Many people in Bristol West have contacted me recently about the recent brutal attack on civilians in Syria and the UK’s response.
The bombing in Douma on 7 April that resulted in the deaths through chlorine gas of innocent civilians, including children, was horrific and those responsible must be held to account. I fully support the investigation being carried out into the attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). I want the inspectors to be allowed to do their work unhindered and I hope that President Assad and his allies give the OPCW every co-operation so that this is possible.
In 2015, the United Nations established a joint UN/OPCW inquiry into responsibility for toxic gas attacks. The inquiry found that the Syrian government had used the nerve agent sarin and had several times used chlorine as a weapon. It also found Islamic State used mustard gas. That inquiry ended in November 2017 after Russia blocked three attempts by the Security Council to renew its mandate. The use of chemical weapons is a particularly shocking war crime and that is why the international community long ago agreed to ban their use.
On the military action taken in response, I was very worried beforehand that it might lead to a wider conflict with Russia although it seems to have been carefully targeted at chemical weapons facilities and caused no casualties. We will see if it is effective or not in deterring the Syrian regime from further use of chemical weapons, but I am very strongly of the view that before authorising any UK military action, the Government should have consulted Parliament first – a point Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs made directly to the Prime Minister when she made her statement in the House of Commons. Parliament was given a say on UK military action in Syria in 2013 and 2015. I believe this convention must now be enshrined in law and have been calling for this for some time.
There are only victims in the war in Syria - the 400,000 or so people who have been killed, those who have been injured, and the more than half the population who have been forced to flee their homes.
That is why the humanitarian priorities must be for ceasefire, aid delivered to the people in Syria, help getting people out of Syria and a full and effective shared global response to refugees. As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, my focus is on building support amongst MPs for the UK to take a greater role in responding to refugees, challenging the government on their inadequate response and working with refugee organisations to coordinate campaigning to improve this response.
To that end, I have met with colleagues, the refugee sector and the Immigration Minister in the last week to challenge the government to take more refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the world where there is conflict. I challenged the Prime Minister on the UK’s response to the refugee crisis at the first available opportunity and will continue to do so.
Syrian people desperately need an end to the killing on all sides.
This will only come through a renewed international effort to achieve a ceasefire and a negotiated political settlement under the UN. Unfortunately, the problem is not a shortage of UN resolutions. There is a long list of draft UN Security Council resolutions that have been vetoed, or threatened with veto, or the resolutions on Syria that have been passed, including at least three that have called for a ceasefire.
President Assad is determined to pursue his war to the bitter end, supported by Russia and Iran, regardless of the cost to his citizens, who he has been bombing relentlessly. This has to end. There are also many other players involved in the war, which does not help the situation. If all national and international parties turned their energy to peace negotiations, this would truly give hope to the people of Syria.
I will continue to challenge the government, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and everyone else who can influence this outcome to do everything they can to end the war.
Many people in Bristol West have contacted me recently about the recent brutal attack on civilians in Syria and the UK’s response. The bombing in Douma on 7 April that resulted in...
Did you, or a family member, come to the UK from a Commonwealth country between 1948 and 1971? Have you been asked to prove your right to stay in the UK or had difficulties with pensions or healthcare?
You may have seen in the news that some people who came to Britain from Commonwealth countries many years ago are experiencing difficulties because of their immigration status.
People in Bristol have told me that the government has asked them to provide evidence that they have a right to live and work in the UK, which they cannot provide. In some cases, people have been denied access to healthcare, prevented from working or refused benefits when they’ve paid taxes all their lives. In the most shocking cases they’ve been detained and threatened with removal.
If this has happened to you, or you’re worried about having to prove your immigration status, I want to hear from you.
Public meeting for those who may be affected and their family members.
When: 2:30 to 4pm on Saturday 28 April.
Where: The King’s Centre on King Square, Bristol, BS2 8AZ.
I am organising this meeting with my casework team. We can give the latest update from the Home Office and discuss in person any concerns you might have. By hearing about your experiences will also help me to press the Government to resolve this situation.
On Monday 16 April I asked Home Secretary Amber Rudd: Why should the onus be on these honoured citizens to prove their right to reside in the UK?
I believe the burden of proof should instead rest with the Home Office. Indeed, the responsibility for this disgraceful situation must rest with the Government. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has blamed her own department, while Theresa May set this chain of events in motion by proudly announcing plans to make the UK a “hostile environment” when she was Home Secretary.
