Homes for Ukraine

Bristol is a proud City of Sanctuary: a place of welcome and safety for all, including people fleeing violence and persecution, working to alleviate hardship and celebrate diversity and inclusion. Since April 2021, we have resettled 75 people through the UK resettlement scheme, as well as providing support to hundreds of Afghans following the fall of their government last summer.

We are working with the city’s refugee charities and other partners to support Ukrainians already in Bristol. Through shows of support, including the lighting of City Hall and joint statements of solidarity with Ukraine and mayors there, our city is sending a message. But I also want to highlight practical ways that Bristolians can consider showing their support.

National government has now announced a new sponsorship scheme called Homes for Ukraine, which allows Ukrainians with no family ties in the UK to be sponsored by individuals who can offer them a home. Applications to become a host opened on Monday 14 March at https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/. On Friday 18 March, Phase One of the visa application route will open for sponsors and named contacts to apply to the scheme. Security checks and safeguarding measures will be put in place as further details are confirmed by the Government. In less than 24 hours, more than 100,000 people in the UK have offered to take part.

Ukrainians will be eligible to live and work here for up to three years, and access benefits, healthcare, employment and other support. Sponsors are asked to provide rooms within a family home or self contained accommodation rent free, they are not asked to provide food and subsistence. Sponsors need to be UK citizens or have at least six months leave to remain in the UK, and have a named person who they wish to sponsor; they will be eligible for payments of £350 per month for up to 12 months. There is no cap on places, and council are expected to receive funding of £10,500 per person (with extra available for child education).

We would also ask anyone who can offer practical support to get in touch – particularly those with Ukrainian language skills – to help us coordinate, support, and welcome people to Bristol. bristolrefugeeteam@bristol.gov.uk

Bristol residents who do have friends and family in Ukraine, who they would like to sponsor, please contact the national website  https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/

We welcome this move by the Government, but we see this as an ad hoc and top-down approach, launched because the Home Office failed to respond quickly to our obligations. The political decisions that created a “hostile environment” for refugees has left us as a country with a system unable to respond to humanitarian crises. There is a reason this work has had to be moved from the Home Office to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities: it’s because delivery happens at a local authority level.

I shared at Full Council that our condemnation of Putin’s oppressive, unequal regime and his aggression is unequivocable and support for the Ukrainian people is unconditional. I cannot unsee some of the scenes I have seen. I have deep concerns about the treatment of black and brown migrants caught up in this crisis. This is significant for Ukraine, bordering countries, destinations beyond them and journalists.

It is painful that within the scenes of desperation of those seeking to flee sites of conflict in the Ukraine, there are distressing accounts of those seemingly being denied the same opportunity to seek refuge on the basis of race. The coverage by some media is inconsistent with they way they reported on humanitarian disasters in other parts of the world. Afghans in Bristol, some in hotel accommodation, are still deserving of our compassion. We must be careful we don’t subconsciously and accidentally endorse a two-tier refugee system in the world. Everyone is deserving of safety. We have raised this in the conversations we’ve been a part of this week, including the World Economic Forum, LGA, Mayors Migration Council and a convening of European Mayors.

Bristolians have already shown support to Ukrainians in many ways. Primary schools have held cake sales, organisations and councillors have set up collection points, and members of the public have supported the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal for donations. Supporting funding mechanisms, such as DEC or local funds, are an important way of supporting people in the crisis.

I know that we will continue to step up and help welcome those who need our support at this difficult time. As a City of Hope we’ll do whatever we can.

Celebrating Commonwealth Day

On International Commonwealth Day, we celebrate our links with 53 other Commonwealth countries. I currently represent our United Kingdom on the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), which brings together cities and regions from every continent. Such city diplomacy is essential to help shape the policy context that impacts on our city and our citizens, on issues such as migration, climate change, and trade.

