Part 3: Looking into the gulf

This blog is the last in a series of three on ethical facilitation by Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet and Temple Quarter artist-in-residence. Find out what Vanessa has to say about appropriate outreach and engaging with people from different backgrounds in her previous blogs. 

As an artist from the outside coming into a new space, it’s hard to make woolly notions such as art, aspirations, the future and self-expression seem relevant. It’s a similar conundrum for the university as they try to translate the glowing buzzwords of inclusivity, diversity and public engagement into concrete actions that benefit the public. Awareness of the university’s new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will hopefully increase as its opening date draws nearer and the buildings take physical shape. What’s harder to articulate and get people excited about is the potential for social change that brews alongside it. 

In a bid to connect these dots, I have often found myself working backwards. Instead of thinking about how the university’s agenda fits into the lives of local people, I’ve tried to learn about the many things that Bristol citizens want changed about the city. From there I work out what, if anything, the new campus might offer around their concerns and form my work from that. The issues that cropped up are familiar: better job prospects, cheaper and accessible childcare, more reliable transport links and less stigma around minority groups. Whilst there are some very exciting conversations around technological innovation and research around the new campus, it seems difficult to discuss these whilst many people feel that even an entry-level job at the university is out of their reach. This speaks to how potentially polarising tech advancements might be if they race ahead before we have addressed the deep gulfs in opportunity across class, gender, race and ability.  

Getting the group to talk about these issues without inserting my own political beliefs was both difficult and fascinating. We played a game where they each had a job title on a post-it note that they represented – the jobs ranged from social worker, teacher, hairdresser, cleaner, nurse and bin man right through to pilot, banker, computer programer and politician. They put themselves in order of who they thought made the most money, and then who they felt had the most worth in society. I watched them wrestle themselves into fascinating knots with these questions. Their ideas sprawled across many topics: economics, ethics, philosophy, sociology and politics. They had a unique disdain for specific jobs and a deep respect for others due to their culture and faith. One girl jokingly dismissed the career choice of musician or model as ‘haram’. This clash between my liberal, agnostic mindset and their Muslim/Somali upbringing was interesting to navigate. I think I did an okay job of honouring my point of view whilst focusing on learning more about theirs.  

During this game, one of the older, more cheeky and opinionated girls in the group derided photographers and journalists that go to war-torn countries to take pictures, instead of doing something to help. A spirited conversation ensued as to whether these images contribute by spreading awareness or if they merely dehumanise the people in them. As mentioned in part 2 of this blog, this further consolidated why taking constant pictures or videos whilst running the workshops didn’t feel right. 

Ultimately, these ‘groups’ we talk about in our meetings aren’t problems to solve, subjects of voyeuristic photographs or trophies of our liberal saviour complexes. We must remember this when we facilitate – only then will inclusion graduate from a tokenistic process to an integral value system. Whilst accepting that my motives as an artist can never be entirely altruistic, I am trying as much as possible to find a practice that is first and foremost responsive rather than instructive. It takes work, patience and a willingness to constantly unlearn. But through this unlearning, we’re more open to the wonders of the unexpected and tangential – where true art and progress live. 

Part 2: To understand and be understood

This blog is the second in a series of three on ethical facilitation by Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet and Temple Quarter artist-in-residence. Get up to speed on Vanessas thoughts on appropriate outreach in her first blog. 

As a freelancer who usually runs into creative sessions over a short period of time, there are limits to what I can do without the foundation of long-term rapport. Balancing the desire to make the workshops enriching for the participants with my own personal objectives as a commissioned artist is tenuous. In the creative writing workshops I ran for a Somali girl group in Barton Hill Settlement, I mostly found myself immersed in the task of keeping them engaged and focused. When the thought of recording the progress of the sessions crossed my mind, it felt crass to whip out my camera and start taking pictures. It’s an awkward quandary: I have an employer to report back to and clear reports on my activities keeps them happy. Twice over the four sessions, I took short videos that I promised not to share publicly. Other than that, my camera phone stayed in my bag. Building a strong enough foundation on which conversations and creativity can flower takes time. Constantly recording videos or taking pictures disrupts this and is a constant reminder to them that I am more concerned with the optics of what I am doing. I tried to be present with the group, to allow the process of talking and writing with them be its own ephemeral, worthwhile result. 