Did you, or a family member, come to the UK from a Commonwealth country between 1948 and 1971? Have you been asked to prove your right to stay in the...
This week is Parliamentary recess – which means there are no debates in the Houses of Parliament. So what do MPs do during this time?
Well, I spend a lot of recess days in Bristol West. This is valuable time when I try to help as many people as possible who are struggling with the impact of government policies, through my casework. Sometimes this is done via a constituency surgery, but often my team are able to resolve problems faster than waiting for a face-to-face appointment. Recess is also a good time to be out and about meeting different organisations, from businesses to schools, charities and community groups.
Casework and spending time with different organisations is how I find out what I need to say and do in Parliament so I can better represent the constituency.
To give you a flavour of what this means in practice, here is a selection of my appointments over 48 hours last week.
I started off Tuesday morning with one of my regular constituency surgeries, which are to help respond to individuals’ questions or problems. A typical surgery session may include a wide range of individual circumstances, from complex immigration cases to difficulties accessing benefits, housing problems to the concerns of local businesses. I also help people who are having a difficult time with a government agency such as HMRC or a local government licensing department. Sometimes people want to discuss policy changes they feel strongly about. This week this included discussions about agriculture policy and the medicines available on the NHS.
We followed up the surgery by submitting several Written Parliamentary Questions for Ministers. I also wrote to several government departments asking them to look into particular cases. I often follow up these meetings researching particular issues. Last week that included delving deeper on the process for medicines to get licensed and approved on the NHS.
A ride-along with the police
After the surgery, I was privileged to shadow officers from Avon and Somerset Constabulary as they went about a typical Tuesday evening shift. PC Ben Spence and Sergeant Richard Jones (who you may recognise if you watched episode 1 of Drugsland on BBC One) from the Neighbourhoods Team, and PC James Bowles and PC Jenny Daly, from Response, took me on their respective beats and answered my many questions.
Ben and Rich took me with them as they visited several extremely vulnerable people who have become victims of ‘cuckooing’ – where they are exploited, coerced, threatened and sometimes hurt, until their home is taken over by drug dealers. This is clearly a very distressing aspect of the modern drugs trade in our city, but I was pleased to see the force's commitment to protecting those who are caught up in it, as well as of course prioritising protection for the public. However, it was clear that this is really challenging work and shows the disturbing ways that Bristol’s drugs trade has evolved.
After this, I went out with James and Jenny from the Response team – officers who respond to calls from dispatch as emergencies are reported to the police. After attending an incident with them I saw how they arrest and book someone in to the custody suite in Keynsham. I learnt more about the dangers our police face every day, while keeping us safe, and how hard they work doing that despite funding cuts. I am backing the 'Protect the Protectors' Bill initiated by Holly Lynch MP to improve how we protect those who protect us.
The police are stretched at the moment, with officer numbers across the country at their lowest levels for 30 years. Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens recently warned that funding for the service is at a tipping point. Seeing the vital work that these officers do in the flesh has made me even more determined to stand up to the government and demand that our police forces are given the funding and resources they need to keep us all safe.
Investigating cancer care at Southmead Hospital
The next day I visited the Bristol Breast Care Centre and NGS Macmillan Wellbeing Centre at Southmead Hospital. The Centre has a huge personal significance for me, as I had treatment here as a patient in 2015 - 2016 and support from the Macmillan Centre. It was very moving to be able to return as an MP.
The Breast Care Centre routinely screens 60,000 women each year from Bristol and the surrounding area, and cares for around 10,000 patients who develop symptoms each year. The advantage of the single site is that diagnosis, treatment planning and many other aspects are all done in the one place, by staff who only work on breast cancer.
Emotional and practical help is on hand just next door thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers from Macmillan who support patients and their families. This facility was invaluable while I was undergoing treatment and it was wonderful to be welcomed back to meet other people benefitting from it.
Meeting victims of domestic abuse at Next Link
Later on Wednesday, I visited Next Link, which provides mental health help, domestic abuse support services and support for victims of rape and sexual abuse, across Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
I spent time meeting staff from the crisis team and then discussing the impact of current laws and policies with a group of staff and clients. We discussed the draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill which is currently out for consultation, the ways court and police practices can affect victims and children and the effect of chronic housing shortages.
Talking Brexit with Bristol businesses
On Thursday afternoon I went to a meeting about our departure from the EU organised by Business West. It brought together large and small businesses from across the region.