People who are from/have heritage links to Commonwealth countries make a huge contribution to Bristol. Some five per cent of Bristol’s population were born in other Commonwealth countries. With over 60% of the 2.4 billion people living in the Commonwealth are under the age of 30, there is real potential for young people to shape future collaboration and deliver a common future across the Commonwealth.

As we continue to work with local, national, and international partners to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies, this theme is crucial for our planet’s future. Through CLGF, I have been supporting the push for Sustainable Urbanisation and encouraging all cities and governments to follow Bristol’s lead in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

75% of emissions come from cities, but so does innovation. Necessity is proving to be the mother of design, as Amartya Sen said. We are developing more just and green economic development, alongside more efficient energy, waste, and transport infrastructure. By 2050, an extra 2.5 billion people will be living in towns and cities, with nearly 50% of those new urban dwellers projected to be in the Commonwealth.

This year, we can look forward to more opportunities to strengthen our Commonwealth ties. The Commonwealth Games will take place in Birmingham this summer, giving us the chance to celebrate sport and the positive role it can play locally and around the world. We will also be celebrating the 60th anniversary of Jamaican independence, with the return of St Paul’s Carnival events giving us another chance to celebrate our heritage across the Commonwealth.

One of Bristol’s newest International Ambassadors, Marti Burgess, said:

The links we have because of the Commonwealth benefit us as a city. The connections that diaspora communities living in Bristol have are very valuable and should be fostered to promote trade and foreign direct investment, create businesses and spur entrepreneurship. I travelled to the Caribbean as part of a DIT trade trip and realised that because of my Jamaican background, and my many visits to the Caribbean, I had a better understanding of the opportunities being presented to us.

Marti Burgess with the Head of the Guyanese Chamber of Commerce

The vision for Western Harbour

Credit: Matt Whiteley/DesignWest

Bristol’s world-famous harbour has been evolving ever since it was built over 200 years ago, and its western end is no exception. From the creation of the Harbour Railway and the Clifton Rocks Railway to transport goods in the late 19th century, to the building of the city’s 1960s road network, this area of Bristol has seen near-constant change as the Bristol’s needs have changed.

The Western Harbour regeneration project is the next phase in this history of change. Since last summer, we have been working hard to listen to people from across Bristol. We’ve been asking them about what their hopes and aspirations are as we start to plan for change in this area that could bring new homes, jobs, a transport system, and public spaces that will help Bristol continue to thrive in the 21st century. 

We took a creative approach with the engagement, in the hope that people from all walks of life, including those that don’t normally get involved, would share their vision. Hundreds of you took the time to comment online, attend workshops, go on guided walks, and a visit a month-long exhibition. 

Credit: Matt Whiteley/DesignWest

All these conversations have helped to shape a draft vision for the future of Western Harbour. It sets out broad principles that you have told us are important to the city, and it’s clear that there are certain things you want us to prioritise: the future role of the bonded warehouses, accommodating the much-loved Riverside Garden Centre and the Pump Track; the importance of public space, and ensuring that new homes include a high proportion of affordable housing for the city. You also want us to keep the area’s waterside and industrial heritage at the heart of proposals.  

Western Harbour is an opportunity for Bristol to set an example of how forward-thinking, climate resilient regeneration can be done at the heart of a major city. As we plan for the homes and jobs we need, we must also tackle the climate and ecological emergencies. We are committed to a pioneering net-zero development at Western Harbour, that can lead the way for our city’s sustainable future, including a biodiversity net-gain through integrating wildlife friendly habitats into the public realm. Flood resilience will be sensitively integrated into the landscape, better protecting homes and businesses from flooding at Western Harbour and along the River Avon. We’re also committed to delivering the homes Bristol needs, which is why we’re proposing that 50% of all new homes built here are affordable.  

