Building Bristol as an inclusive city of hope

Building Bristol as an inclusive city of hope

By Marvin Rees

My vision as Mayor of Bristol is clear: to help build an inclusive city where no-one is left behind. It’s a vision that underpins our Corporate Strategy as a Local Authority, as well as wider city strategies such as the One City Plan. I want Bristol to be a place in which everyone’s hopes and aspirations can be made real. To do this, we need to ensure that people are not held back by poverty and that our collective successes are fairly shared. But the mantra of inclusion is easy to preach and hard to practice. So what does it mean for Bristol and how are we trying to make it real?

The first thing to say about inclusion is that it can only be achieved when we have a mindset that sees people as assets and not burdens. It’s easy and all too common to see leaders and organisations take a ‘deficit approach’ and focus only on people’s needs and disadvantages. But we will only become a truly inclusive city if we focus on the contributions that everyone can bring, and then set about creating the structures and systems that enable those contributions.

The second principle that underlies our inclusive approach is that progress can only be achieved through collaboration. Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility, and cannot simply be delivered by a Local Authority or any other organisation or group acting alone. That’s why the we’ve adopted what we call the One City Approach, seeking to bring together different actors in the city and catalyse greater collaboration and alignment. This is happening through the One City Plan which sets a collective vision for the city all the way to 2050, the City Office which is providing a hub for collaboration and engagement, and the City Funds which is pooling financial resources in order to make systemic gains.

With these principles in mind, we can focus on the contents of inclusion, which for me consists of four key elements which all need to be held together. They are access, outcomes, belonging and influence.

Access means making sure that everyone in the city is able to benefit from and contribute to services and activities. There is of course a physical element to this, which involves making sure our city is as physically accessible to everyone as possible. But there is also a cultural element which involves breaking down the less visible barriers which hold people back from being able to engage with services and other activities. We were proud last year to become the first Local Authority in the UK to ‘Ban the Box’ and no longer use a tick box in our job applications asking people about their criminal record. We took this step because we believe that everyone applying for a job at the council should be given the same encouragement and opportunity irrespective of their background. Bristol is a place where the opportunities to share in the city’s success are not evenly distributed and barriers exist that prevent some from fulfilling their potential. Our aim is to remove one of those barriers and send a message that we’re interested in getting to know the person applying for the job first and begin our conversation there.

The second dimension of inclusion is about working towards fair outcomes for everyone. Our city is currently blighted by huge inequalities in areas such as education, health and employment, and in many contexts we need to take positive action to address these often historic and entrenched injustices. One of many examples of this work is in seeking to help refugees get into employment. We are proud to be a City of Sanctuary, but across the UK only 51% of refugees are in work compared to 73% of UK-born people. Refugees have a huge range of skills and talents to bring to our community, and so we’ve been working with an innovative tech start up called SkillLab to trial new software which can map people’s skills and help match them to local job markets. The app has been designed specifically with refugees in mind but if successful could also have benefits for all of our residents looking to get into work or progress their careers.

The third dimension of inclusion is about ensuring that everyone feels that they belong in Bristol, and encouraging and enabling people to build relationships across difference. This is partly about the narrative of the city, and ensuring that the message projected by city leaders and institutions is one that embraces diversity in all its forms. It is also about practical opportunities for different individuals and groups to meet and build relationships, working against cultural and social barriers and segregation in all its forms. And finally it is about ensuring that hate crime and discrimination in all its forms is vigorously opposed. In the last two years we have been one of six cities in the UK taking part in the Inclusive Cities project run by Oxford University, and one element of this has been a focus on narrative. This has led to a strategic communications campaign which will launch this summer and help spark a conversation about all the things we hold in common as Bristolians and how we can break down barriers through relationships.

The fourth and final element of inclusion is about enabling everyone to have the opportunity to influence and shape the future of the city. True inclusion is not about one group creating a system which is fair to everyone, but rather about a system which recognises the unique contribution of every person. Inherent in this is a belief that everyone should have the ability to influence the decisions that affect them, and that the city’s power structures should be representative of the diversity of its communities. That’s why we’ve invested nearly £400,000 over three years into Bristol’s Voice and Influence Partnership, making sure that individuals, groups and communities whose voices aren’t always heard are listened to, and are part of shaping Bristol’s future.

Creating an inclusive city isn’t something that happens overnight, and we still have a long way to go in Bristol to reach our ambitions. But I believe that the work that we are doing, and the level of commitment we are investing, means that the theme of inclusion will be at the heart of this city’s common life for much longer than the lifetime of any Local Authority administration.

This article was written for The Vision Project by Marvin Rees. Marvin is the Mayor of Bristol, and has recently been re-selected to stand as Labour's candidate for that role again in 2020.

If you found this article interesting, you might like to find out more about DHI's Bristol ROADS service.

DHI has invited the author to write the above article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies or otherwise of DHI.

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