Bristol West 10-minute interviews: 4) Ani Stafford-Townsend (Cabot)

Bristol West: 10 minutes with each of your local Green candidates in May 2015
Number 4: Ani Stafford-Townsend (Cabot)

Ani Stafford-Townsend is the Green Party candidate for Cabot ward. Ani works as a theatrical milliner and runs her hat-making business out of a shop in St James’ Arcade, Broadmead.

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Why are you standing to be the councillor in Cabot ward?

I’m standing first as a voice for independent business. Cabot is home to a lot of businesses: big retail businesses, big other types of businesses, and then there’s loads of little businesses that you don’t really think about – especially in Broadmead and Park Street. You don’t really think of Cabot as having little businesses, but there’s a lot – and there’s no voice for them.

Because they’re little businesses they don’t have anybody to send to big meetings on their behalf and for the residents who live in Cabot it’s those sorts of things – the little businesses, the coffee shops, the cornershops, all those places – that make it a nice place to live and stop it from being a soulless city centre which nobody wants to visit. They stop it from being just about the nightlife. It has to be mixed for it to be a pleasurable place to live.

It’s also quite disjointed because it’s such a big ward – so vast and different, and very diverse as well. It’s quite easy for residents to get lost in it because it is so much about business as an area. So I think it’s very important to make contact with and be able to speak for residents who get forgotten and small businesses that get forgotten.

What are the biggest issues facing Cabot ward as an area of the city?

Housing is definitely a big issue. There are huge swathes of social housing. There’s also a lot of increasingly expensive housing so people who have always lived in Cabot can’t afford market rates and certainly can’t afford to buy anywhere. The social housing that exists – the new provision – is smaller and smaller and smaller. The older housing provision is getting more and more run-down. The social housing providers, seemingly, aren’t putting much money back into that social housing – certainly not the social housing that’s in older period properties. There are some terrible conditions that people are living in.

There are other issues. Transport and the corresponding terrible pollution is a big concern. School provision is quite lacking as well. It’s not a very family-friendly area but obviously there are a lot of people with families who live here. I think there’s a lot of marginal communities in terms of people who have come from somewhere else and are getting shoved somewhere and they feel very segregated from everybody. There are also a huge amount of students, who are transient as well because it tends to be first year or overseas students in halls – they’re very segregated and gated away from everybody else. It’s a very segregated and disjointed community.

Also, the thing that I keep hearing over and over again at neighbourhood forums and community events is that nobody feels like they’re listened to. Across the board, across the demographics – no one feels remotely listened to or cared about.

Cabot ward’s got a long history of returning both Liberal and Liberal Democrat councillors. You’ve had George Ferguson (Bristol Mayor), Stephen Williams (current Bristol West MP) as councillors, and more besides up to the present day. Why do you think liberal voters in the area should vote Green this time?

The Lib Dems have moved very far away from where they used to be. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of voting how you’ve always voted. I voted Lib Dem (as a student) because I looked around at the parties and it was the Lib Dems who were most closely aligned but they’ve moved so far away from those principles they had say, 10 years ago, which was when the likes of Stephen Williams got their strong return. They’ve changed. Tuition fees, being against the Iraq war – all of those things the Lib Dems stood for – they don’t stand for that any more. That’s why I don’t vote Lib Dem any more, because I’m looking for a party that does actually align with my principles and the same for everybody else. When I speak to students now, for whom many this is the first time they’re going to vote, they’re so astounded that students used to vote Lib Dem because of how far from the common principles of the student that the Lib Dems are.

What’s your background? What are you doing at the moment? What are the passions that drive you?

I’m from Bristol. I moved to London to study but then came back. It’s a very different city now to how it was in the 90s when I left.

My background is doing theatre millinery and theatre costume and I still do millinery now. I’ve also done a huge swathe of other things. When I worked in London I worked for a drug rehabilitation service that helped cocaine users get clean in Battersea. When I came back to Bristol I worked for a company called SocialData who did sustainable transport research, working with Sustrans and I ran a couple of projects with them encouraging people into cycling.

I’ve always been into the green activism stuff without using the terminology of an activist. It was just something that you did: you cycled and recycled. You did all those things because it’s the right thing to do.