Credit: Alexie Segal

We’ve deliberately taken a long-term, measured approach to this project. What you won’t find in the vision are any detailed plans or designs for Western Harbour, so you won’t see where new homes, jobs or infrastructure might go just yet. We want to make sure that we have a vision that the city is behind before we put pen to paper with more detail. Following your feedback over the next six weeks, we will finalise the vision. After this point, later in 2022, it will then guide a period of detailed master planning that will shape the future of Western Harbour. Of course, we will continue to engage with and listen to the ideas and concerns of people from across the city, so that we can create a welcoming neighbourhood that both celebrates its heritage and is fit for the 21st century. 

You can read more about the draft vision for Western Harbour and share your thoughts in the online consultation until 26 April 2022 at HarbourHopes.co.uk 

Bristol Climate Smart Cities finalists

Today’s blog is by Jessie Carter, Projects and Policy Lead at Bristol Housing Festival

The Bristol Climate Smart Cities Challenge has entered an exciting phase of co-creation following the announcement of 14 finalists on 20 January, after technologists, businesses, and investors were invited to enter the competition and contribute to a new model for delivering affordable, carbon-neutral homes.

This is the next phase in the international city-based open innovation competition, hosted by Nesta Challenges and UN-Habitat, in which four cities were chosen to invite innovators from around the world to help solve their challenges relating to greenhouse gas emissions. Other participating cities are Bogota, Colombia; Curitiba, Brazil; and Makindye Ssabagabo, Uganda.

At an introductory webinar last week, the Bristol finalists not only heard from the project team, which included Bristol One City, Nesta Challenges, UN-Habitat, and others, but listened to each other’s elevator pitches, the beginning of what will arguably be the most crucial part of the challenge. At this stage, each finalist will need to go beyond their own proposal and form teams to collaborate to support system change, leading up to the announcement of the winning teams at the World Forum in Poland in June.

The brief was clear that the barrier to this was not just the technology itself (we have an increasing number of emerging green technology solutions), but the underpinning economic model used to deliver housing by multiple stakeholders that isn’t currently viable. We may be able to build beautiful carbon neutral homes but if we can’t make these affordable – and tackle the very real social inequalities that manifest themselves in housing – then we’ve stopped short of the system change the most vulnerable in our society need.

Secondly, the brief recognised that to achieve system change requires collaboration. We had a lot of questions and clarifications over the application period. That wasn’t unexpected: we knew we had put forward the wicked challenge which our city faces. As the applications rolled in, assessors and judges were looking for not just the capability of each organisation, but the extent to which they were willing to build a coalition for change with other finalists. We were excited to receive 47 applications from around the world and 14 finalists were selected, three of which are local Bristol organisations and twelve are UK based.

From Bristol, the Bristol Community Land Trust and We Can Make presented their pitches to see the community-led housing model become part of this solution, as well as Brighter Places housing association. Other finalists included housebuilders Greencore Construction, Igloo Regeneration, Ilke Homes, EDAROTH, and Innerspace Homes Group. Social enterprise Bioregional Hill are pioneering an innovative affordable housing model, while green energy schemes are offered by Microgrid Foundry and Swedish company Ecoclime, and bringing data solutions are Changebuilding and Parametric Solutions. Finally, Pyterra brings an innovative finance model. We are excited by each of these finalists, but even more so about the potential they bring together.

As the co-creation phase progresses, our hope is that the finalists will work to collectively understand the systemic challenges that Bristol City Council and other commissioners of social housing have grappled with and become ‘more than the sum of their parts’ – addressing multiple points of the system to develop an ecosystem solution and bring in city stakeholders to help them achieve this goal. This will look like considering technology solutions alongside financial and outcome led commissioning supported with data solutions (among others). Ultimately, it will mean finding a new way of delivering housing based on value (and not just cost) so we can combat the climate and ecological emergencies while never losing site of those who don’t have a secure or adequate home in which to live.  

In the next phase of the competition, the ambition of Bristol City Council and the project partners is that the winning teams will be funded to complete a system demonstrator. For us, the best outcome of this competition will be that we don’t just drive change but see affordable, carbon neutral houses built in our city.

