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!