Increasingly I am seeing how lucky I am to be as old as I am – in terms of education – because I just got in before tuition fees. Seeing my younger siblings-in-law and children of my friends  getting to be 18 and going to university brings that home. The future for them – as well as the future for my own child – is looking quite bleak.

My father has disabilities and I have a lot of friends with disabilities. We must fight for the support that people need financially through the benefits system. It’s been completely taken away. These last five years, austerity has really bitten people. I did know it before but is really quite acutely felt now. It doesn’t matter what your background is, actually, or how hard you work. When you get bad luck at work and lose your job, then you’re screwed. There’s no safety net anymore and that’s also what I’m fighting for.

What do you like about working in Cabot and being around this area?

I like that it’s so interesting and diverse. I love how many people are squirrelling away, trying to make their business work and trying to work together – paddling furiously like ducks and trying to look calm on top. It’s so green – that’s what I love about Bristol generally – there are lovely parks and lovely places to hang out. It’s so multi-cultural. There’s everything you can possibly imagine in Bristol and it all sort of congregates in the centre, which is Cabot.

The centre of Bristol has changed substantially in the last 20 years with huge increases in people going to live there. What do you make of it?

My mother grew up in Hotwells and I’ve seen how much Hotwells and the Harbourside has changed from when I used to go to the Three Tuns pub every Tuesday and Friday when I was 17 and 18. It was just a little pub in the middle of derelict land and now I go to it and it’s surrounded by buildings.

It’s not as simple as to say that’s “good” or “bad”. I’ve been in the social housing flats. A double bedroom means you can get a double bed in a room – no furniture, nothing else, you crawl into the bed from the bottom. I’ve also known people who’ve had penthouse apartments – huge huge flats. You could fit three of the social flats into one of those. And it’s so unfair! They’re all nestled up against each other and none of them have any outside space. The huge differences in quality of life for those people, nestling in the same bit of town. So many of those buildings still aren’t fully occupied, there’s empty houses there and all these empty office buildings too.

I remember going on a boat trip when I was about 14, so we’re talking early to mid-90s. We went in front of the Lloyds building and I was told how these buildings we are looking at are empty office buildings but they were still building more because it was more valuable to keep building more office buildings! I remember thinking “how does that make any sense?” And that’s before you even take into account how many people needed a home, especially in the early 90s when we were coming out of the recession then too.

My family had quite a hard time during the 90s recession. My dad hurt his back and also left Rolls Royce for ethical reasons, so we were really really poor when I was child. And seeing all these people who didn’t have anywhere to live and seeing all these office buildings built and everyone been quite honest about the fact that they were not occupied, they were empty, but that was the “best financial option”. It was wrong. 20 years later, we’re still making that same mistake. When will we learn?

What other challenges are there locally and nationally?

The obvious one is re-enfranchising those who are disenfranchised – getting people to come out to vote where they think there’s no point. This time around, there IS a huge amount of point because it is probably going to be a hung parliament and therefore every vote counts, especially in Bristol West! It’s a close-run thing. You can vote for your principles and vote for a Green MP and probably get one. Making a connection with people who haven’t voted for a long time is really important and getting them to vote – even if they don’t vote in the way that I agree with. As long as they don’t vote, nobody will listen to them and they’ll never ever get any help. That’s why the people who vote in a certain way – largely right-wing, more vocal – the anti-immigration voices are getting more air time because those people ARE voting. They aren’t actually the more popular voice, but they’re the loudest one. We need to change that. In Cabot, that’s a huge issue because there are a lot of disenfranchised voices.

If you were Mayor for the day, what single thing would you do?

I would make sure that no one in the council was paid more than 10 times the salary of the lowest paid.

You can follow Ani on Twitter here: @amberanima
The Cabot page on the Bristol Green Party website is here:

For all of the other Bristol West 10-minute interviews, go here:

Bristol West 10-minute interviews: 3) Dani Glazzard (Cotham)

Bristol West: 10 minutes with each of your local Green candidates in May 2015
Number 3: Dani Glazzard (Cotham)

Dani Glazzard is the Green Party candidate for Cotham ward. Dani works as Democracy, Representation and Welfare Manager at Bath Spa University Students’ Union.