So how did the sessions go? Well: these girls were absolute live wires. Loud, cheeky, smart-mouthed and fizzing with an energy that occasionally tipped into insolence. Exactly like me at their age! The first two sessions were pretty chaotic and I struggled to keep them focused on any given task for more than a few minutes. Frankly, I didn’t blame them. I was an unknown entity, encroaching on their after-school club with strange questions and writing exercises that perhaps felt too reminiscent of the classroom. So I abandoned my earnest plans for twenty-minute writing and sharing exercises and focused on games – the quicker and the more physical, the better. The group clearly thrived on this type of energetic play. I tried as much as possible to make the space one of creativity, no matter how lateral my approach. If a planned exercise disintegrated due to lack of focus or interest, I tried to hone in on what the girls were talking about amongst themselves and ask questions about their lives and interests.  

This leads me on to a silly faux pas I made that still makes cringe months after the event. I say this in a bid to be transparent and show that we can all mess up and learn from it. One particular girl that we shall call Halimah was initially one of the more dismissive and disruptive girls in the group. To my surprise and delight, she eventually went on to write a stunning poem about Bristol by the fourth session. Whilst the girls were preparing for the final showcase, I decided on a whim to run to a corner shop and buy a few packets of sweets as a small prize for her. In my haste, I grabbed what I felt to be fail-safe crowd pleasers: Malteasers, Smarties and Haribo Tangfastics. After the showcase, I gave her the prize and told her the poem was brilliant. She seemed very happy with her sweets and didn’t mention any problems. It was only on the bus home, reflecting on the four weeks that had passed, that my brain made a sickening jolt of realisation. Haribo is made from gelatin, something a strict Muslim would most probably not eat. It was a small mistake, but one that made me inwardly groan at my thoughtlessness. 

These are the seemingly small but avoidable errors that come from lack of exposure and cultural sensitivity. I think sometimes, in our fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, we don’t attempt to connect with different groups at all. We severely underestimate our ability to understand, and be understood, by each other. So we continue to live in an ignorance that cannot be challenged or broken down, and remain safe in our homogenous bubbles. It’s safe to say that in trying to make connections outside of your circle, you probably will make mistakes. But it’s our job to correct ourselves and keep pushing. Not so we can arrive at a mythical stage of perfect enlightenment, but to commit to the quiet and constant exchange of an integrated society. 

In part 3, Vanessa will examine the opportunity gap for people in minority groups and the importance of Temple Quarter Enterprise Campuss relationship with the community.

Part 1: Nothing about us, without us

This blog is the first in a series of three on ethical facilitation by Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet and Temple Quarter artist-in-residence. 

How many times have you been privy to conversations about a group to which you don’t belong? It happens often in the worlds I frequent (media, the arts, education: the self-proclaimed pillars of progressive thought). In such conversations there is a lot of academic terminology, statistics and percentages. Faces scrunch up in devastating earnest, heads are nodded, pledges are signed, quotas are made. “Whatever to do about young people, women, Muslims, working class people, BAME people?” Yet representatives from these groups are often not in the room. 

To say these conversations don’t create important change would be overly cynical, but there is something persistently othering in how they are framed. I say this as both the person who belongs to many of the minority groups discussed and also as a member of this ham-fisted group of agonisers. I sometimes catch myself speaking of entire demographics of people in lazy sweeps, as if they were a bloated monolith and not an intricate web of individuals. Is there a way to speak of prevalent trends amongst a group without flattening communities and their stories? I like to hope so, but we haven’t quite found it yet. As the Latin phrase “Nihil de nobis, sine nobis” (Nothing About Us Without Us) succinctly asserts, no conversation around change should occur without those affected present.  

Whilst thinking of how to involve residents in the immediate area surrounding Temple Quarter, I felt it best that I reach out – and even this benign phrase seems to have a whiff of neo-colonial heroism about it! I had a vague notion that I wanted to work with local people in Lawrence Hill and that it would be good to work with young people in particular. After running creative writing sessions with a group of Somali girls in Barton Hill Settlement, I have been reflecting on the ethics and ultimate purpose of outreach work. I am still in the process of acknowledging the shape of my own ignorance, accepting that I am not entirely buffered by my youth, my blackness, my woman-ness, my general liberalism and artistic temperament. Coming in as an outside entity with an ambitious yet vague aim to enlighten a group in some way, there can be dangerous assumption that the group in question must be in the dark. 

This is not a neglected area of discussion; I recently read this brilliant piece on the potential pitfalls of outreach theatre work that has deeply informed my thinking on this issue. I organised the workshops with the help of Travelling Light Theatre that is also based in the Settlement. We had some great discussions on how to do outreach sensitively and the many mistakes made by well-intentioned facilitators. We discussed the importance of not exploiting the stories of others, no matter how pertinent, and not appropriating people’s narratives. As easy as an airtight definition would make our lives, there’s no cut and dry consensus on what appropriation constitutes. It often comes down to the relationship between facilitator and participants and an unsparing consultation with one’s conscience. 

