wisdom of stakeholders across the city, through focus groups and workshops over the last few months, Bristol has shaped this unique challenge.
We are hoping that challenge submissions will help support system change in how housing is commissioned and to re-create a model of value (not just cost) so that we really can see more housing built in our city, at pace. But this housing needs to positively contribute to the sustainability and biodiversity of our city and help to combat the climate and ecological emergencies we are facing. However, we must not lose sight of the challenge of homelessness and growing housing waiting lists in the city.
This challenge is complex, it will require innovation and systems thinking. We are not necessarily looking for a widget, an app, or a piece of software, but a solution that crosses sectors and breakdown silos to provide a holistic way forward in the face of Bristol’s challenges.
One of the Council’s services that I have been most proud of during the pandemic is our Community Meals Service, sometimes called “meals on wheels”.
The service delivers hundreds of hot meals, 364 days a year, to isolated and vulnerable residents, and is a vital part of our agenda to support people to live longer in their own homes, and stay independent.
The great thing about this service is the wellbeing check that our staff undertake when they deliver the meal. Stories from our drivers just underline for me how passionate they all are about what they do, and how they have, in some cases, saved lives by their visit.
So, what has this got to do with COP26 and our carbon commitments?
For several years I have been asking about electric vans to replace our current fleet but, until relatively recently, the technology had not been available to be confident in what was out there. We know that battery life is a key fact in switching to electric vehicles, but in the case of these vans, the battery also needs to power ovens to keep meals warm and a refrigeration unit to keep cold and frozen foods fresh.
On a recent visit to the service, I asked James Dagnall, our Manager, how the drivers viewed this development, and it was so heartening to hear how they have embraced this initiative, and all want to trial the new vans when they arrive.
So, everyone wants to play their part in meeting the climate challenge, whilst continuing to deliver a service in ways that will fit us better for the future.
In 2011, on a rainy January afternoon, I had the honour of sharing the stage with my childhood hero – Sir David Attenborough. It was the Association for Science Education’s annual conference. It was held at Reading University. Sir David had been invited to talk about how important it was for children to have a respect and fascination for the natural world. His message to the assembled audience of teachers and lecturers was very clear:
“Our children will ultimatelybe the ones that will decide the fate of this planet. If they don’t understand how it works, how will they protect it? And, if they don’t understand the importance of it, why would they want to protect it?”
For my part, I had been invited, as a Bristol-based primary school teacher, to talk about how I had been using natural history film clips in my classroom to inspire learning and to help children become intrigued and excited by the natural world.
Almost 20 years have passed since I first used a natural history clip in my teaching. It was a maths lesson on measurement. It was a Year 4 class. The clip was from Blue Planet and it featured Sir David Attenborough reeling off incredible facts about the size of a mighty blue whale as it breached the surface of the ocean. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, I can vividly recall the children being captivated by the film footage. I can also remember how eager they were to engage in the whale-related maths challenges that followed. Ever since, I have been using similar clips (from ground-breaking BBC series such as Blue Planet, Life and Planet Earth) across the length and breadth of the primary curriculum. The clips are like little nuggets of gold. The children are immediately gripped by the audio-visual content, their attention is held and their enthusiasm for learning is ignited.
With such a vast and ever-growing digital archive of BBC Natural History film clips to choose from, bringing the outside in and exposing children to the wonders of natural world is now at the fingertips of all educators.
Creating the Natural Curriculum
Determined that teachers utilise the BBC natural history archive to its full potential, I approached the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) with the idea of creating a website. (ERA licences the use of broadcast recordings for non-commercial educational use.) The idea being that the website would combine captivating NH clips with high quality lessons that were linked to the National Curriculum for England and Wales. Initially, animal-themed grammar lessons would feature on the site. It was a project that the Educational Recording Agency were keen to be a part of from the outset, and, through their financial and technical support, our website was launched in March 2020.