Why are you standing to be the councillor in Cotham ward?

I’m standing because of the work that Green councillors have done. I joined the Green Party two years ago and wasn’t expecting to get involved nearly as much as I have done, but it seems like the Green councillors have been repeatedly, in my view, the people standing up for Bristol.

It’s not necessarily something that a lot of people put themselves forward for. I think for various reasons there are barriers to becoming a councillor. The Green Party were saying “we really need people to do this” and so I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is. I want to be part of doing things like protecting children’s centres, protecting the homelessness prevention fund, standing up against austerity. I want to put those sorts of things on the agenda.

What are the local issues that come up a lot and what will you be prioritising?

Talking to people on the doorstep and those I know locally as well, one of the big concerns is housing – which you wouldn’t necessarily expect in Cotham, but I guess it’s a concern across the city. It’s about the rented sector, the number of HMOs and those HMOs being badly managed. So for most of the tenants and those living around them there are frustrations around properly managing waste and things like damp and cold. Cotham is one of the more affluent areas of the city and yet if you look at deprivation indexing, in terms of the environmental standards and the housing standards you’ll see a surprising amount of poverty.

People may have voted locally for the Green Party, but why should people vote for a Green MP?

I think this is just our moment, isn’t it? From what I can see, I think Bristol West is the place to do it and now is the year. People have been frustrated and let down by Labour and the Lib Dems and the Green Party are offering an alternative. People in the past have been nervous about going for that because they have felt trapped by the first past the post system and strategic voting.

But now a Green can win in Bristol West. You see the difference that Caroline Lucas has made to her constituency as one MP. I think having more Green MPs in Parliament would make a difference to the country but also it would create a voice that genuinely represents Bristol West and can put Bristol West issues on the agenda in Westminster and reflect our concerns in a strong way.

What’s your background? What are the passions that drive you?

I’m 26. When I graduated in 2011, I was really interested in working in equality and diversity and I started working for the National Union of Students (NUS) in their equality department on women’s campaigns and LGBT students’ campaigns. I now work for a university and have a much broader role than that. I’ve become interested in youth engagement. I’m completing a research masters and my research interest is about widening participation at universities – it’s about how we can make universities and education accessible to all.

Youth representation and youth engagement – especially in this election – is really important to me. I think that young people will be massively affected by the outcome of it and they’re not engaging and being part of the decision-making. I think they should do more than vote – I think they should be standing as candidates. They’re not seeing the relevance of the election.

There’s a thing there about equality and I think that’s why I started working for students’ unions. It’s about social justice – people from different backgrounds being able to come to university. Also women’s equality, racial equality and so on. And it’s exciting – some of the stuff that’s going on in Bristol, with the Women’s Commission that Daniella Radice, one of the Green councillors, has been working on – aiming to get a 50:50 council. I think those things are all exciting things to be part of and help push.

What do you like about living in Cotham?

The trees! That sounds so terribly stereotypical for a green person! I’ve lived all over Bristol – I grew up here – and walking around Cotham, it’s just so leafy and dreamy and you can hear birdsong and it’s great! [laughs at what she’s saying] It makes you feel very different about walking around your neighbourhood.

I also love all the independent businesses. I love the fact you’re equidistant from the Gloucester Road and Whiteladies Road & Cotham Hill. I like Sustainable Redland and the campaigns they’re doing and how empowered local people feel to be part of local decision-making. I hope that the students and young people living in Cotham could be brought into that a little bit more. I hope that’s something that I can help contribute to.

What other challenges are there locally and nationally?

The thing for me that is repeatedly a challenge is the discourse around the economy and austerity. This idea that we’re all in it together…but we’re not. The idea that it’s right to be cutting public services. Nobody is going to say “we should cut youth services” but there’s this idea that it’s a necessity so everyday people, from Cotham to Lawrence Hill, are having essential services cut when there are people that are extremely wealthy who aren’t necessarily paying into the system. For me that is the big challenge – to redistribute wealth in order that everyone is benefitting from the country’s wealth.

If you were Mayor for the day, what single thing would you do?

I’d set a citizens’ budget, that allows people to be served by local government, not harmed by it.