In part 2, Vanessa will delve deeper into her experiences of engaging with people from different backgrounds and the important lessons she learned as a result.

Changing landscapes

Asha Sahni, Assistant Governance Officer at University of Bristol, was inspired by Guy Orpen’s article and photograph of sunrise over the demolished Sorting Office. While working with a writing group of adults with Asperger Syndrome Asha co-facilitates, she wrote the haiku below about changing landscapes.

Temple Meads to Tintern

via Bishopston Library and Oxford

 

Platform fifteen sun

rising on city ridden

of concrete wasteland.

 

Rubbish bags wasting

weeds thriving in gleaming heat

order has broken.

 

What are you reading?

I ask for the pleasure of

seeing book not phone.

 

Shadows glamour walls

water wandering through grass

lands of twilight sky.

A network of success

By Professor Guy Orpen Deputy Vice-Chancellor, New Campus Development

The Ziylo team at the Launch: Great West 2019 awards (Photo credit: launchgw.com)

The new University campus at Temple Quarter will be a melting pot with blurred edges. There will be buildings and public spaces on land owned by the the University of Bristol – to which local people will be welcomed. Then there are nearby places that the University operates, has a share or partnership with, or that houses its students or staff. The intention is to create value for the city and its people as well as the University community, and not just on the campus itself. This might take the form of shops and services that serve the needs of local communities as well as those of the staff and students on the campus – enabled by the demand of all those that need them.

Less obviously there are two other organisations around Temple Meads that are linked to the University – which have both been in the news this week: Engine Shed (which is run by the University) and UnitDX (which is not, but hosts some amazing new companies spun out of the University).

It lifted my spirits to see that Nick Sturge had been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday Honours list. His time as Director of Bristol SETSquared, the outstanding tech business incubation centre, led to it being named the best in the world – a rare accolade indeed. He capped this achievement by conceiving of the Engine Shed and convincing the City Council and University to invest in it and trust him to run it for the benefit of the city – and then making a runaway success of its operation.

Then last week another incubator company Spin-up Science hosted an awards evening for lab-based science start-ups. The Launch Great West evening saw a string of new companies based in UnitDX and mainly coming out of local universities being recognised. One of the star prizes of the show went to Ziylo – which won the Deal of the Year award for its sale to Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company, for up to $800m. The young man who led Ziylo and leads UnitDX, Harry Destecroix, was typically gracious and humble in crediting others, notably his team and University support for his remarkable achievements.

Perhaps just as notable is that both UnitDX and Engine Shed have active outreach programmes seeking to attract people from communities underrepresented in tech and science enterprises into the field and help them succeed. There is much talent yet to achieve its full potential and take the opportunities in our city – so it is great to see those in the midst of success actively seeking to help others to join in. Well done to both Harry and Nick – and it is great to see good guys getting credit.

Looking to the future

By Professor Guy Orpen Deputy Vice-Chancellor, New Campus Development

Sun rise across Temple Quarter from platform 15

I was on Platform 15 at dawn recently, awaiting a train to London and was struck by the sight (see my phone’s take on this above). It must be the best part of 80 years since you could see the sun rise from that point in Bristol.

The Royal Mail Sorting Office has been reduced to rubble, now below the height of the platform, and the sun flooded in on a glorious May morning. Times are moving on at last, and the derelict eyesore is no more.

The past months have seen public consultation on the student residential village development to come on Temple Island as well as the masterplan for the University campus at Temple Quarter. This is the forerunner to the full planning applications which will go to the City Council in the months ahead.

The consultations were as ever a mix of the challenging and the heartening. While not everyone yet likes the designs, others strongly welcomed their quality and ambition – and the University clearly wants our students to enjoy living in them and thrive while doing so.

Also of interest is the development of the public spaces on the campus. They will be particularly important to those who want to go to and from Temple Meads from the east.

Network Rail is planning an eastern entrance to the station to support the growing number of people using it. To do so without adding disruption to rail traffic is no small matter – but they have a plan!

While this entrance will be a key asset for the university community in Temple Quarter, it will be even more important for the city’s communities to the east in St Phillips, Barton Hill and along Feeder Rd.

The public spaces around the buildings on the campus are substantial. Overall, they will be similar in size to those in nearby Queen Square – albeit with more waterside and less open grass. They are intended to be both welcoming and practical – and enhance both the biodiversity and safety of the area.

