Bristol – growing a culture of citizen-led action

Posted on the 2nd May 2017

“There’s not anything for us to do in St Annes. If you want to do anything you have to travel out of the area.”

– Jenny

Bristol has a long history of citizen led action but some neighbourhoods have more of it than others. In the neighbourhoods which have less, we’ve been growing a culture of citizen-led action. We’ve been doing this by holding community building conversations with citizens door-to-door and in the streets and open spaces, focusing on what’s already strong in their neighbourhood and people’s interests, passions and skills. Then we connect people with their neighbours to take action on issues which are of interest to them. Here are a few of their stories:

Me and Sucdee are organising sports for children which started with a few children and now we have over 30 attending each session.”

– Deeqo

In St Judes (Central Bristol), Deeqo and her neighbours talked about the lack of activities for young people in their neighbourhood. Deeqo was connected to Darron who had funding for sports activities and since then Deeqo has organised more than 10 sporting events with over 200 young people taking part. She has attracted additional funding to develop sports activities for women. Aisha wanted “to bring the community together, whatever age and whatever culture, bringing people together and getting to know your neighbours.” With a couple of neighbours she has organised two Playing Out events in her community which over 100 people (families and neighbours) have attended strengthening community networks.

St Judes Playing Out
St Judes Playing Out

“My confidence has increased a lot. I now know a lot more parents in the area. The parents said to me if you can do it we can do it as well. It has given them the confidence to get involved next time.” 

– Aisha

St Judes Youth Sports
St Judes Youth Sports

Meanwhile St Annes’ (South Bristol) four citizens (Saleem, Sarah, Diana and Nagla) organised a community conversation to talk about what people might like to do in their community together. 25 adults and children came along to share their gifts, skills and passions.

St Annes Friday morning catch up
St Annes Friday morning catch up

“Just by coming together and talking we are doing something.”

– Saleem

Meeting each other and talking about their neighbourhood has been the catalyst for citizen led action. Local people have: set up an arts group for children and young people, running monthly sessions. They have created a new web page for people interested in getting involved in what goes on in St Annes and local primary school children held an afternoon tea for elders. Enjoyed hugely by both it will now become a regular event.

St Annes Coffee Morning
St Annes Coffee Morning

“The children were fantastic, they treated us like royalty.”

– The Elders

The arts group parents are linking up with others in the community to hold a community meal in a local café. School children plan to start a gardening project at the elders housing site while local allotment holders plan to support children to grow and tend their own pumpkins for an autumn celebration. The Friends of Brislington Brook (an environment group) are working together with parents of the arts group to have fun and games at the end of an annual medieval parade.

People who came together for the community conversation catch up with each other to progress their ideas and actions for their community every Friday morning. The Arts group are becoming a constituted with a bank account and have successfully attracted funding. The environment group and allotment holders are in touch with the local developer to see how they can benefit from their involvement such as recycled materials for allotments and make repairs in the local woods.

“Coming to the coffee morning gives me someone else to speak too otherwise I’m just talking to myself. It’s good company.” 

– Cynthia

A coffee morning is held by local people every Friday which has created an important place of social interaction for elders who can feel isolated if they don’t have the opportunity to meet with each other.

Meanwhile, right over in the North of Bristol, in Lawrence Weston neighbours are coming together to look at ways in which they can improve an overgrown verge outside their homes and are thinking about how they can encourage other people in their neighbourhood to do the same. Several mums are interested in developing a community response to childcare issues and helping mums get back to work. They are investigating training of local people to provide employment through a bank of trained carers who are local residents and the Children’s Centre is interested in helping support the idea. In return for the training, the residents have offered to give back their time to the local community to provide support or childcare for start-up local projects with little funding.

Steven is an ex-chef and is keen to teach local people to have the confidence to think of what to cook and make it from scratch. Food for the project will be donated by the local Marks and Spencer store and a pilot project will be funded by the Big Local fund. During the pilot, the time will be used to continue to speak to local people to develop the project further. Two local residents have offered to collect the donated food every week and when the food is delivered, Steven and the group will decide what to make together each week.

“It’s great there is something for the whole family to do together, especially eating. Local clubs are usually separate and there is not a lot of after school clubs for primary aged children in the area. I’m looking forward to learning new recipes to make at home for the kids.”

– One of a group of mums

There is a network of organisations supporting citizen led action across the city including voluntary sector, housing associations and Bristol City Council. These citizens stories have been supported by Bristol City Council Community Development Team who have been creating spaces for citizens to talk about their neighbourhood, what they are interested in, supporting them to connect together and to take action where they live. This is not about recruiting people to a particular cause or project but about supporting people to do the things that are most important to them.

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by Terry Black, Community Development Team Leader at Bristol City Council

Cover image: Children cooking over an open camp fire, Lawrence Weston

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