You can follow Dani on Twitter here: @DaniGlazzard
The Cotham page on the Bristol Green Party website is here:

For all of the other Bristol West 10-minute interviews, go here:

Bristol West 10-minute interviews: 2) Gus Hoyt (Ashley)

Bristol West: 10 minutes with each of your local Green candidates in May 2015
Number 2: Gus Hoyt (Ashley)

Gus Hoyt is the Green Party candidate for Ashley ward. Gus was elected in 2011 and is the first Green councillor in Bristol to defend a council seat. Gus is a sustainable food champion and has an MSc in sustainable development.

Gus photoWhy are you re-standing to be the councillor in Ashley ward?

A few people recently have asked me why I’m standing again as I’ve come in for quite a lot of stick. The simple answer is because I know how much good I can do. I’ve done this for almost four years now and I would run out of fingers and toes if I counted how many projects I’ve been involved in and lives I’ve been able to improve. That’s the reason I got involved in politics in the first place and why I’m happily running again.

What are the main local issues at the moment?

It’s always litter on streets, fly-tipping, collection (or non-collection) of bins, communal bins, inadequate local transport, dangerously poor air quality, pavements being clogged up, the huge rise in tagging on the walls – not just in Stokes Croft but all through Montpelier, St Pauls and well… all over, basically.

Actually, housing issues are becoming much more prevalent in my daily casework. That doesn’t tend to be public campaigns, that’s more private, just dealing with people, every day, who are affected themselves.

Oh, and Residents’ Parking of course!

People may have voted locally for the Green Party, and they might have done in the past, but why should people vote for a Green MP?

The Green Party is the only political party that offers true vision, rather than simply “we’d substitute x for y”. The manifesto, which is coming out any day now, will be fully costed and will show an alternative, not just to austerity but to ‘business as usual’, the dogmatic mantra that economic growth should be at the foundation of all public policy. We believe that change is needed as to how we view society as a whole, not just economically but socially and environmentally.

I’ve had the opportunity of working with Darren Hall [the Green Party’s MP candidate for Bristol West] for a couple of years. I know how energetic, positive and creative he is as a worker. He has a really can-do attitude, he doesn’t let people drag him down, which I think is essential in that kind of job. And he’s absolutely dedicated not just to the green agenda but to the whole social justice and fairness agenda as well.

What’s your background? What are the passions that drive you?

I never thought I would go into politics. Most of my professional life I’ve been a chef or line cook. I’ve spent most of my life in restaurants and cafes and I think that’s formulated quite a lot of my beliefs. I started off as the pot-wash and worked my way up and I believe it’s very important when you work in any organisation to start low-down and work your way up rather than just getting drafted straight in at the top. It also helps you really appreciate all the different roles that people are going through, so it gives you a greater understanding, rather than just knowing your job and wondering why other people aren’t delivering on theirs – you actually understand why. The long hours and working at weekends was quite good preparation for becoming a councillor too!

When I was a chef in the early days, I started to look at where food was actually coming from. Meat doesn’t just come frozen or pre-packed in cellophane – where does that meat story begin? So very early on I became a food campaigner and that’s something that has driven me throughout my life and will continue to do so, whether through my professional career or not.

It was questions like this that led me to do an MSc in my 30s at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales which completely changed my life and made me realise I needed to get as involved as possible with green issues to make a difference.

I lived by the sea for a great deal of my adult life and activities like sailing and diving drove my interest in marine ecology and the almost unfathomable effect we – as humans – have had on the oceans.

What do you like most about living in Ashley ward?

Well, it’s a group of different communities, but each one is just as welcoming. I walk or cycle everywhere and generally have to factor an extra half an hour onto my journeys as I’m always bumping into people who want to engage in local issues. About a week or so ago, I was popping out to buy a pint of milk because my mum was visiting (I don’t drink milk in my tea so I had to go out specifically for that!) and bumped into a neighbour of mine who wanted to quiz me on Green Party international economic policy and our views on TTIP! I don’t know anywhere else really – well, very few other places – where that would genuinely happen. That’s the kind of discussion neighbours actually do have with each other here.

What other challenges are there locally and nationally?

