Come together

Wed 3 April 2019, 10:24 am

Bristol's One City Plan is focused on collaboration, community engagement and stakeholder participation to bolster the city’s prospects and encourage a culture that fosters talent and opportunities for all. Karen Jensen-Jones speaks to the man leading on the plan, mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees

When thinking about Bristol’s future, there are worse options than looking to one of the world’s most famous cities. Inspired by New York’s OneNYCPlan, a new initiative is set to shape important issues such as health and well-being, education and skills, communities, growth, transport and infrastructure.The One City Plan, devised by Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees, is an ambitious, collaborative approach to aligning partners across the city in a shared vision for Bristol up to the year 2050.

“The idea of the One City plan has been with me since 2010 when I was director of Bristol’s local strategic partnership,” explains Rees. “The question that kept coming to mind was ‘how could our city become more organised’? I recognised that many of the challenges facing Bristol could only be solved through collective actions. We needed collective impact for a fair, healthy and sustainable city with reduced inequality.”

Following his election as mayor in 2016, Rees organised a city gathering of partners from businesses, charitable organisations, academic institutions and the public sector, to consider what could be achieved in Bristol using their collective power. These gatherings now take place every six months and are clearly gathering momentum.

“I had the platform when I became mayor to bring people together and realised when I looked around that we had a lot of resources between us and that a shared vision and collaborative approach would be an incredibly powerful tool for our city,” remembers Rees. “The One City Plan is looking ahead to where we want to be in 2030, 2040 and 2050 and defining the sequence of challenges and opportunities that we need to identify to deliver our promises. It’s a very clear plan, but it’s not perfect and it’s open to debate and change, which is a very important part of the strategy.”

With collaboration at the heart of the One City Plan, Rees has organised six boards to prioritise health and wellbeing, economy, homes and communities, environment, learning and skills and connectivity.

“Take an issue like mental health,” says Rees. “We need to invest in the mental health of the children in our city. We need to deliver the homes and schools to deliver their education. In this wider joint venture, we’ll create strong and resilient entrepreneurs and people who innovate and who can cope with failure. Employers want a strong workforce, so investing in mental health today pays off in the future. It’s in our vested interest to reach into each other’s organisation and make sure we’re all working in a way that benefits the common good.”

Despite strong support from business leaders and the wider community, Rees admits it’s an ambitious and challenging initiative.

“One of the challenges we faced initially was getting people to put ideas forward for future projects that will take time and debate to come to fruition. There were many short-term ideas for the next couple of years, but the previous culture had not allowed people to look far enough ahead and have the confidence to be innovative.

“Between 2020 and 2050, we plan to build 60,000 new homes in the city, of which 24,000 will be affordable. By 2040, we aim for all 16 year-olds to have the right to vote and our plans for 2050 include a 70% reduction in premature deaths attributed to air pollution, access to primary care to be available seven days a week day or night and high-speed rail links connecting Bristol with other cities.

“It is ambitious, but if you create the right conditions and allow people to be innovative and bold, then they’re more willing to come forward with ideas. What’s important is to identify the challenges and keep looking for answers and that it’s OK to get it wrong, as long as you engage in further debate. We’re also keen to invite some of the funders coming from outside Bristol to the city gatherings so they too can be part of the conversation. It’s an important message to give to investors, who might go elsewhere, that they will have a voice in Bristol.”

The approach has won Rees many supporters which include the city’s universities. Robin Hambleton, emeritus professor of city leadership at the University of the West of England, expressed his views at the latest city gathering in January 2019.

“I think things are changing in Britain and city universities are becoming more engaged in local problem solving,” explains Hambleton. “We have many assets, including scholars, academics and staff, who are keen to make contributions for the good of our city. Working alongside the University of Bristol, Marvin [Rees] has prospered joint collaboration on active research and working with others to develop the collective intelligence of Bristol. I find the city gatherings are very encouraging, with such a good mix of business, trade unions, activist organisations, religious communities, professors and scholars from different disciplines. It’s very impressive and something I’ve only ever come across in the United States.”

Creating positive action through research and collaboration, Hambleton has set up his own initiative, The Bristol Forum, to support the mayor’s plan and bring together researchers and organisations from across the city. 

This is a shortened version of this article. Read the full version in the second issue of Bristol Is here