Category Archives: Projects

An overview of some projects I am working with, along with testimonials.

Northern Slopes: UK Best Parks

Voting is now open for UK’s Best Park, as voted by YOU! 2017. Voting closes at 5pm on Friday 3rd November and the winner of UK’s Best Park 2017 will be announced at the Fields in Trust Awards at Lord’s Cricket Ground on Wednesday 29th November. Please vote for the Northern Slopes, Bristol in the Best Parks competition under the South West region.

The Northern Slopes, Bristol: This is beautiful open space in Knowle has a stunning view of Bristol, which is not usually seen. It is little-known to people who do not live in the area. There is increasingly less space in this area so Northern Slopes needs love and respect. Please vote using this website link: Northern Slopes Scroll down the webpage to find the Northern Slopes and press the button. It’s as simple as that. If you would like to find out more about the Slopes – then click here.

Social justice, Jews and the refugee experience in Britain

11th October and over to Redland where Vivienne Jackson from the Jewish Council for Racial Equality is giving a talk, hosted by DAVAR Bristol (The Jewish Cultural Institute in Bristol and the South West) as part of the Journey for Justice (Bristol) programme. The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) has been working for 40 years tackling problems caused by racial inequality. Tonight Viviene talks passionately about the present climate of anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiment in much of the national press and a JCORE project called JUMP. The JUMP project is run by dedicated volunteers and provides one-to-one befriending support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people who arrive in the UK without parents or a guardian. Details on the JUMP project can be found here Stand Up and Be Counted where you can obtain more information and make a donation. DAVAR Bristol (The Jewish Cultural Institute in Bristol and the South West) is an independent organisation promoting events relating to Jewish heritage and culture. Events are open to all, regardless of ethnic origin or religious affiliation. The meeting provides a forum for advancing understanding of Jewish life, culture, and history. The regular programme is a series of six monthly talks between September and April covering a broad spectrum of topics ranging from history, philosophy, art, humour and personal reflections. You can find more information about DAVAR here.

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Reconnecting Bristol

“I’m enjoying the raw nature of the work; there is no hiding given we are the front door for many people.” Tess, the ex Cardiff University Law Student tells me. “The learning curb has been quick, and until I got involved, I did not fully appreciate the patience and time it takes to help somebody to turn their life around.” Tess supports the Independent Futures (IF) Group, which acts as a bridge between those with lived experience or find themselves enduring homelessness, substance misuse, at risk of reoffending, or mental health concerns with those agencies funded to guide them out of the world they inhabit.

“I’ve just started to volunteer here. I want to make friends, build up my confidence and find work. I’m starting to make good progress now”  Ed tells me who moved to Bristol 3 years ago from the neighbouring city of Bath. “We need more places where people are not being pigeonholed, labelled or marshalled towards somebody else’s answer.” 

Control and power and who holds them seem to be a central value running through Bristol Reconnect. These are the types of concepts that are difficult to measure, and ones that often get left behind when charities and voluntary sector groups are forced to sniff out funding from an ever decreasing pool of tightly defined contracts.

On the ground floor cafe, a volunteer is cleaning and testing the coffee machine while another is tucked away in a corner focused on the task of assembling a donated storage box. Opening times at the cafe fluctuate given the reliance upon volunteers. On the 1st floor is a community room, which is available for hire. Located at the rear of the building is a pleasant garden space, recently upgraded as part of a TV challenge programme. In an ideal world, these assets would be contributing income towards the group’s upkeep, but like most small community groups seeking to survive beyond the realm of grants it will take time, but time is not a luxury for group’s like Bristol Reconnect.  I ask about resources and funding, but it’s met with a deep sigh and redundant shrug of the shoulders. There is, of course, a new settlement urgently needed in this country about the style, nature, and provision of welfare that we are prepared to pay for given the inherent failures of the current system.  But whatever the cause or the potential solutions this is where we find ourselves today, and some people can’t wait, “We either do something, or we do nothing, and doing nothing is unacceptable” Jonathan, the Chief Executive, cook, cleaner, dishwasher, counsellor and crisis manager at Bristol Reconnect tells me.

Bristol like most urban cities in the UK is coming to terms with the impact of austerity. The lag between central government budget announcements, policy delays and the impact on the ground regarding frontline services is catching up for many in the city. The mythology of so-called efficiency savings and other magical accountancy terms have not shielded services against the depth of cuts needed to balance the books. As local campaigns gather pace against the loss of frontline services like libraries those most vulnerable are more unlikely to able to raise their voices. The homeless, vulnerable adults and children with complex care needs and the elderly. This role often falls to groups like Bristol Reconnect, who are increasingly becoming stretched to the point of breaking. The question increasingly being posed is, “what type of local council do we require in Bristol beyond austerity?”

