I am a proud Bristolian. I have lived in Bristol all my life and I have seen it significantly change over the years. I grew up in a suburb called Withywood, which won’t feature in the city’s Lonely Planet guide but during my childhood it gave me all the adventure, community and ‘things to do’ I ever needed.
I have been away from the city I love for 18 months and I have returned with the hunger to see its success trickle down to all walks of life.
I have returned to see an explosion of restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars.
I have returned to see an unsustainable growth in property prices, rents and lack of investment in social and affordable housing.
I have returned to see an inspiring increase in small and medium-sized businesses, start ups and some great innovation in a number of industries.
Wherever I look, I am reminded that Bristol is a great place to live and visit. I would wholeheartedly agree with this statement but with the caveat that this isn’t the case for everyone. Unfortunately inequality is rising and social spending is reducing. I fear this is a recipe for disaster.
Bristol has some of the most deprived areas in the UK. The Bristol City Council’s ‘Deprivation in Bristol 2015’ report highlights deprivation hot spots in the city including Hartcliffe, Filwood and Lawrence Hill. Reading the details of the report it is clear to see there is a high degree of inequality in Bristol.
During my nostalgic return to Bristol I revisited some of my old childhood stomping grounds. I noticed that it didn’t seem like they were reaping the benefits of a booming Bristol. From then on, I knew I had no choice but to get involved with the local community and help drive positive change.
So I did what any twenty-something person would do and Googled my way through the potential opportunities. I came across the Dundry View Neighbourhood Partnership and HWCP (Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership).
For anyone that doesn’t know, Neighbourhood Partnerships (NP) bring together local people, community groups, the council, police and local businesses to take action on things that are important for each area. They empower local people to help steer decisions on where time and money gets spent.
Back in December 2016, I was eager for my first meeting but immediately shocked to be informed that Bristol City Council had invoked a spending freeze on all activities including the NP budget.
I subsequently learned that the actual existence of our NP was in jeopardy along with the citizen service point at Symes House, the library, local crisis and prevention funding, wellbeing grants, alcohol and drug misuse services and more.
I could not fathom how a city that is hitting headlines around the world for all the right reasons has just passed its most controversial budget in recent years with plans to cut £100m over the next five years. Key social services will be hit the hardest. This equation just doesn’t balance for me. I love this city but I am anxious that inequality will just be exacerbated under these constraints.
As a child I utilised the local youth centre, used freshly council cut green spaces to play sports, nose dived into an array of books at the local library and witnessed my family and friends utilise community services.
So what can we do about it?
First of all, let’s act in the realms that we can control. We can control where we spend our time.
Let’s get active! Bristol needs you! Get out there and shape the Bristol you want to see.
Organisations supporting the most vulnerable in our city are now going to feel the strain even more. Find something you are passionate about and get involved. Change careers, volunteer, donate, just do something.
You could support an organisation or project involved with domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, the environment, music, arts, young people, animal welfare, sport, black and minority ethnic groups, LGBT, etc. Just make it something you feel passionate about and you will be surprised at how easy it is to dedicate time towards a selfless goal.
There is no time like the present, so instead of watching that TV series, reading that book, wasting time procrastinating on the sofa or whatever takes up an hour or two of your time this week, just get out there. Bristol needs you!