Digimakers and Robofest at the Barton Hill micro-campus

On Saturday 26 June, we hosted Bristol Robofest at our Barton Hill Micro-campus at Wellspring Settlement. In collaboration with researchers from Bristol Robotics Lab and DETI Inspire at UWE Bristol the Digimakers team delivered a series of exciting, free Robotics workshops.

24 enthusiastic 10-14 year olds from the local area took the opportunity to explore and play with MicroBit BitBots and Thymio Robots. They learnt about cutting edge research in the field of Swarm Robotics, while honing their skills in programming and problem solving.


Lucy aged 10 said “it was the most fun I’ve had in ages and I learnt about how little robots can swarm and work together”.

Bristol Robofest is an annual city-wide initiative, delivered by teams from STEM Ambassadors, DETI Inspire at UWE Bristol, Bristol Robotics Lab, and the University of Bristol’s Digimakers.

Digimakers is part of  the University of Bristol’s Engineering engagement programme, delivering a range of free technology inspired activities for young people aged between 6 and 18, in the community, online and in schools.

For more information go to bristol.ac.uk/engineering/outreach and www.digimakers.co.uk.

Watch: Bristol 24/7 Presents: Building back fairer, greener, stronger

“When we talk about social change, we are told that the present isn’t very satisfactory, but we don’t have any inspiring visions about what a better future might look like.”

Professor Martin Parker, Director of the Inclusive Economies Institute, participated in a panel discussion to explore how we can build back better and ensure nobody gets left behind.

Covering issues such as the gender pay gap, living wage, sustainable construction practices, ethical development and much more, other panellists included: Jaya Chakrabarti MBE, CEO of tiscreport.org; Andrew Dobbs, sustainability lead for Willmott Dixon; Zara Nanu, CEO of Gapsquare and Liam Ronan-Chlond, engagement and social value lead for First Base.

Martin said: “Part of what we need to do is create an economy that genuinely values the things that we, as human beings, value. So when we think about the economy, we should think about ways in which we engineer collective flourishing.”

Watch the discussion (starts at 19min 42secs).




This was the third event in the Bristol 24/7 Presents series. In addition to the panel discussion, there were also video contributions from some of Bristol 24/7’s Better Business members and leaders in the city’s non-profit sector.

#CanDoStories – Widening the Circle

Professor Martin Parker, Lead for the Bristol Inclusive Economy Initiative, shares his vision for how Can Do can help connect people to make a genuine difference. 

We all know that Bristol is an extraordinary city, but it’s also a very divided one. On just about every social indicator, the north and west does better than the south and east. We have concentrations of wealth, and many very successful businesses and organizations, but we also have parts of the city where people feel cut off and left behind.

There are many different causes for this inequality, but part of the problem is the way that the city talks to itself. Though people who live here do have lots of networks and connections, many of these tend to connect within particular occupations or parts of the city. So there are conversations which link people who work at in the health services, or the universities, or with the council, with community organizations, financial services firms, the media and so on. There are no networks which connect us all, which allow everyone and every organization in the city to communicate and collaborate effectively.

If you think about it, this is quite odd. We live in a world in which most of us are now on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and WhatsApp. In some ways we have never been more connected, more entangled in flows of electronic information about our friends, football team and favourite pop star. So the idea of growing Can Do is quite a simple one. Would it be possible to use some of these technologies to connect the city in ways that make it better for all of us? Can we imagine a platform that we could all stand on?

There are lots of potential benefits if we can make this happen. Here’s a few examples. Professional services firms could offer free legal or financial help to community groups. Voluntary organizations can ask for the particular kinds of help that they need. Bristol residents can find out what is happening in their area and decide if they want to join in. Big companies can use their workforce and resources to make ‘offers’ which help to tackle the ‘asks’ from the city. The City Council can understand better who is doing what and co-ordinate their responses to different issues accordingly. Small and local businesses can see what is happening in their area of the city, and then join in if they want to help too.

The idea of an expanded Can Do is to help us all have conversations with each other, and try and use the extraordinary speed and reach of information technology to connect us in more meaningful ways. I suppose another way of saying this is to try and make the city more visible to us all. At the moment, we might be connected to our friends, neighbours and workmates, but this would be a way of constructing a bigger community of people and organizations who care about making Bristol better. Not just posting pictures of the pizza we are eating, or of a cat trying to fight a yogurt pot, but offering our time, expertise and resources to each other.

Since moving here about three years ago I have been trying to find ways in which the University of Bristol can become more engaged in helping people think about and deal with the problems they face. My university hasn’t always been particularly engaged with the city after, often perceived as perched at the top of the hill and embedded in the Clifton bubble. So how could we help? Let’s use this as an example.

If you add together the students from the University of Bristol and those from the University of the West of England, you have over 50,000 students. This is potentially an extraordinary resource for the city, but one of the problems that students face is that they don’t know enough about the city in order to get involved. An expanded Can Do Bristol could allow them to see opportunities more clearly.

If a student wants to get involved with something that relates to their subject, whether that be engineering or art, they can find some people or organizations who can use their skills. We already have a lot of students volunteering, doing paid and unpaid internships, and adding to the life of the city in so many ways, so let’s grow this, and make it easier for them to join the conversation too.