That adds up to a challenge to the design team – but they have come up with some interesting approaches. The detail of the buildings is still to come, but they too are intended to present a welcoming face, contribute to our city’s sustainability, as well as marking the entrance to the city.

Another point of debate in the consultation was the public-facing services on the campus from shops to surgeries. The intent from the University side is that we align our interests with those of local communities and do not seek to provide everything on the University-owned land.

We want to ensure there is child care provision, a local supermarket, sports facilities, GP and dental surgeries etc, nearby but not on the campus. I hope that demand for these facilities from local residents, coupled with that from University staff and students, can be harnessed to make them available for the good of all involved. Let’s see if we can work together to make it so!

Remembering Temple Quarter’s first innovators and entrepreneurs

By Professor Tim Cole, Professor of Social History and Director of Brigstow Institute

John Anthony Hare visits the Temple Island site

Responsible innovation will be at the heart of Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus and although it’s currently a levelled building site, the land has a rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship.

One example of this is John Hare and Company. Founded in 1782, it manufactured floor-cloths which were highly sought after and exported around the world. Records show that its prized floor-cloths were sent to five continents.

John Hare and Company was a 19th-century innovator. It was the only company to own the whole manufacturing process, weaving the cloth from flax and hemp, making the paint and printing the intricate patterns on to the stretched canvases – all within a mile radius of the Temple Island site.

I was lucky enough to meet a direct descendent of the first John Hare recently, 83-year old John Anthony Hare. He got in touch after reading the work of some of our history students, who have been researching the history of site that will be home to our new campus.

John Anthony Hare and his son Rupert visit the Temple Island site with Tim Cole

I invited John and his son Rupert to visit the site to see where his ancestor started the family floor-cloth business. Visiting this site that was once home to the Hare Colour Works and will become the site of the new University of Bristol campus, John told me: “It’s quite emotional to be standing here actually. It makes me really proud of my family for building such a successful business here in Bristol. It’s exciting to think it could produce the next generation of businessmen and women too.”

John and Rupert plan to follow the campus as work develops and a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs make this place their home. You can find out more about our plans here.

Taking theatre to the community

By Department of Theatre second-year students Mathilde Hirth, Hannah Jones, Clara Friedrichs and Imogen Withers

Image from 2018 Family Theatre Day. Photo Credit: Lizzy Cummins, Travelling Light Theatre

Working with Travelling Light Theatre Company and our lecturer Jess McCormack in the Department of Theatre, we’ve created performances for a Family Theatre Day 11-4pm on Saturday 4 May at Barton Hill Settlement. We’ve organised how the event will run and promoted it among families in the local communities. During the day, families in Lawrence Hill are invited to drop in, watch performances and enjoy other activities held by the Travelling Light Theatre Company Youth Board.

Members of the Youth Board collaborated with University of Bristol students to come up with activities to go alongside the performances. Through several workshops, we explored the role of facilitation and different ways of making theatre for young audiences. The aim of the theatre pieces and the day itself is to give the children a place to be imaginative and inventive – where they are as much part of the performance as the performers. We will take the audience on a journey under the sea, into a world of music, to a little post office at Barton Hill and to save our planet from plastic.

Image from 2018 Family Theatre Day. Photo Credit: Lizzy Cummins, Travelling Light Theatre

Being involved in the Family Theatre Day and the school performances has been a great experience. Sometimes at university you can lose sight of what you’re doing the degree for – and you can get stuck in the academic bubble of lectures and deadlines. Interacting with communities that we don’t normally get to meet, and may get to work with after graduating, gives a new perspective and context to everything we learn in our courses. Creating theatre for children is refreshing, fun and so important. It’s great to know our performances could have an influence on the way they see the world and themselves in the future.

We have loved this project in so many different ways. From exploring information about Barton Hill Settlement to making a real piece for the festival, it has been great fun. We love the fact that we’re getting to interact with a community in Bristol. A lot of students don’t get that chance and it’s given us the opportunity to consider what sort of theatre we want to share – and important messages we want to explore through theatre.

We feel so lucky to be a part of such a fun and diverse festival. We often make theatre and show it to our peers. But to go outside of the university, share it with the wider communities beyond our theatre bubble and take time to bring a little joy and fun to some children’s everyday life has been amazing and inspiring.

Supported by proposed Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, the Family Theatre Day is a free day of fun for families with children 4+. From 11-4pm on Saturday 4 May, the team will be putting on four exciting performances, painting faces and holding a cake and crafts sale. Donations will go to Travelling Light Youth Theatre, based in Barton Hill Settlement.

What can universities do for cities and their people?

A blog post from Professor Guy Orpen Deputy Vice-Chancellor, New Campus Development. 

