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Bristol: New models of local resilience amid swingeing cuts

As huge cuts threaten Bristol’s neighbourhood partnerships and local services, the city is taking a partnership approach to social and economic change

This is no longer about salami-slicing but cutting. The things you view as part of the social fabric are going to stop and the only option is to look at alternatives.’

Thus one of the speakers at People, Places and Spaces: community-led solutions for Bristol, summed up the bleak reality for the city, following the council’s announcement that it needs to cut more than £100m from its budget over the next five years.

Figuring out the ‘alternative’ was the aim of Saturday’s event, convened by Locality and Bristol Council, and attended by over 200 people from community and voluntary organisations across the city.

A chance to re-think places and services

There are plenty of examples of communities taking over local services and assets, be they parks or libraries, and running them in ways that create greater social value than under public sector management.

Heeley Development Trust in Sheffield was formed two decades ago to take over a piece of derelict land and turn it into a community-run park. It has since taken on the running of a former primary school building next to the park, now a local enterprise centre.

‘I’ve spent 16 years figuring out how to run a park with no money’, said trust manager Andy Jackson.

He told the audience at Bristol that he has always made the case for his organisation in a professional and business-like way but advised them also not to get too hung up figuring out where the money would come from.

‘The debate should be about what do we want our towns and cities to be like and how we can instill our values into them,’ he said.

There are no positives from a local council making budget cut of the size that are coming to Bristol, but the conversations that have begun in the city could, it is hoped, bring fresh thinking to a range of issues across the city.

Challenging the perception of ‘community-led’

Paul Hassan, development manager at Locality south west, wants the community sector and the council to work together to build new models for public services and community businesses, models that build on the social and physical assets of the place and which challenge perceptions of what community-led can look like.

Some of these models are already there in the city, including Knowle West Media Centre, which runs Bristol Maker Lab, which trains people in digital manufacturing and takes on commercial contracts.

A key challenge for the council and the city as a whole is how to integrate and align some of its functions, not only to save money but also to allow it to think differently about its social and economic challenges.

For while Bristol has huge levels of social capital and community involvement, the city also has deep social and economic inequalities, with a wide gap between its richer and poorer areas.

Integration is beginning to happen. The mayor has set up a City Office which will bring local public, private and social sector organisations together from across the city to tackle issues such as homelessness.

The council has also launched a resilience strategy as a framework for decision-making in the city, uniting Bristol’s people, institutions and organisations to focus on what’s needed to build resilience into all aspects of city life.

Questions emerged during the event around what a more collaborative and resilient social and economic strategy for the city might look like. Could economic goals be better linked with social aims, shifting resources away from traditional economic development and towards the local social economy? What if citizens, community organisations, the NHS and other partners co-produced local health services with a focus on prevention? How does commissioning need to change? What does innovation mean in relation to city resilience?

Saturday’s event may have unearthed more questions than answers, but it showed the strength and determination of the city’s council and local social sector not only to protect local services but also to work collaboratively on a future vision for their city.

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