I was concerned to hear how these companies still face a lot of uncertainty when we leave the EU – which is now less than a year away. The UK risks becoming much more challenging for any business which moves goods, parts or labour around the EU, especially when regulations change in the EU after we are no longer bound by them in the UK. This will create problems when exporting, in turn affecting job security, which has a further impact on the wider local economy.
I am trying to meet as many businesses and individuals as I can to help make them better informed and prepared. By building a clear picture of how these organisations could be affected by Brexit, I can challenge government to meet these needs. And I want to hear from you about how you or your business will be affected by Brexit. You can complete my latest Brexit survey here.
A time to take stock
These were not my only appointments this week. For example, I also gave the keynote speech at one of the regular meetings of the Women in Banking and Finance Network, about how I got into politics and what it’s like being a female MP.
During these 48 hours I also worked with my staff on responses to casework and policy questions coming in through emails and petitions.
Recess is also a good time to prepare for upcoming debates in Parliament. Last week I dedicated time to reading briefings on refugee policy as we have a Bill coming up on immigration. I am working with colleagues across both Houses of Parliament to try to get amendments put down to help improve refugees’ rights – watch this space...
Last but not least, I also launched a new Facebook campaign page for my work on improving Bristol’s air quality – join the conversation on #BristolBreathingBetter!
As you can see, recess periods are often busy, but they do allow us to take stock of the work we do as Members of Parliament, looking at the priority areas in our constituencies. I’d like to thank all the great people and organisations I have met this week. It is good to be working with you.
This week is Parliamentary recess – which means there are no debates in the Houses of Parliament. So what do MPs do during this time? Well, I spend a lot...
That’s what I call a good day’s work.
Today the UK took a step towards making it easier for refugees fleeing persecution, war and torture to be reunited with their families, as MPs voted 129 to 42 in support of the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill. I am proud to have played a part in this.
For MPs, Fridays are usually constituency days. Monday to Thursday I’m mostly in Parliament, so that leaves Thursday evening to Monday morning to visit schools, businesses, charities and all the other individuals and organisations I represent in Parliament and advocate for in Bristol West.
On some Fridays, Parliament does sit to hear Private Member’s Bills (PMBs). These are opportunities for individual MPs to try to change the law. Many big social changes were brought in by PMBs, such as legalising homosexuality. But they’re tough to get through, particularly without the support of the government of the day.
You need at least 100 MPs to vote to take the Bill to the next stage. You also need to make sure that other MPs who oppose your Bill don’t try to ‘talk it out’, by remaining on their feet, giving a long speech preventing the Bill from getting to a vote by running out of time or numbers of MPs. You also need the cooperation of whoever is in the chair – Mr Speaker, or one of the Deputy Speakers. And you really need a lot of public support. If you don’t have this, you won’t have enough MPs in the chamber, as each one will have to weigh up missing a constituency day against staying in Parliament to represent constituents on something they may not care about.
You may well find that even if you use all your knowledge of Parliamentary process, call in favours from your colleagues and do a brilliant job of making your arguments, many MPs will only make up their minds on the day about which way to vote.
Above all, it takes a team to get a Private Members’ Bill through.
This Bill had a team. First, and most importantly, refugees and refugee organisations from across the country wanted this Bill. If you’ve been granted asylum in this country, but your 18-year-old daughter or aging parent is still stuck in a conflict zone, you will be desperately worried about them and desperate to be reunited with them. It’s currently hard to do that. This Bill, if passed into law, will make it easier. These organisations did a great job of lobbying MPs across the country to get the numbers they needed.
Scottish Nationalist Angus Brendan MacNeil MP was the Bill’s sponsor. He had to make the opening speech, work with the refugee organisations to mobilise popular support and be on top of the arguments.
As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, I was the unofficial whip for the refugee organisations. As an official whip for the Opposition (Labour Party), I’ve learnt loads about how to do this effectively.
Most people think being a whip is about bossing colleagues around. It’s not. That would not work.
It’s about three things:
- Building good relationships with your colleagues and with MPs in other parties, using your powers of persuasion to influence them.
- Knowing how Parliament and the Standing Orders of the House of Commons work
- Being able to count!
And it was a privilege to be a whip on this Bill, using every bit of knowledge, all my powers of persuasion, a lot of counting, texting, phoning, checking and more counting. This work supported Angus’s lead and the refugees and refugee organisations who are campaigning to get the Bill through this stage of Parliament.