The elephant in the room is the economy. Whoever gets in, whether it’s blue or red, they’ve promised that they will continue to carry on with austerity and slash councils’ budgets. The  city council is just about managing at the moment. I believe about another £41m in further cuts are prescribed over the coming years. This will place cities under increasingly unrealistic pressure and is exactly why we need to collectively say no to Government cuts and Austerity.

If you were Mayor for the day, what single thing would you do?

I’m going to cheat slightly and go for two related issues. I’d follow San Francisco’s lead with regards to banning single-use plastic and polystyrene.

You can follow Gus on Twitter here: @MrGreenGus
The Ashley Green councillors’ community Facebook group is here: Ashley Greenvine
The Ashley page on the Bristol Green Party website is here:

For all of the other Bristol West 10-minute interviews, go here:

Bristol West 10-minute interviews: 1) Anna McMullen (Easton)

Bristol West: 10 minutes with each of your local Green candidates in May 2015
Number 1: Anna McMullen (Easton)

Anna McMullen is the Green Party candidate for Easton ward. Anna stood previously in Easton in 2013 and came second. She’s a policy director for Labour Behind The Label, an anti-sweatshop organisation which advocates for garment industry workers around the globe.

annaredfieldWhy did you decide to stand for the Green Party in the local elections?

I joined the Greens in 2010 after feeling let down with what happened with the Coalition government. I joined because I wanted to do something positive. I wanted to be part of a campaign that was trying to call for real, positive changes and achieve them.

During those four years, the Greens have achieved significant things on the council. We’ve called for a living wage for the city which has been really successful. We’ve managed to ringfence the Independent Living Fund to protect the payment that allows people with severe disabilities and care needs to be able to live independently, which is brilliant. feel like it’s a positive and great thing to be part of and I want Easton to have those sort of representatives.

What in the local area do you think is a really important thing to focus on at the moment?

A lot of people are really worried about the litter. I’m worried about the litter! It’s horrible to have streets that stop people from feeling that they live in a beautiful place and that stop people feeling positive about the places where they live and stop children from being able to play safely outside. When there’s dog poo everywhere it’s not good to have kids playing around in the streets so we need to do something about that. The Green Party would want to make that a priority and renegotiate the waste contract with the council to make sure that is better and that it covers the inner city areas with the appropriate number of collections and street sweepers.

We also think it’s really important to have more public awareness raising about litter – more signs about fly-tipping, more signs about what the right thing to do with dog mess is, and enforcement and fines. And also, positive events to help people value the streets we live in. Things like Playing Out are fantastic for helping people really connect with their neighbours and connect with the built environment in which they live and I think raising that level of respect will, in the long-term, lead to people dropping less litter.

So obviously you’re standing as the local candidate, but Darren Hall is standing as the Bristol West MP candidate. Why do you think people should vote Green nationally if they’ve previously voted Green locally?

I think the Greens locally have given a flavour of what could be done on a national level. On the national level, we stand for a lot of radical, credible policies. We hope to achieve a national living wage not just a local living wage. The Greens are committed to try to deliver £10 an hour by 2020 as the minimum wage.

Caroline Lucas has been a fantastic example of what the Greens can achieve in Parliament, consistently pushing local Brighton issues and campaign issues that really matter like No More Page 3 and petitions from her constituents about Protecting Our NHS. she’s called for the public ownership of the railways through a Private Members Bill and she won MP of the Year, which is a fantastic recognition of what she’s achieved in Parliament.

I think the Greens with more representation could deliver really exciting changes for Bristol. Bristol could count on a Green MP to stand up for what our needs are and to listen to us and to be able to say those things that other MPs won’t say because their party whips its votes and tells their MPs what they have to stand for.

Can you tell me one thing, not necessarily a local issue, that you feel passionately about in your own life or that you’ve been working on recently?

In my job, I work for Labour Behind The Label, which is an anti-sweatshop campaign. I’m a policy director. I care really strongly about the global economy and how globalisation has had a negative impact on the poor across Asia.

The global garment industry is a system that’s set up to keep profits at the top and to keep wages and conditions low in garment-producing countries. I’ve been to see slum-housing areas where workers producing clothes for Marks & Spencer, H&M, Gap, Levi’s and Disney live in tenement housing where they have no running water, they share one toilet with open sewage for 40 people and can’t afford to send their children to school. And that’s really the result of the way in which we buy cheap clothing and the way in which we’ve somehow not managed to regulate global business.