There is a sense of unity with those facing the loss of their jobs in local government and that central government funding cuts are spitefully engineered to punish, strip away dignity and they are ideologically driven to erode further welfare funded by general taxation.

“The way housing is provided makes it difficult for families to live together in neighbourhoods now. The support you would normally get from your grandad, uncle or another member of the family is no longer there, so people look towards institutions like the council. Even before the cuts my experience was mixed and even accessing the service was difficult.” I was told by one person who wanted to remain anonymous.

Local council’s, like Bristol City Council, have traditionally been the significant investor in local charity and community sector groups. “There is little you can often do to change how a large organisation works, so small self-help groups become increasingly important, which poses the question if the likes of the council are struggling to do things with their diminished resources how can we be expected do more without resources? It’s a very dangerous situation we are now entering. It needs a shift in mindset from everybody” say’s Aaron who along with Jonathan is one of the original instigators behind Bristol Reconnect. “We need to rebuild around communities rather than institutions. We will continue to try and explain this to larger organisations who have the clout to make a difference. We try to help them listen, but my experience is things don’t change because of the corporate-ness. It’s dehumanising as if we have adopted something out of the animal kingdom where the fittest survive and the reward is a contract to work with the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our community. The whole ethos is sick. The focus needs to be on reconnecting people.”

What I think Arron is getting at here is not necessarily what institutions seek to do, which is often laudable, but how they go about doing it. It seems to boil down to behaviours and recognising that working within a statutory institution will inevitably develop a specific set of behaviours, as working in the charity and community sector will naturally do. Any rejection of the Government’s policy of austerity cannot simply be about restoring what has gone before. The focus of rebuilding, if or when it comes, must increasingly be about the outcome, behaviours, connection, empathy, equity, etc. rather than simply rebuilding a specific institution. “Simply focussing on relations from a monetary perspective takes things away. Head and heart, depending which one you want to put first. I appreciate people need to get paid, but it’s about having the mindset alongside your responsibility. If you are obtaining a salary, then it provides you with the opportunity to think about others. Voluntary sector groups especially can get destroyed by chasing funding, which ends up determining what they do. There is a balance.” Aaron adds.

So, if there is an acceptance that core funding is difficult to access at the moment.  What type of support do groups like Bristol Reconnect need to survive? After a thoughtful pause from those present the following ideas emerge:

  • Help with redesigning the space we use to make it more efficient.
  • Access to a small budget to help with the start-up phase.
  • Business development throughout the initial shaky period.
  • Volunteers willing to serve from trustee through to service delivery.

None of these issues, of course, are exclusive to Bristol City Council to help resolve, but “How about your local Council?” I ask. “Brokerage” comes the answer.“What do you mean by brokage? I ask. “Somebody who can navigate from within the council who understands how the public, private and charitable sectors work. They are able to facilitate exchanges, obtain and share things. For example, we needed some gear for the kitchen recently. We could spend time fundraising and then purchase stuff, but in a city like Bristol these things will be sitting idle in a charity, business or council storeroom somewhere.”

In times of strife and challenge, when strategy development becomes a comfortable blanket to hide under, it’s often the simple things that can sometimes become the most difficult to resolve. Why? If you want to find out more about Bristol Reconnect, or you may have something to offer? You can take the first step by clicking here: Stand Up and Be Counted.

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Information Stage, The Downs Festival

 

The subject matter is and always will remain challenging. Homelessness: The Reality on the Ground is the type of issue that can generate fear and ignorance in equal proportions. Those who may have believed they were at little risk of the housing crisis are increasingly being sucked into the vortex of a perfect storm. Inaccessible market values, extreme rent levels, a lack of supply, the return of poor landlords and the paralysed inability of government has placed the fundamental human need of shelter into the hands of the speculators and spivs. As we discovered during the panel presentations and discussion (Downs Festival 2017) homelessness once considered the blight of those on the fringes of our society is now showing its ugly face amongst paid workers, especially the working young. There is a broken promise in any social contract between individual and state when homelessness rears its ugly head. The crisis we now face sits at the feet of those who have governed for the past 40 years and willingly encouraged the breakdown of decency towards humanity. Homelessness on the scale we witness has not happened by accident. It is a deliberate policy designed and orchestrated by the government.