Angus is MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, a constituency formerly known in English as the Western Isles. I planned to speak so practiced this Gaelic name all morning. However, I did not speak in the end as it was more important to focus on getting enough MPs to vote.
There is still more work to do. The Bill has to go through line-by-line scrutiny in the committee stage, amendments, debates, further amendments in the House of Lords before it comes back to the final stages of the House of Commons.
As an official and unofficial whip, I’ll be helping get it through these processes. As chair of the APPG for Refugees I’ll be keeping colleagues and refugee organisations informed. As the MP for Bristol West, I’m very proud that the people I represent agree that this is important.
Every day in Parliament there’s the possibility of doing something special. Of changing people’s lives. And often it doesn’t work out the way I want it to, or in the ways the people of Bristol West have asked me to push for.
But sometimes it does work out. And today, by getting closer to changing the law so more refugee families can be reunited, it did.
That’s what I call a good day’s work. Today the UK took a step towards making it easier for refugees fleeing persecution, war and torture to be reunited with their...
Chancellor Philip Hammond today presented the Government’s Spring Statement in the House of Commons.
Even though the UK was the world’s slowest-growing major economy in 2017, the Chancellor used the Statement to congratulate himself on surpassing meagre economic forecasts. But his statement made it clear that the government is oblivious to the desperate situation of many public services in Bristol West.
Education was largely absent from the Chancellor’s statement – even as budget cuts are leading to a tragic reduction in services in Bristol. Head teachers across my constituency tell me that they are having to reduce staff and increase class sizes, as a result of budget cuts. As a consequence, help for students with special educational needs has been cut dramatically in some schools.
Indeed, the Statement was notable in what was missing. There was little mention of productivity, which has been stagnant for 10 years. The government should be investing in the skills and training to make the UK more productive, ultimately helping us compete outside the EU.
There was almost nothing on funding for the NHS, which is facing life-threatening staff shortages. And there was no recognition that services for some of the most vulnerable people are threatened, with more than 40% of children’s services across the UK are now unable to fulfil their statutory duties.
The Spring Statement not only ignored current crisis in our public services – it also ignored the huge investment challenges of the future as well. In the South West there is a huge opportunity for government to invest in the solutions to climate change, including green jobs, electric vehicle charging points, a scrappage scheme for the most polluting diesel vehicles and clean energy projects in the Severn Estuary.
Chancellor Philip Hammond today presented the Government’s Spring Statement in the House of Commons. Even though the UK was the world’s slowest-growing major economy in 2017, the Chancellor used the...
Last week, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer, I helped to launch the group’s new report ‘A Mixed Picture: An Inquiry into Geographical Inequalities and Breast Cancer’, which uncovers the true extent of a ‘postcode lottery’ in breast cancer diagnosis and care across England.
The report followed a year-long inquiry (October 2016 – November 2017), which gathered evidence from NHS leaders, clinicians, patients and charities. It reveals that, while overall outcomes for breast cancer are improving, stark geographical inequalities exist across England in screening, early detection and access to treatment and services. It shows that women under the age of 75 in the worst-affected areas are more than twice as likely to die from breast cancer as those elsewhere in the country.
The report, published with the support of the charity Breast Cancer Now, was widely covered in the national and local media, and I was able to call on NHS England and Public Health England to take action to end these widespread differences and to ensure women across the country receive fair access to the services, treatment and support they need.
The findings are of particular concern for us here in the West. The report shows the South West as a whole is the worst region in England for breast cancer waiting times, falling worryingly short of the recommended referral target. More than 15 per cent of patients wait longer than two weeks to see a specialist (15.5 per cent) – over three times more than in the North East (4.4 per cent).
The inquiry also heard serious concerns from NHS leaders about the ‘demographic time bomb’ facing the breast cancer workforce. Current vacancy rates, coupled with a mammographic workforce approaching retirement, are affecting the health service’s ability to cope with increasing breast cancer incidence among an ageing population.
Worryingly, over a fifth (22.36 per cent) of mammography posts are vacant in the South West. This exceeds the England average of 19.4 per cent, and is a stark contrast to the North East and Yorkshire & the Humber, where just 8.63 per cent of posts are vacant. These shortages can obviously affect the speed at which patients are diagnosed and treated.