International Women’s Day

Today’s blog is by Councillor Helen Holland – Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care & Integrated Care Systems, with responsibility for Women’s Safety, and Labour Councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood.

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) seems to have a particular resonance, and at the joyous – and back in-person – celebration on Saturday, there was space for women from across our city to reflect on the last couple of years, and the current situation. 

There is no doubt that Covid and the pandemic’s ongoing impact has hit women harder. Women make up the biggest proportion of carers, both paid and unpaid, and were on the frontline during the worst of the crisis. Many women had to make the decision to live away from their families in order to protect those they cared for, and worked longer hours. Many were also expected to juggle working from home while home-schooling their children. 

Saturday’s events included a panel discussion discussing the ‘double disadvantages’ faced by disabled women. Bristol Women’s Commission are working with WECIL on some research on this, and we heard some fascinating insights from that. In the discussion everyone recognised the “intersectionality” of gender with other protected characteristics, and expressed our commitment to hearing more from those with lived experience to shape our policies, in everything from public transport to commissioning care providers. 

We also know that the incidence of domestic violence increased hugely, and it was good to hear our Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Shelford, reiterate the priority that this work is being given by Avon and Somerset Police, led by the Chief Constable, Sarah Crew. 

This past year has also seen the shocking murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and over a hundred other women, so the work that we are doing, along with our partners, to make Bristol a women-safe city, feels as if it has never been more important. Next week will see the launch of the Women’s Safety Charter, and as this initiative progresses, we must draw on the experience and expertise of all women and women’s organisations right across our city. 

As we know, and as we heard in many of the discussions on Saturday at the IWD event, having more women in decision-making roles improves those decisions, and I have always been passionate about everyone’s responsibility in encouraging women to put themselves forward for all sorts of elected positions, and roles in public life, such as the magistracy, school governors, and health bodies. 

Our Cabinet in Bristol has women in half of the portfolios, leading on critical issues for the city: including climate change, equalities, public health, children’s and adult’s social care. It is a privilege to sit alongside these committed colleagues, who are working to #BreakTheBias every day, but we can’t do it alone. So when you see leaders in your community, those volunteers who always go the extra mile, the women making opportunities for young people, remember: #AskHerToStand 

Giant plans for affordable housing delivery

Today’s blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes and Labour Councillor for Horfield

Goram and Vincent were the giants of legend who created Bristol and some of its features, such as the Avon Gorge. They were the inspiration for the name of our Council owned housing company – Goram Homes – and now we are helping them to change the face of Bristol again.

This week at Cabinet, we approved the Goram Homes pipeline of council-owned sites to be developed by Goram and its partners. These sites will now be brought forward for new market rate and affordable homes.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the need for new homes in Bristol, particularly affordable homes, and what the council and its partners are doing about it. We recently approved ambitious proposals to accelerate affordable housing delivery in Bristol to deliver 1,000 affordable homes each year from 2024. Goram Homes and their pipeline are going to play a major role in us hitting this target.

Because the land in the pipeline is council-owned, we have a greater opportunity to build the kind of homes that are needed in the city. Through the partnership model that Goram uses, we can also build developments at a faster pace, using new approaches like Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to deliver homes that are more sustainable than those made with traditional building methods.

These aspirations are reflected in Goram’s updated pipeline. To take the city’s biggest and most ambitious future housing site – Hengrove Park – as an example, by adding this site to Goram’s pipeline, Bristol will benefit from over 700 new affordable homes when the build is completed. A significant proportion of these will be social rented council homes. That is 50% of the overall total of just over 1,400 sustainable new homes that will be delivered. In fact, out of the 2,992 new homes in Goram’s list of sites, 48% of them will be affordable – a far higher percentage than is likely with developers operating under a more ‘normal’ market model.

Affordable to whom?