Since its launch, the Natural Curriculum’s grammar lessons have reached out to thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of children across the UK. During lockdown periods, where remote learning became the norm, the Natural Curriculum showed young people what our incredible planet had to offer, bringing the outside world into the limited spaces that they were occupying. The wondrous animals and far-reaching landscapes particularly appealed to children living in cities, and to those children who had not had the opportunity to explore much of the natural world beyond their own home.
It is important to note that the Natural Curriculum has been a truly collaborative effort. Many dedicated teachers from Bristol and around the country have either written lessons for the site or have given invaluable feedback on it.
Despite being a relative newcomer on the educational resource scene, the Natural Curriculum has already won several prestigious awards: it was recently named a 4* Winner at the Teach Primary Awards. This followed awards earlier in the year, when the Natural Curriculum won both of its categories at the prestigious 2021 Education Resources Awards ceremony.
As it continues to branch out into different subjects and topic areas, the Natural Curriculum is a beast that will not be tamed. As more animals become threatened with extinction and landscapes become degraded, the Natural Curriculum will show children why they must do their very best to engage with the natural world and take their own steps to safeguard it.
They must not follow the same path that those before them have trodden.
David Millington is the creator of the Natural Curriculum. He is currently working as a Year 3 teacher at Cotham Gardens Primary School in Bristol. The school is in the process of developing an exciting climate change curriculum with the support of a co-operative working group that includes the voices of children, staff, parents and carers, senior leaders and governors.
Lawrence Weston has been busy writing their own Community Climate Action Plan over the summer and, after months of events, workshops and activities, it will be ready to be published in January 2022. We are one of six communities in Bristol who are pioneering this new approach to tackling the climate crisis at a local level.
We have been co-producing our climate action plan with local residents in the driving seat, after all they are the local experts who know their community the best. It is imperative to give residents the lead when planning any kind of community action, residents have to feel that they are part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
We began this journey in the Spring of 2021 right in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced us to rethink the way in which we wanted to engage our residents. Covid cases were high in our ward, lockdowns imposed, and schools closed.
Why a Community Climate Action Plan?
There are two important outcomes of our Climate plan for Lawrence Weston. The first is our community’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030, but secondly, and most importantly, is the co-benefits that comes with delivering this plan. For example, more opportunities to access green spaces, better public transport, warmer homes, training within the green economy, financial benefits, improving mental and physical health, and better-quality food. All of these will improve overall health and wellbeing for our residents whilst reducing carbon emissions.
It comes to no surprise that housing, public transport, jobs and skills, food and fuel poverty, and green spaces all feature strongly in our plan. Residents were at the forefront of deciding what the issues were, and how they were impacting on their everyday life but, more importantly, what the actions should be in addressing these issues, as well as the journey on how we will achieve carbon neutrality.
Projects being delivered
We have many community projects that we are currently delivering, including our community litter picking group, Lawrence Weston in Bloom, community food growing, cycling facilities, as well as building 36 affordable energy efficient homes and a new community hub. We are also a Going for Gold champion, which means we are only one of 25 organisations in Bristol who have taken action across all six areas as our commitment to ensure we have a more sustainable, fairer and healthier food system that benefits people, communities and planet.
England’s largest wind turbine
One project that Ambition Lawrence Weston has been working on is building our own community owned wind turbine. This project came out as one solution to address fuel poverty during our 2017 community plan consultation. The wind turbine will be the biggest on-shore wind turbine in the UK, and will generate enough energy for 3,500 homes and save 1,965 tonnes of CO2 a year. That’s enough energy to power all the homes in Lawrence Weston! We expect the wind turbine to be spinning by November 2022.
Tackling climate change requires collective action: it requires decision makers to put a sustainable future first; it requires businesses to work under the ethos of leave no trace and it requires the many to make all choices informed by their impact on the planet.
Pledgeball rallies the many, by making visible the impact that we can have as a collective. Pledgeball works primarily with football fans for two reasons. Firstly, I love football. Secondly, the football community has the potential to rapidly initiate significant change.
