Clarification on Guardian coverage

By Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for New Campus Development and Professor Tom Sperlinger, Academic Lead for Engagement for Temple Quarter

We were pleased to see coverage yesterday in The Guardian of our plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.  

The article highlights the important work of one of our partners, the Barton Hill Settlement in east Bristol and our work with them on a micro-campus as part of their proposed micro-settlement development.  

The article also includes the experiences of Myla Lloyd, one of our graduates. We’re very proud of her and are committed to working on new ways to create access to our programmes for those who, like Myla, haven’t followed a conventional route through school. 

We’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the plans included in the article. However, the headline – and particularly the phrase ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ – has also attracted comment and criticism.  

This phrase was used in an off-the-cuff way by a senior manager at the University and was intended as a literal description of the location of the new campus, given to a journalist who has limited knowledge of local geography. We acknowledge that the phrase has a range of negative connotations and has been taken as a criticism of areas of east and south Bristol, which certainly wasn’t the intention. We apologise that this phrase was used and for any offence that has been caused. 

We hope it is clear, from the wider context in the article, that we have been thinking carefully about the University’s move into a different area of the city. The Temple Quarter campus will be adjacent to communities, in east and south Bristol, that are complex and some of which experience multiple forms of disadvantage. We want to work with and learn from those communities and we know this will mean creating new relationships in the city. 

That process has started already, and our plans have been informed by ongoing dialogue with a range of partners and communities. We’d be pleased to hear from more organisations and individuals who have ideas for activities at and near the new campus. 

Our aspiration is for Temple Quarter to be a meeting place for experience and knowledge from across society. This includes civic partners and local communities, who have expertise that will be vital in facing some of the big challenges of the future. We want those communities to be part of the conversation at Temple Quarter alongside our staff and students (from around the world and recruited locally) and business, industry and enterprise partners, some of whom will be co-located on site.   

So what does this all mean in practice? 

Here are some of our plans, which are still evolving: 

  • Civic and community partners will shape the big research questions at Temple Quarter. For example, the new Bristol Digital Futures Institute, which will be based there, is working with social enterprise and civic partners such as Black South West Network from its inception. This is vital, as the Institute will be considering the big challenges about how we all live with technology in the future.
  • Civic and community partners will be based with us on campus. The new campus will include a space on the ground floor, called the Bristol Rooms, where there will be hotdesking space for community infrastructure organisations, social enterprises and civic partners to work with us on research, co-designing education programmes, new student internships and big civic challenges.
  • The University will also be part of conversations elsewhere in the city and region. For example, as part of our partnership with Barton Hill Settlement, we’ve been invited to a city-wide Social Justice Project they are working on, which will examine urgent challenges emerging in local communities – including the future of the advice sector in Bristol. This will allow our researchers (and those from UWE) to get involved in research that emerges from the priorities in local communities.
  • Temple Quarter will lead to new educational opportunities. The Guardian article mentioned the flexible undergraduate degree we plan to launch, which will specifically be aimed at local people without conventional qualifications, which builds on our successful foundation programme in arts and social sciences. We are also designing other new educational programmes that will involve co-designing modules and engagement opportunities with local partners. This will put civic and community expertise at the heart of our educational endeavours. 
  • Temple Quarter is also an opportunity to re-think who we are as an employer. We are working with partners in the city on new initiatives to recruit a diverse range of staff to the University – we hope to announce more details on this later this year.
  • The campus will also be a place to meet, learn and socialise. For example, we’re working on a programme of activity called Twilight Temple Quarter, a curated programme of events and activities in evenings and weekends which we hope will bring a range of communities to the campus on an ongoing basis. 

 If there’s one small space on the campus that symbolises much of its ethos, it may be one we are calling the Story Exchange. It will be a round space on the ground floor, which will seat about 30 people in a circle. It will be a space in which a range of people can take part in a conversation, on equal terms.  

That’s just one space, but it symbolises the way in which we want different voices and perspectives to be heard on the campus. 

We know that some of the major challenges we face as a society are about participation – about who has a say in the technologies and democratic systems and in the crises such as climate change, which will shape all of our futures.  

That’s why we want Temple Quarter to be a place where we can face some of those big challenges together. 

A better digital future for all

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

Last week saw Bristol in the headlines for a huge research award to enable the establishment of the Bristol Digital Futures Institute. With its remarkable facilities, the Institute will be led by Professor Dimitra Simeonidou and Professor Susan Halford at the heart of the new University campus at Temple Quarter. It will focus on developing not just the digital technologies of the future, but how they are to benefit society, people and businesses. The amount of money is enormous. UK Research and Innovation – the R&D funding arm of UK government – awarded the University of Bristol £29m, matched by £71m of private, and industrial support. This is a massive vote of confidence for the concept of the Temple Quarter campus achieved in direct competition with the biggest and best universities and their partners in the country.

The Institute will aim to generate 30 new collaborate projects per year. It has been hailed both as the means by which Bristol could support the development of franchises like Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep (by Aardman) and also achieve breakthroughs in design and manufacturing (by Airbus). The range of partners involved is remarkable – from Babbasa, KWMC and Watershed to Hargreaves Lansdown and BT – literally dozens, large and small, local and global in reach. They all seek to work across traditional divides to understand the potential and benefits of the digital world – whether by partnering the creative with manufacturing, community with industry, or computer science with sociology.

Perhaps today it is easier now than a few years ago to understand how thoughtful we all need to be about digital technologies. When Web 2.0 was first mentioned 15-20 years ago no one imagined that Google, Amazon, Facebook and the like would be the giants they are now. Even less predicted was the way social media would be the means by which US presidents get elected or communicate their policies! Nor did we understand how much others got to know about us as individuals and communities while we use the internet.

The new Institute will have at its heart the ambition to let people and society shape the digital futures that we face, together. It will develop the responsible innovation, regulation, ethics, acceptability and business models for new ways of living and working using the many emerging digital technologies. Whole new ways of operating society are arising almost daily – the potential for doing good is tremendous but so are some of the risks. By directly involving a wider range of people at the time the tech and its applications are being developed, the Bristol Digital Futures Institute will seek to maximise those benefits for all.

Businesses born in the digital age, those born longer ago, organisations and activities that could be digital – many people and parts of society will want to think through how they develop their futures. The Bristol Digital Futures Institute will be there in the heart of our city to help.

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.