We’re very aware that when we talk about “affordable” homes, it means very different things to different people. Put simply, it means housing for eligible households who cannot afford to pay market rents or are unable to buy homes at market value. Types of affordable housing include social rented properties, affordable rented properties, and shared ownership homes.

National policy defines affordable rents as 20% below the market rent. In Bristol, we’re committed to going further than this. Our priority is Social Rent, which is the most affordable of rented homes. Affordable housing providers in Bristol also cap each new letting at Local Housing Allowance levels, which are well below 80% of the market rent.

If you want to know more about affordable housing, this blog from the Bristol Housing Festival is a good place to start.

The council and Goram Homes’ approach will remain focused on building and supporting mixed, balanced communities. That means a mix of affordable and market homes, with sustainability and community at their heart. By delivering homes in such a way, we can make sure that we build the homes we need to give people from across Bristol the opportunity to call somewhere home.

World Wildlife Day 2022

Today’s guest blog is from Ian Barrett, Chief Executive of Avon Wildlife Trust. Photo credit: JonCraig.co.uk

It’s World Wildlife Day today and I’m delighted to celebrate the work that communities across Bristol are doing to bring wildlife back to the city.

Action by individuals and communities is essential to restoring lost wildlife such as swifts, starlings, hedgehogs and butterflies, which are all far less abundant than they used to be.

Restoring nature is important for wildlife and also for people. Healthy ecosystems provide clean air and water and lots of the essentials of life that we depend upon. Bees and other insects for instance pollinate much of the food that we eat. 

Wilder Communities

Communities across Bristol are getting involved in restoring local wildlife sites such as Hengrove Mounds, Dundry Slopes, and Lawrence Weston Moor through the National Lottery funded My Wild City project. Avon Wildlife Trust is supporting groups to get close to nature, manage habitats for wildlife and improve access with paths, steps and information leaflets.

It’s only by everyone taking action for nature that we’ll be able to restore the city’s lost wildlife. Our aim is to help develop leaders and establish groups and communities that can continue to look after these important places for years to come.

Wilder Spaces

Bristol has lots of fantastic green spaces that provide vital habitats for wildlife and protecting them is crucial to bringing wildlife back.

We know that Bristol is facing a housing crisis and is aiming to build tens of thousands of new homes. This cannot be done at the expense of essential wildlife habitats. To provide more homes while protecting wildlife, the city needs to avoid urban sprawl and redevelop existing developed and brownfield sites at much greater density than present.

I’m delighted that the Council have decided to save the green space at the Western Slopes from development. This is an essential site in Bristol’s wildlife networks, linking the Northern Slopes with Hengrove Mounds, Manor Woods Valley, Crox Bottom and ultimately Dundry Slopes. It has a wealth of wildflowers and insect life and supports many species of bats. The Friends of The Western Slopes have campaigned to raise awareness of the Slopes’ wildlife value and secure their protection. They show what can be done when communities come together to fight for wildlife.

Team Wilder

We’re looking for everyone to get involved in bringing wildlife back. We want to make taking action for nature as normal as doing your recycling, or watching your favourite TV show.

Bristol is a great place to be doing this, as the city’s latest quality of life survey shows that 87% of people are concerned about the loss of wildlife in Bristol and 53% have already taken action to create space for nature.  

Later this year, we’ll be launching Team Wilder as a way to join with others in taking action for nature across the city. In the meantime you can get involved in the “friends of” group at your local wildlife site, join your neighbours in creating hedgehog corridors, and find lots of other ideas for things you can do in your home and community on our wildlife actions page.     

Inclusive growth: a city for all

From building new affordable homes to protecting jobs; paying and promoting the real Living Wage to improving public transport options; supporting schools to tackling the Climate and Ecological Emergencies, we want to keep delivering inclusive and sustainable growth. Building a better Bristol where everyone from every community can participate in the city’s economy and share in its success, regardless of their background, is our mission as an administration.

