Final Initiative meeting of the year inspires hope and optimism for 2021

James Durie
Chief Executive - Bristol Chamber & Initiative | Business West
8th December 2020

Vice President and serial entrepreneur Jaya Chakrabarti MBE opened the final Bristol and West of England Initiative meeting of 2020 with some reflections on a pivotal year for Bristol.

“The eyes on the world were on Bristol this year,” she said referring to the city’s role in the Black Lives Matter movement and described how the summer’s events had provided added impetus for the business community to stamp out inequalities.

Despite the challenges that this year has brought, Jaya said that she remains optimistic and has “hope for the future” given the renewed sense of social justice the pandemic has stirred, prompting collective action on the climate, equality, diversity and inclusion.

Bristol Chamber & Initiative Chief Executive James Durie updated members on the support Business West is providing to businesses on COVID and Brexit, laid out the Initiative’s priorities for next year and welcomed new members Alastair Currie Events, TechSpark and The Caravan and Motorhome Club.

Echoing Jaya Chakrabarti’s introduction, James spoke about “Building confidence through optimism”, covering a number of positive developments such as #BristolTogether that will aid the recovery and renewal of the West of England economy in 2021.

Fresh from announcing a planned move from Bristol Zoo’s Clifton premises to their Wild Place Project site on the outskirts of the city, Chief Executive of Bristol Zoological Society Dr Justin Morris spoke briefly about the business, education and animal welfare reasons behind the move and thanked the business community for their public support.

Sally Hogg from Bristol City Council Public Health team provided an update on the latest COVID infection rates across the city.

There have been approximately 15,000 infections, but there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ she said. There has been a “downward slope” of infections in Bristol during lockdown, with the city’s infection rates now more in line with the national average. She noted that vaccinations are due to get underway in Bristol this week, with Southmead Hospital coordinating the response.

In a brief introduction to the next guest speaker, Professor Guy Orpen, Jaya Chakrabarti paid tribute to the University of Bristol Deputy Vice Chancellor who will retire at the end of this year having joined the university as a lecturer in 1979. Having held a number of senior leadership roles at the university, most recently Professor Orpen has overseen the development of the University's new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.

A regular feature at Initiative meetings, Professor Orpen talked about some of the impressive partnerships that had been formed with key city stakeholders that were vital to getting the project off the ground. Located at the heart of the Bristol business community, the new campus provides a platform to maximise the exciting linkages between education, innovation and business particularly in terms of disruptive technologies.

Professor Orpen thanked WECA and a host of global and UK industry partners for backing the project and underlined the importance of having the likes of Babbasa, the Knowle West Media Centre and Black South West Network onboard to ensure the campus development is one that has an impact across the whole city.

Professor Orpen closed by summarising activity already underway, including a micro campus in Barton Hill, research and development work being undertaken at Unit DX and doctoral colleges already up and running. The Initiative would like to thank Professor Orpen for his valuable contribution to the city over the years and we wish him a very happy retirement.

Next to speak was Mo Ali, Youth Coordinator at Queen’s Award-winning social enterprise Babbasa CIC.

Set up in 2013, Babbasa empowers at risk young people to find jobs and fulfil their potential by improving their aspirations.

As a Babassa programme alumni, Mo spoke passionately about the work that the social enterprise does in the community and how it has transformed thousands of people’s lives.

This year had been particularly difficult for young people Mo said, witnessing first-hand the mental health crisis bubbling just beneath the surface as a result of COVID-19. That being so, Babbasa’s role in teaching young people the skills and confidence they need to enter the world of work is becoming ever more crucial he said and encouraged businesses to reach out and improve diversity in their workforces.

Following Mo, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees offered some reflections on the year and described how 2020 had taught him valuable lessons on “leading through times of turmoil.”

Amidst the challenges that this year has thrown, Mayor Rees described how ‘soft relationships’ had proven to be key to Bristol’s resilience. Being able to coalesce around a shared vision and values to respond to the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 had been vital he said.

Looking to the future, the Mayor said his priorities were to combat the social consequences of lockdown, such as mental health and unemployment. Key to that was returning growth to the city - Mayor Rees said his team were finalising a business case for a mass transit system in Bristol and the West of England and continuing to support the development of the Western Gateway partnership and Temple Quarter.  But he added they are “not in a dash for values free growth…we need growth that builds resilience for future shocks” and identified how Bristol’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and its climate strategy are central to this.

The Prince’s Trust Group Chief Executive Dame Martina Milburn was then introduced as a special guest and she spoke briefly about the charity’s work and commitment to Bristol and the region before Pete Gladwell from Legal & General gave a short update on their major investments and commitments into the city.

An engaging Q&A followed, which covered topics including Brexit, the Digilocal laptops for young people and more, as well as featuring an impassioned exchange between the meeting’s chair Jaya Chakrabarti and Dame Martina Milburn.

The Prince’s Trust has been in Bristol for 30 years she said, and their activities have touched the lives of many young people. However, business cannot simply give vulnerable young people jobs without support. The success of efforts to widen participation in the workforce relies on genuine partnership between business and the voluntary sector to properly support young people. Dame Martina gave a touching example to illustrate her point, giving attendees hope and optimism for the future.

The next meeting of the Bristol and West of England Initiative is on Thursday 14th January 2021 11.30am – 1pm and invitations will be sent to members early in the new year.

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  • The West of England Initiative

    Provides an effective link between private and public sectors to ensure the interests of commerce are considered in key decision making.

  • The West of England Initiative

    Provides an effective link between private and public sectors to ensure the interests of commerce are considered in key decision making.