It’s also about what we do in our legal and legislative environment in the UK. It’s up to us to try and drive that change because it’s our companies (that are registered in the UK) that are the ones who are creating those supply chains and poor jobs that lead to poverty around the world. And there’s more that we can do to make sure companies are called to account on international human rights standards. That’s a strong theme in what I really care about.

Coming back to the local, what do you like most about living in Easton?

I love Easton. I love the shops. I love the make-do-and-mend environment. I love the way that you know everyone. There are a lot of people who are just really friendly and a lot of communities interact with each other. I love the fact that it’s a really diverse area. We’ve got a lot going for ourselves!

Are there any other challenges that are facing this community in the coming years?

I think we could do a lot more to support our businesses to develop. Church Road is becoming a thriving sector and a hub, but in order to make it a real destination for shoppers and to develop better transport links to help those businesses grow. I really want to do whatever I can as a local councillor on this. Childcare is a big issue. Easton ward has the most 0-4 year olds in the city. There are a lot of parents who are facing real challenges about how to deal with childcare in an affordable way and to enable as many to go back to work as possible. We don’t have enough childcare places. I want to support parent support networks to make sure there’s funding for groups like SPAN (Single Parent Action Network) and other parent support groups that allow safe spaces for parents to bring kids to play and discuss any issues that they’re facing and find solidarity. Nationally, the Greens are committed to free childcare for 1 to 6 year olds. I think that’s a really important policy to allow women to access work and not to have the economic factor be the main problem for them.

And finally…if you could be Mayor for one day, what one thing would you do?

I would arrange a meeting with David Cameron and tell him that Bristol isn’t going to accept the cuts for yet another year.

You can visit Anna’s website here:
And the Easton page on the Bristol Green Party website is here:

For all of the other Bristol West 10-minute interviews, go here:

Digital Advertising: my questions to Cabinet

Question for Mayor’s Cabinet meeting, Tuesday 13th January on agenda item 6: Digital Advertising

JCDecaux Group is a multinational corporation based in Neuilly-sur-Seine,Paris,France. Over the years it has expanded aggressively, partly through acquisitions of smaller advertising companies in several countries.

The reports tells us that: “The consultant has advised that inevitably, due to market pressures digital advertising will be coming to Bristol (and many other cities) whether BCC go ahead or not.”

I don’t really give a monkeys what the consultant says. We – the people of Bristol and its democratically elected councillors and Mayor – can decide for ourselves whether we want to be bombarded with more and more elaborate ways to sell us crap that we don’t need. The perpetuation of consumerist lifestyles is not something that we as a city should be willing to condone. If this Mayor and Cabinet meeting are being held over a barrel by “market pressures”, that is of deep, deep concern to me.

The specific details of the advertising hoardings also pause me to wonder whether these hoardings would be condoned in other areas of the city – on the Triangle in Clifton? Or on the Downs? Do people see east-central Bristol as the place where no one will kick up a fuss, so it’s safe ground?

We hear elsewhere that “the aim of the sites will be to generate much needed income”.

It is good that we are thinking about this across the council, particularly when the Coalition government is so brutally cutting local government resources, and when the Labour “opposition” agrees with the economics of austerity.

However, there is one brilliant example of a city that has completely rejected on-street advertising.

In September 2006, the mayor of São Paulo passed the so-called “Clean City Law” that outlawed the use of all outdoor advertisements, including on billboards, transit, and in front of stores. Within a year, 15,000 billboards were taken down and store signs had to be shrunk so as not to violate the new law. Outdoor video screens and ads on buses were stripped. Even pamphleteering in public spaces has been made illegal. Nearly $8 million in fines were issued to cleanse São Paulo of the blight on its landscape. Seven years on, the world’s fourth-largest metropolis and South America’s most important city remains free of visual clutter and eye sore that plagues the majority of cities around the world.

Q1: We are told that “communities will be consulted” – which communities will be consulted, when will they be consulted, and if they say “no” to the advertising hoardings, will this mean that they are not sanctioned by the council? (What is the point of a consultation that happens AFTER a Cabinet decision has been made?)