So many projects across Bristol help do just that, striving to leave nobody behind as we continue to work together as we recover from the pandemic. Today I’m highlighting just three, which work alongside Council and One City programmes like our Digital Inclusion scheme, which provides at least 3,000 laptops and training to help reduce digital poverty in Bristol. Through Bristol WORKS, which works with local employers, we have provided some 16,500 experiences of work to Bristolians since launching – including virtually during the pandemic – and this week had Polar Preet visit City Academy and St Bernadette’s to help inspire young people too. If you are a Bristol-based employer and want to get involved in Bristol WORKS, email: WORKS@bristol.gov.uk

Stepping Up

Our multi-award-winning leadership programme, Stepping Up, is currently recruiting for its fifth cohort. Stepping Up was inspired by leadership development initiatives at Harvard and other leading Business Schools, and Baroness MacGregor-Smith’s Race in the workplace report. It works to diversify the face of leadership across our city through training for Disabled people; Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Communities; and women.

By the end of 2022, we will have a talent pool of 300 diverse leaders making an impact in Bristol and beyond. More than 60% of previous participants have reported career progress since their time on the programme, including promotion to senior leadership roles.

This year’s programme will include a ‘Career Passport’, global virtual mentoring, a stretch assignment based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and a world-class virtual learning platform.

Read more about the programme in this case study by the Local Government Association.

Lloyds Banking Group

Working with Black South West Network, and after discussions with Black-led businesses and entrepreneurs, Lloyds Banking Group launched two pilots in October. Their mentoring programme, connects senior Business Relationship Managers with businesses for six months, alongside a monthly banking surgery at the Coach House in St Pauls to provide early stage advice and support.

Interventions like these can prove essential to build trust and engagement between banks and community, and to develop business and financial expertise in entrepreneurs’ networks – adding to initiatives like their Digital Academy to get more people online and their Career Taster sessions, which see 15-18 year-olds explore a day in the life of bank, marketing, communications managers and more. Lloyds’ Digital Academy is free to use, and is not just for Lloyds’ customers, alongside Money Management Support.

As well as these initiatives in Bristol, Lloyds Banking Group’s Black Business Advisory Committee has held listening session around the country to better understand the challenges faced by Black business owners and entrepreneurs, and produced the Black. British. In Business & Proud Report.

Strive Internships

In 2020, amid the pandemic and rising unemployment among young people, particularly young Black students, we identified a need to create more opportunities for people at risk of being left behind. Working with Hargreaves Lansdown and the University of the West of England, we launched the West of England Black Interns Pilot. The scheme created 45 paid internships, across 18 organisations in the region, including Bristol City Council and my mayoral office.

Every organisation taking part – including the Police, NHS, Burges Salmon, and Ghyston – said they would like to be involved again, and 100% of interns would recommend this internship to other students. You can read more in the 2021 Impact Report (below) or hear directly from Abraham, Musa, Adila, Biniyam, and Liam, five of the Black Interns at the Council.

Building on the success of the first year, we have expanded the programme to become the Strive Internship scheme. This year we’re aiming for organisations across the region to recruit 75 Black Interns to start work this summer, and Hargreaves Lansdown are currently assessing applications.

Empty Homes Week

Nationally, we are seeing a year-on-year rise in the number of long-term empty homes, with almost 270,000 empty. In Bristol alone, there are around 1,000 homes currently unoccupied. In the context of a housing crisis, reoccupying these empty properties is a top priority. This week marks National Empty Homes Week, helping highlight the issue, as well as the work being done to reduce the number of empty homes in Bristol.

We know how important this issue is to communities, and the detrimental impact empty or derelict homes can have on local areas. Our Private Renting Team has a range of tools at their disposal to get properties reoccupied, ranging from support services and incentives to enforcement action. Last year, the team helped bring around 500 empty homes back into use, providing more homes for Bristolians who need them. However, we recognise there’s still a long way to go.

