The director of Black South West Network (BSWN) described Bristol as not just a tale of two cities, but one of many cities, with countless stories.
“It’s a tale of the old and the new, of the many and the few, of the privileged and the disadvantaged,” said Sado Jirde, speaking on stage at a national conference on tackling racial inequality.
The narrative is now a familiar one in a city that has flourished economically to become a major player on the world stage, ripe with economic opportunities, and yet one that remains deeply divided and rife with inequality.
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The number of people facing income deprivation is as high as 49 per cent in some wards, according to Bristol City Council figures.
Sustaining growth and ensuring there are opportunities for all amid an escalating housing crisis, population increase and rising prices, is one of the biggest challenges facing the city.
BSWN is one of the organisations in Bristol working to tackle existing barriers and build an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem that allows all citizens to equitably participate in its economic success.
“BSWN’s strategy is one that creates equitable opportunities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) entrepreneurs,” explains Jirde. “But it is also one that seeks to address systemic racial inequality through an evidence-based approach to influencing public policy by working with key decision-makers in the city and wider region.”
For professor Martin Parker, social justice goes hand in hand with environmentalism and the answer is the economy; a new kind of economy that does not rely on capitalism and profit to prop it up but deals in shared equity and democracy.
The author of Shut Down the Business School heads up the Inclusive Economy Initiative at the University of Bristol, where a team of social scientists from various disciplines work with local alternative businesses to grow a “new economy”.
Speaking at The New Western Frontier, a conference to explore how the regional business community can create inclusive growth and deliver positive change, Parker warned delegates that while Bristol may be viewed as a “cool place to do business”, it is also quite predictable and driven by big name players.
He argues there are three things we need to do to make a new future:
One is to decarbonise all aspects of business practice, from cars to burgers, and do it as rapidly as possible.
The second is to make sure that these changes produce economies which are inclusive.
And finally, workers should be given more control over their workplaces.
“This would produce an economy which doesn’t damage the planet, which doesn’t discriminate against people on the basis of gender or skin colour, and which gives workers a sense of shaping the places that they work,” he says.
“These might seem like utopian ideas, but unless we make them real, we will all end up the poorer.”
The challenge is being taken on at a citywide level, evidenced in the One City Plan, which mayor Marvin Rees launched in January with an ambitious vision for Bristol to evolve over the next 30 years and become a city free from inequalities.
The development of City Funds, which brings together private, public and grant money, has secured more than £10m to tackle the causes and effects of inequality in Bristol through supporting organisations and projects making a difference at a grassroots level.