So what is to be done as we sit in self-imposed ignorant bliss, knowing the causes, but claiming to be ‘powerless’ to do anything? Being powerless can, of course, be a convenient excuse and one that in its worst condition seeks self-reflected pity on oneself. The cold reality is that some people vote to be powerless. The first step in demanding change is the realisation that you are not powerless and by actually doing something, no matter how little, you become a small, but integral part of a social movement and movements change things on a big scale. The words ‘political struggle’ in one of the wealthiest economies, had until recently,  become an almost embarrassing term to use given the abundance of riches at our disposal.  It is clearly back on the agenda for a younger generation who are quite rightly increasingly restless and angry at the inheritance being offered to them by a tired and self-imposed ‘powerless’ older generation. While government (nationally and locally) is blindfolded in a downward spiral of spin, apportion blaming and rebranding their diminishing resources as new. Informal networks of self-motivated people armed with nothing more than compassion and love are seeking solutions. On one hand, a growing number of people are not prepared to ‘walk on by’ and ignore the injustice staring them in the face and on the other hand young people are increasingly motivated to get involved in direct-action and structured politics. It’s too early to say if this is a fad and it may suffer the relentlessly grind wheels that have often warm many a good person down, but positive seeds have been sown.

It was an absolute honour to have co-hosted the panel on Homelessness at the Information Stage, Bristol Downs Festival with friend and film director Anthony Tombling. The panel brought together people and groups who did not fall for the self-indulgent notion of ‘powerlessness’ and did the right thing. They got engaged and became part of the solution rather than the problem. Ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds, faiths, genders and cultures. My deepest respect goes out to Bristol Reconnect, Brixton Soup Kitchen, Homeless Heroes (Birmingham) Feed the Homeless, St. Mungo’s, Help Bristol’s Homeless who are doing some amazing work often off the radar. If you would like to find out more about these groups and get engaged with what they are doing then just click here.

There will always be armchair cynics in life who can’t, don’t want to be won over, or are only comfortable with the status quo. My advice is equally simple. Following the words from one generation to another…. “come, councillors, MPs and Government please heed the call don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall……come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticise what you can’t understand your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”

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The Downs Festival, Bristol 2nd September 2017

If you are heading to The Downs Festival on 2nd September 2017 myself and good friend film director Anthony Tombling will be hosting a panel discussion on homelessness in the UK. The purpose of the panel discussion is to encourage a greater understanding of community-led action aimed at tackling the stigma and negative attitudes towards those who find themselves homeless in the UK. The panel will explore the impact of national and local government policies by asking if they are helping or hindering a sustainable solution and what are the alternatives. We will be hearing about the reality on the ground from some truly inspirational people.

Panelists include representatives from The Brixton Soup Kitchen, St. Mungo’s, Homeless Heroes – Birmingham, Feed The Homeless – Bristol, Bristol ReConnect and Jasper Thompson from Help Bristol’s Homeless. The panel will be giving us their take on the current situation on the ground. Do we have a crisis? and if we do, what can we do about it? So if you are around please come along, say hello, Join the discussion, offer support and hear from the people working at the sharp end trying to help those most vulnerable in our communities. The panel is due to start at 3:15pm. For more information on the community groups involved click here: I AM HUNGER

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Plan one small step at a time

A small project I have been developing with volunteers at Bristol Reconnect, the ACE Project (St. Paul’s) and the Northern Slopes Initiative has today taken a small, but significant step.  The printing and publishing of our first workbooks, which are expressly designed to help small volunteer-led (and often unfunded) groups to plan more efficiently. The books are intended to help these types of groups to deal with the challenge of austerity, especially when the local government comes knocking on their door asking them to get more involved in the delivery of services and facilities. There will be more to share in the never future for those who might be interested in these rather mundane, but important matters as we develop the next 6 workbooks and the overall support programme.  In the meantime, my gratitude and respect goes out to the volunteers in these projects who are working with some of the most vulnerable people or defending essential community facilities in the city.

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Time to Plan: Helping small volunteer-led groups with their future

Over the past few months, I have been helping three small volunteer-led community groups in Bristol working on issues as diverse as enhancing public spaces, homelessness and inner city youth services. All three groups have little or no funding, which is not the immediate problem. They are all asking me to assist them with the development of a plan that will help guide their work into the future within the resources they currently hold, which I am happy to do. The back drop is they are all being increasingly asked to do more as local government does less. I am setting the rights and wrongs of this aside for the moment.

Here is the snag. Most if not all the examples of plans are seriously over the top and seem to have been designed by megalomaniacs, or consultants who have tried to be far far too smart (and expensive). I guess what I am talking about here is something that is practical, proportionate and designed around the needs of the groups. I have started to develop some ideas with the groups but was wondering if anybody out there knew of some good practice examples? I would like to produce something that is self-administrative, open source and free for any small ‘grass roots’ volunteer group with little or no funding wanting to develop a practical plan.