Bristol City FC were the first professional club to partner with Pledgeball back in April 2021. Just one Ashton Gate-worth of fans reducing their shower time to 5 minutes saves the same amount of carbon emissions as taking over 2,000 cars off the road. Then there’s the unmeasurable impact of this behaviour change filtering out into each fan’s own sphere of influence. Conversations about climate change with friends, relatives, colleagues plant the seed that grows into the majority living sustainably.
This is how Pledgeball works.
Each match day fans make one or a number of sustainable lifestyle pledges – pledges that range from switching to a reusable cup, to going vegan two days per week, to installing solar panels. The team of fans that pledges to save the most emissions wins that fixture and the cumulative amount they pledge to save determines their team’s place within the Pledgeball League. Robins fans have so far pledged to save 143,239kg of carbon emissions per year and lie in third in the Pledgeball League, behind two other Pledgeball partners.
But the true power lies in the grassroots communities – and not just in football either. Therefore, Pledgeball is open to anyone: any grassroots team, any group, any club can have a listing at pledgeball.org, which lets them pledge together, support each other with the changes they choose to make and see the collective impact of carrying out these pledges.
Pledgeball’s potential for initiating a significant, holistic shift in mindset has been proven, and its work continues to be informed and assessed by academic research.
It would not take many of us to live as sustainably as possible for it to start to become the norm. This will reduce carbon emissions both through our own individual choices and through the pressure applied to businesses, organisations and governments.
We all care about something, from family to football, and every one of those things will be affected by climate change. As individuals, we have the power to create change, through our choices and our conversations. Mobilising our existing communities will significantly accelerate our move to a sustainable future.
The Global Goals Centre’s #Bristol17 Campaign, which I was very happy to be a part of, illustrates this last point beautifully – look out for posters of us 17 around Bristol and our films playing in Millennium Square.
Since July 2020 I’ve been working with young people from my community in BS13 to explore the real-world actions that we must all take if we are to stand any chance of mitigating the global climate emergency.
My role as Heart of BS13’s Climate Action Practitioner has catapulted me onto my own journey, and it’s been so powerful to share what I’ve been learning about low carbon futures and green economy jobs with young people who have their own dreams and ambitions for how they will play their part in a changing world.
One thing that has become really clear to me is how communities already experiencing financial and social hardships will face even more of an uphill struggle as the climate and ecological emergency unfolds. Energy, food, and transport costs will get higher. As new green economy opportunities emerge, investment in education, skills and training will (unless there is a concerted effort made to include deprived communities) remain in already affluent and engaged areas of the city, leaving us even further behind.
I’ve grown up all my life in Hartcliffe and have my own first-hand experience of how the inequality here is systemic and transgenerational. Children grow up in a vicious cycle of poverty that in turn incubates Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that go on to affect educational outcomes. Fewer than 2% of young people from this area go into higher education with most working a lifetime in low skill, low pay jobs. Limited work opportunities place an immense burden on physical and emotional health, which then feeds into the same cycle for future generations. If the only jobs that children and young people see are the low pay, low skill jobs of their family members, then aspiration, self-belief, hope, and opportunity are simply words. Put simply, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
Our mission at Heart of BS13 is to disrupt this systemic, transgenerational inequality, by bringing together our knowledge of and passion for this community with the innovations that must happen because of the climate emergency. We want to ensure that BS13 benefits from climate action opportunities rather than afterthoughts.
Over the coming years we will be creating partnerships and initiatives that ensure exposure to new technologies, fresh thinking, and practical training. 60% of the green economy jobs that will be needed do not yet exist. This is our chance to join the dots between inequality, life-chances, and the climate and ecological emergency.
We want to make sure that from their very earliest years, BS13 children face the climate and ecological emergency equipped with the same advantages as their middle-class peers and create a new narrative for this community through education and jobs and improving the life chances of those who follow.
Find out how to get involved and volunteer with Heart of BS13 here.
We are facing the need to urgently address the twin issues of the housing crisis and the climate emergency in our city. We must do both and we must ensure that we are not leaving people behind in our approach.
