Backing Bristolians during the cost-of-living crisis

About the Affordable Cities blog series and #BetterUrbanHousing
People living in cities across the world are facing the effects of the housing affordability and cost-of-living crisis. OECD Champion Mayors recently endorsed the new “OECD Brussels Blueprint for Affordable cities and Housing for All” at the Brussels Urban Summit where they shared innovative solutions to tackle these challenges and drive more inclusive economic growth. They continue to drive efforts that shape a more affordable, equitable and resilient urban future.

Bristol is a rapidly growing city in the West of England. It covers 42 square miles and has a growing population of around half-a-million people. We face similar challenges to many cities: the global climate emergency; a national cost of living crisis; and a housing crisis. All this during a time of geopolitical instability. 

Ours is tale of two cities. We have a £15 billion economy, two world-class universities, thriving business sectors and the highest graduate retention rate outside of London. This sits alongside entrenched inequalities. 70,000 people live in the 10% most deprived areas in England, including 19,000 children and 8,000 older people. 

As an OECD Champion Mayor, I have a strong focus on sustainable and inclusive growth and on ensuring that we deliver a just transition to ensure that nobody is left behind as we move towards net zero. This is especially important at a time of stagnant wages, high inflation and deepening inequality.  

One City

We launched “Bristol One City” in 2019 as a way of bringing together public, private, voluntary and other partners from across Bristol to deliver on shared priorities. Bristol’s One City Plan, written by and for the city, lays out a vision through to 2050 centred around the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Bristol is full of people who “can do” and who want to make a difference. We are fortunate to have a wealth of citizens, community and voluntary organisations, and faith groups working across our city. It is these connections which strengthen communities, enhance well-being, and build our resilience as a city so that when we need to respond to a crisis or emergency we can do so in a coordinated way, just as we did during the pandemic. 

People have supported Bristol’s response
to the national cost-of-living crisis

Supporting Bristolians pictured in the Council Chamber at City Hall

In March 2022, we knew that something had to be done to help alleviate the effects of the growing national cost-of-living crisis on the most vulnerable. The price of energy and other essentials, including food, were and are rising alarmingly, leaving many at risk of choosing between heating and eating. We started talking with our network of community organisations, many of whom we have worked closely with through Bristol’s City Office.

We talked about the idea of a city-wide network of warm spaces, with social justice as a key principle. It was very important to everyone we didn’t create places where people would feel stigmatised, so we called them Welcoming Spaces.

Our idea was that everyone would be welcome, no questions asked and the more people the better.

Reaching further

Having a clear vision and a co-ordinated approach generated the momentum we needed to attract financial support. Early on I was approached by a private donor who was willing to fund Welcoming Spaces in the neighbourhoods where the impact would be greatest. To establish further funding for organisations, we worked with Quartet and the regional Integrated Care Board to establish a One City fund to support a whole range of activity for Welcoming Space. This helped the programme provide community hubs to extend the reach of advice organisations and well-being support. It was vital that anyone willing to offer support was given the capacity to
do so.

City partners and Bristol City Council officers committed time, knowledge, and expertise towards our winter 2022 response. At the start, we could not have imagined we would now have a network of over 100 Welcoming Spaces and that 86% of Bristol residents would be within 10 minutes’ walk of at least one.

Advice from North and South Bristol Advice Centres, Age UK and the West of England Centre for Inclusive Learning (WECIL) supported over 400 people at Welcoming Spaces to collectively become £257,000 better off. 246 residents volunteered with local organisations and we were able to fund 76% of spaces, helping provide hot meals, drinks, advice and activities. 63% of our Welcoming Spaces have said they want to continue offering support throughout the summer. This has been a true city-wide collaboration, using our One City approach.

The Welcoming Spaces scheme provided tangible support for Bristol residents as a response to the national cost-of-living crisis this week. I was also pleased to see the collective support and leadership provided through the One City approach, resulting in over 40 of the established Welcoming Spaces continuing to offer support for residents, as we move towards the summer.

More generally the work we have done developing the City Office and the One City approach, will provide Bristol with the ability to respond to the challenges of the future. It offers real hope. We have moved from city government to city governance, bringing together key organisations and institutions to solve Bristol’s problems.

I look forward to joining the Brussels Urban Summit in June, sharing Bristol’s story, and meeting fellow Champion Mayors.

About the OECD Champion Mayors Initiative
Created in 2016, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative is a global coalition of mayors who meet on a regular basis to share their experience in the pursuit of inclusive growth in cities. Since its inception, over 100 different mayors from around the world have joined the Initiative, contributing their voice to the global debate, and making major strides in their cities toward youth empowerment, sustainable climate policy and support for SMEs. The Champion Mayors will meet at the Brussels Urban Summit on 13 June to drive change on improving housing affordability and cost of living for residents in their cities.

Mayor of Bristol | + posts

Marvin Rees was first elected Mayor in May 2016 and Bristol became the first major European city to have an elected mayor of Black African heritage. His working life began at Tearfund, before working with Sojourners in Washington, DC and President Clinton’s advisor, Dr Tony Campolo. Back in the UK he was a broadcast journalist at BBC Bristol, worked at the Black Development Agency supporting the BME-led voluntary sector and worked on delivering race equality in mental health with NHS Bristol’s Public Health team. He holds two Master’s Degrees in Political Theory and Government and in Global Economic Development. He is a Yale World Fellow and co-founded the City Leadership Programme. He entered the political world having graduated from Operation Black Vote and Labour Future Candidate programmes. During his first term in office he delivered almost 9,000 homes, announced the development of a mass transit system, provided quality work experience for over 3,500 children, developed the One City Plan, successfully bid to bring Channel 4 TV to Bristol and is leading the city’s response to both the climate and ecological emergencies.  Among other memberships, Marvin is a member of the Mayors Migration Council, Climate Migration Council, is on the Board of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, is an OCED Champion Mayor and is Chair of Core Cities UK. Marvin was re-elected as Mayor in May 2021.