But it is much more encouraging to see that the South West is one of the three top-performing regions for breast screening attendance and we now need to ensure this is matched in other areas. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the more likely treatment is to be successful. It’s so important for women to attend routine mammograms.
It was incredibly moving to hear from speakers at the launch event just how difficult it can be for breast cancer patients to get the support they need. While such variation across the region exists, we’re falling short of the government’s ambition of world-class healthcare for all cancer patients.
Last week, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer, I helped to launch the group’s new report ‘A Mixed Picture: An Inquiry into Geographical Inequalities and Breast...
I studied Maths at university, but I have to confess that when I read Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ most of it went over my head. Since then, I read the New Scientist regularly and my microbiologist niece briefs me regularly on the science she thinks an MP should know.
Bristol’s academic scientists are brilliant at inviting me up to various departments to be briefed; so too are the huge number of scientists in the private sector – people helping to make aeroplanes that fly safely, technology to help diagnose illnesses more quickly, or medicines to treat them better, for example.
Only about thirty MPs, including me, studied a STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Indeed, there was criticism recently of the Parliamentary Scientific and Technology Select Committee for having few MPs with a science or technology degree on it. However, when I ask scientists if they would like to be MPs, they say: ‘Of course not! I love science.’ Quite! But, considering the importance of science, it’s vital that policy and science meet and learn from each other.
CERN – Centre for European Nuclear Research, in Geneva, where the Large Hadron Collider is (LHC) – recently invited interested MPs to visit. It was during their winter ‘down’ period, when the LHC is turned off, for various reasons including maintenance.
But what is CERN and what does the LHC do? And why does it matter? I discovered more than I expected.
Put as simply as I can, CERN brings scientists from across the world together to share and develop knowledge about what the universe is made of and how. One of the scientists there, and old school friend of mine, physicist Pippa Wells, said: ‘We use enormous machines producing massive amounts of data about tiny objects and events which took place at the start of the universe.’
At CERN, tiny particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. This gives physicists clues about how particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature. The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions. The LHC itself, in which some of these collisions take place, is underground in a 27km circumference tunnel below Geneva. Because it was switched off, it was safe for us to go below ground to see it. It was an awe-inspiring sight, a feat of engineering as well as physics.
There are many different research projects there. I was taken on arrival to the ‘Antimatter factory’! And yes, they are trying to make anti-matter. If you want to know more, do have a look at the CERN website.
But what has it ever done for us? As if discovering the origins of the universe is not enough, we have CERN to thank for the internet, MRI scanners (Magnetic Resonance Imaging – used in hospitals to diagnose and treat life-threatening conditions) and touchscreen technology! I was thrilled to be in the same room as the data storage where CERN scientists said: ‘We need a way to connect these billions of pieces of data between computers.’ I was moved to learn that the banging magnets which scan you when you have an MRI scan is technology developed by people wanting to discover what happened just after the ‘Big Bang’. Other scientists working there told me about how their work will eventually improve the ability of MRI and PET scanner to help clinicians.
Scientists from the University of Bristol are well represented at CERN, which has partnerships with academic institutions across the world.
The Bristol connection goes beyond this though – Peter Higgs, who predicted the existence of the Higgs-Boson Particle, discovered at CERN in 2013 after decades of research, went to Cotham School. He won the Nobel Prize for his work, but he had been inspired by another former Cotham pupil and Nobel Physics Prize winner, Paul Dirac! Two Nobel Prize-winning physicists from one Bristol school. What a great tradition to be proud of.
CERN runs school visits and other outreach activities as well as opportunities for technician apprentices and university students – Pippa first started out her career at CERN after she participated in a summer school. If you’re studying science, have a look at the CERN website. Perhaps you could be the next Bristolian to be awarded the Nobel Prize!
I studied Maths at university, but I have to confess that when I read Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ most of it went over my head. Since then,...
Are you a child, teenager, or young adult who has had cancer? Are you a parent or a carer for a child who is receiving - or has received - treatment? Are you a clinician who has developed good practice for young cancer patients?
Last year, with the help of CLIC Sargent and Teenage Cancer Trust I set up the APPG because young people told me that they wanted their voices heard in Parliament. They wanted to speak up about how their experiences could be improved, and they wanted politicians and experts to hear about the consequences of treatment for their education, friendships, and their future. Improvements have been made in cancer services across the UK, but progress still needs to be made in key areas of experience for children, teenagers and young adults, including earlier diagnosis, access to age-appropriate services and post-treatment support.