Simply widening the conversation won’t solve our problems, but it might make it easier to solve them. If we keep to our own parts of the city, if we don’t share ideas and resources across the river and across the motorway, then we will make it harder to create a fair and happy place for us all to live in. I imagine an expanded Can Do Bristol like a way of wiring the city together. Just having the wires isn’t the solution of course, because it depends what we do with them. But with the wires, we will find it easier to talk, easier to help, easier to make this into one city.

This post was originally published on the Can Do website, a platform that brings people, groups and organisations together to create positive change in their communities.

Sharing experiences across borders

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

An aerial view of Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus

The past six weeks or so have seen the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus on tour, featuring in debates in Bristol, Brussels and the Netherlands – and visiting comparable university sites in London.

Placemaking was the theme of a session at a recent Built Environment Networking conference in the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads. Given how underused the site and the streets around the new campus are currently, it’s clear we’ll need to make a big effort to create a sense of place and belonging for all who use and visit it. This implies a major emphasis on the way the public spaces on the campus are designed and used so everyone can enjoy them and feel welcome.

This issue was discussed in the session on “The Bristol Transformation: Creating Great Places” at the Watershed during the recent Festival of the Future City. The role of public art and cultural activity in and around the campus was highlighted by Mike Keys, the campus lead architect, and Fabienne Nicholas of Contemporary Art Society, leading on public art strategy for the campus and University more widely. Elsewhere in the Festival, Tom Sperlinger, Joanna Holmes and John Goddard, the guru of civic universities, led a discussion on the role universities should play in their places. It was striking how impressed John was with the pace and quality of progress in Bristol.

Meanwhile on the continent, the University took some of its leading lights in research to Brussels to meet members of the Commission, European funders and research organisation leaders, as well as the UK’s representatives there. Our message was simple: there may be confusion over national EU policy, but Bristol is open for partnership and investment and is making progress in Temple Quarter and elsewhere. It’s clear we need to crack on and make that progress for the benefit of all.

I took a similar message to Dutch colleagues grappling with the role that universities can play in their cities at a conference in Den Bosch – ironically it was held on the day after Brexit was supposed happen. They were keen to hear about how our University had declared a Climate Emergency, was working with our city on the One City Plan and is building partnerships to create value for all. Their invitation followed a major delegation visit to Bristol in February – they clearly feel something interesting and important is happening here.

Since then, we have been to see our university peers’ major developments in London – Imperial College’s White City Campus, UAL’s Central Saint Martin’s college and UCL’s at Here East and the Olympic Park. While these are impressive, we sensed we had something both distinctive and highly competitive to offer in Temple Quarter. Combining real local community participation in research, innovation and education, the world-leading capabilities the University brings and the powerful commitment of government and industry is special and potent – and is great to see happening in Bristol.

Low carbon, high inclusion: Economies of the future

By Professor Martin Parker

Confronted by today’s problems, it’s easy to imagine there’s nothing we can do to help. Climate change, gigantic global and local inequalities, the rise of a politics that positions the ‘people’ against the ‘elite’. It’s all too much to deal with, and not surprising that many people turn away in despair. Standing in front of a tsunami, what is the point of gluing yourself to some railings? We can see the problems, but they’re too big to deal with in our everyday lives.

Yet the amazing thing about this city and region is just how many people are already organising new ways to think about the problems that face us. These are people already trying to build a low carbon and high inclusion economy. In just about every area you might think of – whether its food, transport, energy, media or housing – new businesses are growing which are turning standard economic assumptions on their head.

The economy is the answer

For the last fifty years we’ve been collectively persuaded that all businesses need to have leaders who are motivated by huge salaries. Or that efficiency just means saving money by making people work harder for less money, and that shareholders deserve super-normal returns on their investments. Or even that it’s OK if a business arranges its affairs so that it doesn’t pay tax, or it creates waste and social problems and then lets the rest of us clear it up.

But all these assumptions are wrong. Climate change is caused when businesses emit carbon to make products or sell things that require us to emit carbon to use them. Inequalities are caused by concentrations of wealth within and between nations which in turn have been caused by past and present businesses.

Our political tribalism reflects the problems of de-industrialising parts of the UK in places where local well-paying industries are long gone, and replaced by McJobs, precarious employment and Amazon warehouses. Whichever way you run the argument, if we want to face the tsunami, we need to have a different way of doing business – a new economy.

That’s why we have started the Inclusive Economy Initiative at the University of Bristol. It involves a team of social scientists from various disciplines who are interested in working with local alternative businesses to grow the new economy we all need. We’re already talking to co-ops, green companies and organisations like Bristol 24/7’s Better Business network.

What can we do?

There are three things we need to do to make a new future. One is to decarbonise all aspects of business practice, from cars to burgers, and do it as rapidly as possible. The second is to make sure these changes produce economies which are inclusive – they should reward everyone who lives in Bristol, not just those from the leafy north and west.

Finally, we think it’s really important that all workers have more control over their workplaces, and ideally they should have meaningful ownership too. A practical experience of democracy at work will help us restore a sense of democracy in our city and country.

This would produce an economy which doesn’t damage the planet, doesn’t discriminate against people on the basis of gender or skin colour, and which gives workers a sense of shaping the places that they work. These might seem like utopian ideas, but unless we make them real, we will all end up the poorer.

Contact the University of Bristol’s Inclusive Economy Initiative on bris-iei@bristol.ac.uk.

Professor Martin Parker

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 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!

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.