Q2: Does the Mayor share the Green Party’s desire to follow Sau Paulo’s lead and create a city free of street advertising, where people are fined for perpetrating a lifestyle of consumerism?

My statement to the Mayor’s Cabinet meeting on Bristol Central Library

“Once you’ve lost a public space you’ve lost it for good.”

The Library

Of course, some have tried to argue that the 270,000 reference works are not currently kept in a “public space”…but when it’s in the basement of Bristol’s Central Library and is utilised daily by library users, how can it not be seen as a public resource?

Others have argued that you will still be able to access these materials, they will just be elsewhere. This is true.

However, this is a decidedly inconvenient way of organising our public affairs. As a council, we should be fighting to protect library services in a convenient base in the centre of Bristol – not disperse them and render them less useable by the public.

Clearly, we need to update our library services and push the digital inclusion agenda forward. The Citizens Online initiative being run as a council service helps many older citizens into accessing online services every year, and more needs to be done to join this up with library services in-house.

Cllr Cook has argued that those who use the reference materials are “specialist users”. I disagree. They are just users. Knowledge, by its very nature, is specialist. To discover, find or research something requires you to move from being someone who comes into a contact with a service merely for functional reasons (e.g. no home internet access, a relative who needs some books during a period of ill health, etc.)

Libraries are a vital resource for those on lower incomes (and those who aren’t) to gain knowledge and information about the world for free. Many will be presently unable to access services online, and this raises key questions about our service provision. Do we see access to knowledge as a right in society, or a luxury?

Added to this, Grade 1 Listed Buildings are normally best used for their original intention – and Bristol’s Central Library is no exception.

The School

I have met with the Principal of Cathedral Choir School, Neil Blundell, about their potential annexing of a public building.

We exchanged robust dialogue and talked of the potential for increased use of the library by children and the challenges of digital inclusion.

However, our conversation did not convince me that the Cathedral School has a good case for expanding their provision.

There are heavily oversubscribed schools in the south and north of Bristol and primary schools should have a local focus – local schools for local children is a key principle of a 21st century education system. Catchment/priority areas are not an old-fashioned idea – they will increasingly help us to define the terms of the debate about education provision and inclusion.

There are also key concerns that have yet to be answered about how the school would ensure a good environment – both indoor and outdoor – for children.

The proposals seem to suggest there will be lots of walking from one point to another (e.g. walking to a dining hall in a separate building, daily, in all weathers). This will have a significant impact on their quality of life.

The Scrutiny Commission report also suggests that primary aged children will be sharing a dining hall with secondary aged children. I actually like the idea of mixing age groups in school (it is a bit unnatural to segment children by age) but what plans have been made to sensitively manage this?

The report also references a ‘slight lack of natural light’. As pointed out by the Scrutiny Commission,‘slight’ is not a scientific term. There are serious concerns about the long-term effects of lack of natural light on children and their ability to learn.

There is no evidence on this in the report that suggests they have considered this.

Additionally, there is not the space for children to be able to access both indoor and outdoor play areas. Physical recreation is crucial for the development of children’s understanding of health & wellbeing and for developing social and team skills.

Finally, there is perhaps the biggest concern – that low-income families will not be able to access this provision. There are concerns with admission arrangements, with it being compared to a ‘lottery system’. We need a clear statement from the Mayor that this should not apply to a primary school. There is a definite pattern emerging with free schools. Many are proposals for middle class parents who do not want their kids to go to a traditional state school.

We must look carefully at this in Bristol. There are clear benefits for children from different socio-economic backgrounds mixing together, and there is no evidence that this school appeals to the wide range of people that I know it hopes to.

The Mayor

The campaign to save the Central Library’s basement reference collection has been a truly cross-party campaign. Conservative councillor Richard Eddy started the e-petition, Green councillors Daniella Radice and Rob Telford have campaigned, Labour councillors Peter Hammond and Fabian Breckles have spoken out, and Lib Dem councillors have expressed reservations too.

The Mayor has made clear prior to today’s meeting that “no decision has been taken”.