This was the question in our minds on 29th March. A day that was previously marked as the UK’s farewell from Europe, insteaheld the first Bristol Forum in City Hall. The landmark event was put together by the universities of Bristol and the West of England in partnership with a wide range of city organisations. 

I was on a panel answering questions from around the hall during an exciting day full of presentations, discussions and debates. The proposition was that the research capability of the universities – coupled with the knowledge and capability from the city and its people – could address local challenges. I sensed a real buzz of willingness and optimism to work together in the hall. 

The panel was asked a variety of questions. Two that particularly stuck in my mind were: 

Q: How could we make the buzz today last? 

A (from me)If we get investment and partners from outside the city to support the research, we can turn this into further action. 

Q: How could the universities contribute problem solving capacity to address the city’s challenges?” 

A: I suggested we should change this question to “How could universities help solve the problems facing the city and its communities?”We can, and should, work together on research and developing evidence to support policy making and delivery – and we’re already doing this, for example in health, through Bristol Health Partners. 

But more directly, the way the University evolves can help address some long-standing challenges our city facesAn obvious example is that the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will help open eastern access to Temple Meads for all (with the help of Network Rail, WECA and the Council). And the campus can also help create investment in the area to support new jobs and homes nearby, generating opportunities for our neighbours.  

The star of the panel was Nasra Ayub, the undergraduate officer of the Bristol Students Union. She spoke passionately about the opportunities that university life and education had given her – and lit up the meeting with evidence of the contributions students can make to the city.  

So the first Bristol Forum was a great success – but it raised as many questions as it settled. How can we get business more involved? How can we get more funding for health research and other areas to work with our city partners? How do we enable and respect participation in research by small organisations and individuals? How should we debate and resolve contentious areas of the relationships between the city and its universities?  

These questions are particularly relevant in relation to our development plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus. You can find out more about our plans here. 

What does the future of work look like?

By Dr Frederick Harry Pitts, Lecturer in Management at University of Bristol.

The future of work: you can’t move for mention of it today. Consultants, academics and policymakers all present a single, fast-approaching point of change. 

With automation, artificial intelligence and algorithms, we could be facing a utopia or dystopia — depending on who you talk to. For some, this means freedom from mundane tasks with luxury at the click of a button. For others, it’s the worry of losing purpose as technology takes over our jobs and eventually the world. 

The jury is well and truly out on how this will unfold. Estimates vary wildly as to how many jobs are at threat, with PWC suggesting some third of jobs at risk and OECD predicting a less severe one in tenOf course, the effects of this would be felt differently across roles and sectors. But overall, things are very unlikely to be as extreme as people imagine. 

What unites both utopian and dystopian visions is the idea that technological change is inevitable. Both agree we must adjust our expectations of what work can and should be like in the future. But this doesn’t mean it’s out of our control. What is clear is that the future of work will be characterised by technology changing how we approach things, instead of simply taking our jobs. And this will need careful management and oversight by business leaders, policymakers and workers representatives.  

The human element 

The future of work isn’t just a question of technology, but also of humanityIt’s important to recognise that social, political, legal and geographical processes will determine how all these changes play out. This means that the future of work will depend on how people and organisations are configured in different places. And it means that we as humans, together with our institutions, can ultimately decide and control what the future of work will be like. 

Maybe its better to speak of futures of work rather than a singular imminent futureIt’s not just how technology reshapes working practices that’s at stake. But also the forms of management, governance and ownership best equipped to deliver a better world of work for everyoneIt’s not enough to look at these futures of work, whether good or bad, through a one-sided technical or scientific lens. We need an interdisciplinary approach together with the study of society, organisation, political economy, law and culture.  

Practicing what we preach 

At the University of Bristol, we’re already working across disciplinary boundaries to get to grips with thisYou can see it at the New School of Management through the Faculty Research Group for Perspectives on Work, and in the Bristol University Press online magazine Futures of Work. And we’re also considering how education and training can challenge current practices to encourage new ways of thinking. But in all of this, its important to include perspectives from wider communities at the coalface of the changes underway in the world of work.  

The new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will provide a state-of-the-art infrastructure to host this — bringing together social scientists and engineers in one space to work together on the big challenges facing usIt’ll boost our existing work with the businesses and social enterprises already innovating at the edge of the futures of work. But itll also encourage new discussions with a wide range of stakeholders on key topics. From the costs and consequences of the changing world of work to our human capacity to control the futures contained withinwe’ll be part of the conversation. 

Find out more about the University’s plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus at bristol.ac.uk/templequarter.