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Bristol City Council: Working with communities to provide welcoming spaces

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Background to the initiative

Bristol’s cost of living response is framed by the ‘Bristol One City’ approach, which brings together a broad range of partners from the public, private and voluntary and community sectors sharing a long-term ambition to reduce inequality and create a fair, healthy and sustainable city.

The ‘One City’ framework recognises that collaboration across sectors and themes is essential to make progress on these shared goals. It is underpinned by cross-sector boards which oversee work on six themes (children and young people, economy and skills, environment, health and wellbeing, homes and communities, transport). Each board includes task and finish groups, reflecting the focus on delivery and not just ‘high level’ conversations.

A cost of living plan was published in October 2022, with a focus on adding capacity to established community and civic assets and resources. It sets out three stages: understanding the impact, mapping community and civic assets, and coordinated action. The first stage involved drawing on national and local data and insight (including from local delivery partners) to assess the likely impact in Bristol. Chris Duncan, Policy and Public Affairs Officer, said:

“As a council we don’t hold all the knowledge about our city, and have had to work together to really understand where the challenges lie.”

An interactive cost of living risk index was created, combining five indicators (food insecurity, food poverty, child poverty, universal credit claimants, income deprivation). Mapping this data helped to identify vulnerable communities and will help to measure the impact of targeted activities.

Cost of living action

The One City partnership is overseeing five key areas of coordinated action on cost of living: 

  • establishing community hubs to coordinate local activity and share information with residents
  • a network of ‘welcoming spaces’  
  • providing access to advice, emotional wellbeing and mental health support through the welcoming spaces
  • a volunteer ‘call to action’
  • coordinating and communicating the ‘One City’ approach.

The concept of a network of welcoming spaces developed from discussions between the Mayor, Marvin Rees, and community organisations wanting to provide practical help. It has become a network of more than 80 warm and accessible community-led spaces in established places of connection such as community centres, children’s centres and faith spaces, which are providing extra activities and capacity during the winter.

These welcoming spaces are divided into three tiers in terms of their offer. ‘Tier 1’ spaces are open access ‘community living rooms’, hosted for example in community centres. Here, anyone can use resources (such as wifi, charging points and hot drinks), join in with activities (such as affordable meals and games nights), and – if needed – seek advice, wellbeing and mental health support from the city-wide offer.

‘Tier 2’ spaces may have shorter opening times or activities that are just for a specific community. For example, a children’s centre is restricted to families with children under five, or a faith space might run a lunch club for older people once a week. ‘Tier 3’ encompasses open-access activities rather than spaces.

The cost of living risk index was used to ensure there was appropriate support in each local area. The spaces are being well used, including by people with laptops using them as work spaces; people charging mobility scooters; and for cinema nights and supper clubs. The message is that everyone, of any age and whatever their circumstances, is welcome. 

Harnessing community energy

Bristol’s approach has built on learning from COVID-19, when the response was led by a diverse network of organisations rooted in their communities. Bristol City Council, the NHS and others got behind this response by sharing resources and adding capacity where needed – and are doing the same now.

Penny Germon, Head of Service for Neighbourhoods and Communities, said:

“Investing in community development over many years had given us, when we went into COVID-19, a strong foundation and strong relationships. Everyone played to their strengths. With cost of living we have built on that – the shared focus is on resilience and what is good for the city.

“Over time we are changing, as a local authority, to work more effectively with partners and communities and release that energy. Councils tend to want to be in control, work things out and guide communities on what to do, but with cost of living we have worked to build on city assets and co-produce our response.”

Learning points

  • A fortnightly ‘community exchange’ brings the VCS together with the council and other public sector partners to focus on delivery.
  • Penny Germon said: “A community-led response works because it is rooted in communities – it is, by nature, wonderfully diverse. From a city council point of view we have to work harder at coordination and how we tell the city story – we are continually negotiating and adapting. This is where our resource and capacity is important – connecting everything to a city-wide offer.”


For more information contact Penny Germon, Head of Service, Neighbourhoods and Communities. Email:[email protected] or

Chris Duncan, Policy and Public Affairs Officer. Email: [email protected]