Tony Britt has an idea. It’s not a lofty policy or some target figure plucked out of thin air by his campaign team (he’s a one-man band). It’s a plan to safeguarded the future of the city. But it is slightly convoluted. So bear with me – and Tony – for a second here.
Bristol, Tony points out, is built on seven hills. And his “brainwave”, as he puts it, is to generate renewable energy from these hills which could fund the children of this city’s future.
“Think of it as a grandfather clock with the old weights going back and forth,” the 51-year-old says as we settle into our chat in a community room at St Luke’s Church, Barton Hill, where he helps run a drop-in and used to sleep when homeless.
“If we use a bit of common sense we could produce our own energy by using the weight of the seven hills and the side project of this is energy, which we’d sell to other cities.”
Now, Britt’s idea isn’t quite ready and certainly hasn’t been patented yet, so he’s careful not to give too much away.
Plus, he’s been burnt before following other brainwaves. He tells me he invented the fluorescent lollipop stick when cycling through the fog in Withywood, tracking devices for cars and an app which lets you see who is knocking at your door. But he hasn’t seen a penny for any of them.
Anyway, back to the hills. The energy would be free to produce using his under-wraps-for-now technology. It would be sold to other cities across the UK and also used to fund an underground tube network for Bristol.
But most importantly, the key to this brainwave is that it would protect the next generation of Bristolians from the cuts to council services and the fees of the higher education system which is crippling their opportunities in life.
“Maybe Bristol needs to be the one that says we need to sponsor our children and get them through their education,” he says, tilting his head above his giant hand-made badge which says “I’m a Britt. Tony. A Bristolian and British”.
“They should be leaving college with no debts. It’s like saying I love my children and I’m going to give them a toy, but I’m going to put a ruddy, gurt big chain round their neck so they can’t get away from it when they’re adults.
“That’s wrong,” he adds. “We love our children. As a city we should say that now. We’re known for standing up to people and telling them to get lost, we’re known for standing up for the poor. And that’s what my idea will enable us to do.”
Britt’s own childhood was a happy one, he says. Born in Knowle West in 1964, he grew up there with his family and two brothers – a long line of Britts in the area and around Bristol.
He looks back fondly on life growing up in the area – a life and community focussed around the Venture Inn on Melvin Square, he says.
“Everybody knew everybody. It was brilliant up there. I listen to people now and it’s all changed,” he says. “Drugs killed Knowle West. It started off with glue sniffing and it just went from there,” he concludes quickly.
He went to Merrywood School, which went on to become The Park, and left to work in construction through the Government-sponsored Youth Training Scheme.
He went on to work as a landscape gardener for a number of companies and public bodies, including Avon County Council.
He eventually moved to Easton, which he praises as a great example for all Bristolians of how all people from different creeds, colours and backgrounds “just get on together”.
He later moved to Barton Hill, where he lives now, after losing his job as a live-in caretaker at the Coach House small business centre in St Paul’s
In between all this he was married with children, but is now divorced and cannot see them due to a court order.
He’s been homeless twice – once for six months and once for three – on account of his breakup with his ex-wife and renting problems.
“I slept in this church for three months,” he says gesturing towards the main part of the building behind him.
“It was desperate. I used to sleep in the vestuary. I’ve slept here (he points at the floor where he is sitting), I’ve slept all over the church, but the quietest part of the church is always the vestuary.”
He said he was first drawn to the church by a calling from God to save it from redevelopment about 10 years ago, and has remained living in the Barton Hill area ever since.
Since his last mayoral bid in 2012, when he came an optimistic 13th out of 15 candidates, he has suffered from breast cancer, which has been operated on.
“My doctor says I’ve got a great pair of man tits now,” he laughs.
He says he is now disabled on account of two crushed nerves in his back and lives solely from state benefits.
So how can he afford the £500 deposit to be mayor (which you only get back if you get five per cent or more of the vote)?
“Well, I can’t really. But I’m passionate. I find it wrong that our children will have a massive chain around their neck.
“I find that wrong, that’s why I’m running,” he says. “I – find – that – wrong,” he adds, pausing slightly between every word.
“I’m just hoping someone notices in Parliament,” he says. I’m hoping someone looks up and says ‘that Britty knows what he’s talking about, mind’.”
We stop for a moment and head into the nave of the church to finish our chat and along the way he gives me advice on bringing up my own children; it all comes back to the future of Bristol’s children.
“I’m 51, going on 52,” he tells me. “I’ve been in love, had children, loved them to death – and that’s one thing I want to champion,” he adds.
We also talk briefly about the history of the church and his own religion. “I’m a God-fearing man,” he says. “I do believe in Jesus. But I don’t believe in the politics of the church because I think they’re corrupt as well.”
The church, here in Barton Hill and in general terms, to Tony seems to bring up mixed emotions. It’s saved his life, but he has his apprehensions still – especially about the people at the top of religious institutions.
He calls them “handshakers” and lumps them in with politicians, top business people, Merchant Venturers, Freemasons etc, etc.
He sees himself and his mayoral bid as far removed from that world. “I’m down to earth. Don’t expect anything too much. I’m just the common man,” he says.
He says his campaign is simple and he only wants to champion three things. One is the right for parents to see their children. The second is a once per fortnight platform for any religion or culture to use the city centre to present their culture and celebrate it.
And the final one is that energy project harnessed from Bristol’s seven hills that would create a “legacy pot” of money, as he calls it, for the future.
“The idea is to raise the money at the beginning and carry it on for the future. But we also need to pay for it now. I’d cut the council in half and take the councillors’ expenses away,” he says, speaking freely now.
“We won’t need the Government. We can look after ourselves. We’ll look after the poor. We’ll look after disabled children and disabled adults, for example.
“There ought to be enough money there to provide those services. We can then come up with our own projects. We need to put back into our local community. I’m passionate about the community and the people in it.”
Bristol24/7 is hosting a mayoral hustings featuring all candidates at The Lantern at 7pm on Thursday, April 28. Entrance is first come first served. For more information, visit www.colstonhall.org/shows/mayoral-hustings/