With that in mind, he will be willing to listen to the Love Bristol Libraries campaign’s view that the Cathedral School proposals damage the good reputation of Bristol as a knowledge economy and do not give adequate provision for children in Bristol.

Children should be treated as children not as ‘numbers’ or ‘places’. There are lots of use of the words ‘places’ in this report which assumes that children are numbers. We need to give, first and foremost, consideration to the needs of real, live children.

The Central Library is a lifelong, democratic educational institution that is not limited to a specific age-range or socio-economic status. It is a great example of archictecture and sits at the heart of our city’s civic centre.

It would be bizarre for an architect of George Ferguson’s standing to fail to see that the huge benefits that keeping reference materials in the basement of the library brings to our civic life and our city’s cultural offer.

“Once you’ve lost a public space you’ve lost it for good.”

Six months in

I thought it was worth taking stock after six months of being a city councillor in Bristol. So here’s a blog.

I was elected on Friday 3rd May 2013. (If you want to know the kinds of things our campaign was talking about, try here, and here, and here.)

It was a tense count, with three parties believing they had a chance. The real surprise for us was that Labour came second and the Lib Dems third. I I knew we had put the time and effort in and had managed to canvas the entire ward, so I felt OK with the whole thing. Plus, I was knackered, so it’s hard to feel much!

The emotions when I won didn’t fully arrive as I thought they would. It felt natural and I got no huge surge of adrenaline after we were privately told the results. When you get up to make your acceptance speech, it is nervewracking – and it’s especially good as not everyone in the room knows who has won – and it was only when I got up there that it hit me how much emotional energy I’d been investing in it. I’m amazed I got any words out at all.

Thankfully, you get a three-day weekend to recover from the six-month campaign you’ve just fought, and try and get some perspective and energy back to focus on the task ahead.

My first three months were dominated by three small letters: RPS. Gus and I hastily set up some consultation meetings, but I was initially frustrated that such an impactful policy shift could be implemented before conducting any level of community consultation in three of the four areas (Montpelier, St Andrews and St Werburghs). St Pauls had been consulting on the possibility of a scheme as long ago as 2006.

When it comes to it on big issues like this, your opinion as the local councillor doesn’t matter. We were clear about what we thought (see here), and I personally support the principle of a residents’ parking scheme, but you have to keep an open mind and let residents say what they’re thinking as the first priority, otherwise you can’t represent their views.

For me, the most challenging aspect of the job is the quantity of council meetings. This might seem obvious (and I was perfectly prepared for it, having attended Full Council meetings for a year or more before being elected), but it is particularly pronounced when you are on a small political group. I sit on five committees (Development Control Central, Governor Recruitment, CYPS, Elections & Democracy, Overview & Scrutiny Management), not to mention Full Council, Cabinet, Neighbourhood Partnership/Forum/Sub Groups, community groups,  one-off meetings and working groups that form. There are days when you can have four two-hour meetings in a row, which if you want to get things done (rather than just talk about getting them done) is a bit frustrating.

At the same time, it’s necessary for building relationships. There has been some good dialogue going on between councillors from different parties and since becoming the Green group whip (I don’t use it – the other Green councillors can vote how they like, and we have voted different ways a few times – although I think we are all agreed that we should never abstain), it’s felt like moving up a gear in terms of civil but frank conversations. I still feel strongly that we need more Green councillors on the Council, as there are many votes that would have gone in a more progressive direction.

Internally, we meet as a group of councillors twice a week – once as a group, and once with the wider party. It must be difficult for the two independent councillors – it really helps having a group of people behind you and pulling in the same direction.

What else…a LOT of emails. You soon learn that there will be a daily battle between being proactive and reactive – the temptation to just do the latter is always there. Many of the emails/phonecalls you get are positive and attempting to change things for the better – from residents, the council, for the city – but there are some that require coordinated action across different agencies for the resident to be well-served or access the right council services. There are people in Ashley who need a lot of support and I try to never turn down a meeting. It’s important to meet residents face-to-face wherever possible or preferable.

This is the space I want to push into in the next six months – meeting more residents and getting more of their ideas for community solutions to some of the problems we face. It’s hard to know 10,000+ people, but you’ve got to try, haven’t you?