As well as supporting landlords to find a suitable tenant and write up tenancy agreements, we incentivise reletting of homes. Through Lendology, Bristol properties have benefited from some of the £17 million lent to South West homeowners for repairs, improvements, and energy efficiency/renewable energy measures, with deferred options to give owners space to rent, sell, or move in before repayments start.

These services have meant most empty properties are reoccupied within two years. This compares to us reletting empty council homes requiring extensive major works on average within 77 days – less than two and a half months – as of December 2021. Last year our Council relet 1,081 homes, despite the challenges around people moving house during the pandemic.

I’m also pleased that we’ve taken the additional step of introducing triple council tax rates for long-term empty homes, which makes re-letting or selling a home a more attractive option for owners. Unoccupied, unfurnished properties are now liable to pay their full council tax, rising to double rates if a property is empty for two years, and triple rates if still empty after five. This  increases their chance of being reoccupied, alongside discounts available for uninhabitable properties that are empty while major works take place.

If incentives and advice don’t work, the team may be able take enforcement action, such as issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), meaning the council can acquire the property without the consent of the owner. The owner is paid for the property, but it means we can get it back on the market and available for people to occupy.

Our work in this area is not going unnoticed. Our Syrian Resettlement Team and Private Housing Team recently received an award from the Empty Homes Network, celebrating their work to bring empty properties to regulation standard and then provide them to refugees. This scheme has helped provide sanctuary to refugees escaping violence and given families with children a home, as Bristol rehouses 75 refugees through the UK Resettlement Scheme each year. Having a safe home has allowed refugees to integrate with their communities, take on language learning courses and have a future without fear of persecution.

Fixing the Bristol housing crisis requires dynamic solutions, utilising all available options. Whilst building new homes is critically important, bringing empty properties back into use can relieve some of that pressure on Bristol’s 42 square miles of space. I’m proud of the way teams across the council are working together, and with others, to increase the number of homes available to those who need them. Reducing the number of empty properties is just one in the many steps we are taking to provide good quality, affordable homes for Bristolians.

You can report empty properties at www.no-use-emptywest.co.uk

Hartcliffe City Farm signs new lease

Transformations, that with hindsight seem like rapid revolutions, can seem no more than a series of tiny steps when you’re in the midst of them. It is worth remembering to celebrate those tiny steps in order to keep the momentum towards the changes we want to see. One such little step forward has been taken in our plans to revitalise the Hartcliffe City Farm, as we’ve signed an interim lease for the main site: 6.5 acres on the southern fringe of the city. Hoorah!

Owned by Bristol City Council, the site is brimming with potential to be a thriving hub of community activity that will transform the neighbourhood and become a player in the whole city’s life. In the long term, it will become a multi-faceted place that brings together the local community with training, education, cultural events, gardens, and, of course, farm animals. All framed within the context of a sustainable enterprise that is serious about addressing the threats of climate change.

The redevelopment of the site has started with a partnership between Heart of BS13 and Windmill Hill City Farm. That spirit of partnership will continue through the growth of the activities in the space: most importantly as a partnership with the local community. The engagement started back in 2019 when the Council developed the community asset transfer brief. Local people were clear that the site should deliver on three priorities: access for all; engaging with animals and nature; providing education and employment.

Since then more outreach has been undertaken. Already over 1,000 local people have been engaged in thinking about the future, the impact of climate change and, in particular, the role of the farm in helping to tackle it. Others are taking direct action, helping out in volunteer work sessions to get the site ready. More than 50 local people have volunteered their time – all small steps towards a bigger change.

Having been fallow for some time, the site has needed considerable attention. Beds have been cleared and re-laid to form the basis of a horticulture enterprise: it will grow food and cut flowers. The buildings on site have been surveyed, and work to make them safe and useful is underway. Education spaces are being put together to enable school visits and early years groups. Each tiny step is moving the project forward.

In the spring we hope to open the gates to more general visits from the public. What they’ll find will be a work in progress – a place taking many ‘tiny steps’ towards a transformed future.