To help do that, the APPG is conducting an inquiry into young people's patient experiences, and I spoke about the inquiry in a debate on the government’s Cancer Strategy last week. Full details are on the APPG website. And you can follow updates on the work of the APPG on Twitter (@APPGYoungcancer)
What parts of your patient experience worked well? What would have made the experience easier? How were you treated by your doctors, nurses and medical staff? What support would you want in place to help with the long term health impacts of treatment? And what question would you want to ask the government if you had the chance?
Tell us your story and together we can make the experience of cancer treatment better for all young people. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your experiences, and please the survey with anyone you know who has a story that they can contribute.
Are you a child, teenager, or young adult who has had cancer? Are you a parent or a carer for a child who is receiving - or has received -...
Today, members of the UCU - University and College Union - are striking to protect their pensions. Many members of staff at the University of Bristol (and those who work at other universities but live in Bristol West) have told me of their frustration at having to take this action, and their desire for their employers to engage in meaningful dialogue with unions and staff members.
Staff are faced with the prospect of their pensions moving from defined benefits (DB) to (DC). They're not alone in this, and this has implications for people in private and public sector jobs. This move makes planning for old age a lottery. Rather than knowing what proportion of your final salary you're going to have as a pension, it's all down to the highs and lows of the financial markets. And we all know how reliable they are!
It's not too late for employer representatives to head off further disruption in this case, if they enter into proper negotiations over their staff's pensions. I'm also frustrated that the government has sat on the sidelines and let this situation develop under their watch.
I'm lucky to represent a constituency with a world-class university in it, but it only achieves and maintains that status through the hard work of their staff - lecturers, librarians, technicians and administrators. It's vital that their hard work and efforts are properly valued, and that their pensions are protected - especially given increased casualisation and precariousness within the higher education sector that this government has presided over. I have written to the Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University about this. And I urge all the national bodies to get back to negotiating for the good of all staff and students, and the future of our wonderful university sector.
Today, members of the UCU - University and College Union - are striking to protect their pensions. Many members of staff at the University of Bristol (and those who work at other...
Bristol is known for its world-class culture, encompassing art, music, theatre, media, architecture, festivals and more. Culture is central to our economy (an £84bn industry), our communities and our everyday lives. However it doesn’t just arise from nowhere – there needs to be space for people to work on their craft and for creativity to incubate.
For ten years Hamilton House in Stokes Croft has been at the heart of Bristol’s creative community. This space is home to a dizzying array of artists, small businesses and social enterprises who have made an immeasurable contribution to this city, its cultural landscape, and the local economy.
I am very concerned about the eviction of the tenants of a large section (Block C) of Hamilton House, scheduled to take place on 1 March. This will cause turmoil to a large number of current tenants, many of whom have no alternative space to go to, putting their livelihoods under threat.
Until recently I had not realised the breadth of activity, and the diversity of occupations, that this space supports, including: theatre producers; costume makers; seamstresses; illustrators; community journalists; photographers; painters; furniture makers; event organisers; a community radio station; therapists; a mural painter; sculptors; community art workers; stained glass artists; mosaic artists; weavers; textile artists; the Bristol bike project; screen printers; music management; and a charity supporting disadvantaged families and children.
I’ve met with some of these tenants; with Coexist, the organisation which manages Hamilton House; and with Connolly & Callaghan, who own the building, to discuss how a resolution can be found.
I am aware that Connolly & Callaghan intend to develop some of the Hamilton House site for housing, which has prompted the current series of events. We all know there’s a shortage of housing in the city. The demand for new housing must be met, particularly in sustainable central locations. However, cultural and creative spaces must not be seen as expendable as more and more sites are earmarked for residential development. What is most profitable in the short-term shouldn’t starve the city of what contributes to its unique character. Culture and housing need to complement each other, not compete.
I don’t have the exact answer to what the solution for Hamilton House should be. I appreciate that the building is in need of upgrading, and that its financial model needs to be viable. However, I urge Connolly & Callaghan to work constructively with the whole Hamilton House community in finding a positive outcome to secure its future. There are great opportunities for how Stokes Croft can develop, encompassing housing, culture, retail, businesses and the third sector. This story must have local people and their needs at its heart.
Bristol is known for its world-class culture, encompassing art, music, theatre, media, architecture, festivals and more. Culture is central to our economy (an £84bn industry), our communities and our everyday...