Can the West of England’s new mayor tackle its collaboration challenge?

Although the West of England has had an incredibly tough year, it’s still one of the country’s best places to live and work by many measures.

Covering areas around Bristol and Bath, the region has the spirit, ingenuity and amazing places that are unmistakably its own. It’s also the most economically productive region outside London. But it’s the region’s human qualities that make it special for so many of us.  

Although many may not realise it, residents can decide this week who leads the organisaton representing the West of England on the political stage. Bristolians can vote on Thursday alongside electing their local councillors, Bristol’s mayor and Avon and Somerset’s Police and Crime Commissioner. 

‘Super Thursday’ presents an opportunity for candidates to lead a region that needs to make its case clearly.  

Business West touched on this point in its recent manifesto for the new mayor, who will lead an organisation covering Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire council areas. Full disclosure: I have worked with some of these organisations at Social. None are clients at the time of writing this.

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Looking south west: are you up for joining us?

Just over a year ago, we left our offices to start working from home – all together, at once. I wrote then about how our culture would help us through the tough times ahead. So, it’s proved to be.

In the year that’s followed my emotional trudge from our Bristol office, we’ve invested considerable time and energy in supporting each other through lockdown,

That support, implicit in our Life Happens company value, enabled us to grow during this most challenging of years. In the South West, we’ve doubled in size and are working on high profile, incredibly exciting accounts.

Although it’s been breathless at times, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. Our team promoted high quality places on sites with capacity for more than 12,000 homes last year. We’ve put the £85m regeneration of Gloucester city centre on a national platform. We’ve engaged communities on the future of Portishead town centre, drawing feedback from hundreds of people in the process. All this and more during lockdown. 

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#WeAreBristol: statement for a city for hope

#WeAreBristol image

Watching Sunday’s scenes of rioting in Bristol gain traction across the world brought home a mix of feelings about a city and people I have barely seen over the last year.  

I know we were not alone in our dismay and anger at what happened. Many have said the scenes did not represent the city they know and experience up close.

Everyone’s experiences of Bristol are different, it’s true. For all the ‘best places to live’ write-ups, challenges around deprivation, equality of opportunity and housing are real and have terrible consequences for those at the sharp end. There are many, many good people who have worked tirelessly this year (and long before that) to address these challenges. They deserve our gratitude, not sniping from the side-lines.

We are proud of our connections with Bristol and of our colleagues who work and live here with their partners and families. We were struck by the response of thousands of Bristolians who appeared to speak as one this week in saying: this is not who we are.

We wanted to do something to capture this sentiment. So we were pleased to be asked to create a statement from Bristol City Leaders group, which was released on 25 March and is included below.

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Businesses can steer us away from Carmageddon

Lockdown has provided us with the biggest behaviour change programme we have ever seen. It would be a real travesty if we went back to ‘business as usual’ without locking in some of the benefits achieved during lockdown.

Ann O’Driscoll, North Bristol Suscom.

Wherever you’ve worked over the last three months, most of us can agree that lockdown has been challenging. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that its impact will be far-reaching and long-lasting.

But, as the West of England emerges from lockdown with the rest of the country, it feels right to reflect on some positive things to emerge from this crisis that are worth holding on to.

Businesses at the West of England Initiative’s latest meeting heard from those leading the local conversation on how we travel about lockdown’s impact on traffic congestion, air quality and carbon emissions. The findings are stark:

  • Peak time traffic levels in Bristol are said to be around 40% lower than pre-lockdown levels, although are back on the increase.
  • Bus passenger numbers are reported to be at around 13% of ordinary levels.
  • Air quality in cities is markedly improved as traffic has fallen.
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Bristol shows actions speak louder than words

A version of this article was published in Bristol 24/7 on 11 June. Thanks to Martin Booth and the team for the opportunity to provide some thoughts on an extraordinary week for a city we are proud to be part of.

I’m not from Bristol but have grown to love it over the decade I’ve worked here. I love the city for its creativity, positive outlook and for how it does things its own way, rightly or wrongly.

Bristol’s idiosyncratic streak is part of what makes it such a special place, for all its foibles. Its failure to adequately address questions over its history with regards to figures like Edward Colston sit uneasily with its image as a diverse, multicultural city.

This uneasiness collided with direct action on Sunday, when Colston’s statue was toppled from its plinth and dumped in the Floating Harbour, where it’s remained until it was retrieved on Thursday.

I know from my work for the government and with other organisations in the city that reflecting Bristol’s past in the ‘here and now’ has been discussed over many years. After all that talking, Bristol has demonstrated that actions will speak louder than words.

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Toppling Colston’s statue could be an iconic moment for Bristol

This article was published in PR Week on 9 June. Thanks to them for giving me the opportunity to provide some thoughts from the perspective of a Bristol-based business.

Recent anti-racism protests across the world illustrate that, while language matters, action changes things.

Sunday’s dramatic events in Bristol, where debates about 17th century slave trader and former MP Edward Colston have simmered for many years, are a case in point.

Discussions about how a man with shared responsibility for transporting tens of thousands of Africans to British colonies is reflected in Bristol’s history were swept aside by protesters. It highlighted a sense that the time for talking (and getting nowhere) is over. In reality, as the debate goes global, the local conversation may be about to get going again.

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