Bristol City Council owns and manages over 28,500 homes. The rents and service charges collected are used to provide services to the tenants and leaseholders living in these homes. They are also used to repair, maintain, and improve the homes, communal areas, blocks and estates. They can also be used to build new homes to meet housing needs.
Retrofitting Bristol’s housing stock
Over the last five years, we have invested over £42 million in retrofitting our council housing stock. This has included:
6,500 homes with improved heating systems
800 houses and 1,000 flats in blocks with improved external wall insulation
1,000 new roofs with improved insulation
2,500 double glazed replacements
2,000 loft insulation top ups
99% homes have double glazing and 98% of cavity walls are filled,
Our independent tenant energy advice service also saved tenants a total of £192,000 in the last financial year.
Retrofit forms an important part of the strategy. Latest estimates suggest the cost could be as high as £540 million to do what we need to our whole council housing stock. As the Mayor has recently reported, the cost to decarbonise Bristol’s economy could be as high as £9 billion. This may still be a conservative estimate.
We are signed up to support the Great Homes Upgrade, as we know that significant support will be needed from national government to deliver at scale and at the pace needed.
Help shape Bristol’s plan for housing
People in Bristol are being asked for their views to help shape the 30-year plan for providing and maintaining council homes in Bristol. Views are being sought through a survey and through the opportunity for people to select their priorities for investing in council homes by creating a suggested budget.
How do we balance our local contribution to continuing our retrofit programme alongside other priorities? We have a limited pot of money to balance a range of resident / prospective resident priorities, including maintenance, replacing kitchens and potentially bathrooms, the need to get homes built for some 16,000 families on the housing register, alongside approximately 1,000 households currently in temporary accommodation.
The choices may be seen as easy in the eyes of some, and we must ensure we are taking the time to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes when thinking about balancing the needs we are to address.
We’re asking you to let us know what your priorities would be for spending and raising the money that we need. How do we get the right balance between investing in the standard of our existing homes, investing to reduce carbon emissions, and investing to build new homes? We need your view to help shape the plan for investing in council homes across our city.
One fifth of the UK’s damaging greenhouse gas emissions come from road transport and that’s a problem that I’m determined we must address here in Bristol.
There’s much we can do as individuals to reduce our own transport carbon footprint and I recommend a look at the Council’s dedicated Climate Hub website to get some ideas.
However, if we regard this as a challenge for individuals only then we ignore the fact that many of our citizens have limited choices, perhaps due to disability, age, gender or job requirements. We need to take bold action now to open up choices for all and incentivise the movement away from carbon intensive modes of travel and into more sustainable modes.
In practice, what does this mean?
Active travel: We need better infrastructure for walking and cycling. Our Liveable Neighbourhoods strategy will offer an approach to transforming residential areas into places where active travel is an appealing option.
Buses (the vehicles themselves): We need to work with our bus operators to decarbonise their vehicles. This is happening now, building on the successful Bus Deal which brought in biomethane buses on the Number 2 route. Options now being looked at include electric and hydrogen powered vehicles.
Buses (infrastructure): Building on the Bus Deal, we need to make further changes to our strategic roads which will give priority to buses over more damaging modes of transport. Further plans for the A37/A4018 are about to be released for public consultation. Improving the reliability, speed, and the cost of using the bus cannot be achieved simply by increasing the number of vehicles. That would simply lead to yet more congestion.
Buses (network): A network based around radial services might work for a town but in a city the size of Bristol we also need orbital routes with hubs where travellers can change between modes of transport. In addition to this, more integrated ticketing and accurate travel information is being planned to improve patronage of all forms of public transport. Read WECA’s Bus Service Improvement Plan, which was recently submitted to the Department for Transport, here.
Mass transit: Our vision for public transport must be bold. There are strategic corridors in the city where it simply won’t be possible to achieve the level of segregation for buses that would make them the attractive alternative to cars that they need to be. We must plan underground alternatives for some corridors.
To achieve all these things, we need increased Government funding. We also need Bristol residents to embrace the citywide challenge we face to reach Net Zero by 2030 and the recognition that we all need to live and travel differently.