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Investigations | Infographics | People’s History | Illustrations | Voices Spring 2018

the BRISTOL CABLE A media co – op


The council has set bailiffs on thousands. But there is another way Locked up for graffiti City are up, but which way will the Robins fly? Rehabilitating domestic violence perpetrators Darren Jones MP on the threats and oppor tunities of tech


Dear Reader,


o you know what’s going to be next month’s can’t-miss event? The Bristol Cable Annual General Meeting, of course! We try to engage our members on as many aspects of the running and future of the co-op as possible. At previous AGMs, we’ve used interactive activities and group discussion to garner members’ views: one member, one vote. And there’ll be no boring suited businessmen droning on, we promise!


Members have previously voted on what content they want to see more of, what our advertising policy should be, grilled the Cable’s finances and told us they want to see the Cable campaign on social justice issues in the city, as well as standing for and electing directors. So if you’re a member, put 14 May in your diary, and start thinking about what you want the media you own to look like. If you’re not a member, it’s a great time to become one, experience what the co-op’s all about and build a new model for the media.

Do you have a story that needs to be told? In your workplace or community, there are issues which need to see the light of day. 07533 718547

See you there! The Cable team

Credits As always, a huge thanks is due to our 1,850+ members, and the contributors, sources and contacts credited throughout the magazine. Without you all, none of this would be possible! Reporters: Matty Edwards Hannah Vickers

Design coordination: Laurence Ware

Media coordination: Alon Aviram Adam Cantwell-Corn

Design & Layout: Laurence Ware Toast of Bristol

Finance coordination: Isy Schulz

Workplace coordination: Kat Wall

Advertising coordination: Gay Darke (EMSM)

Projects, partnerships and fundraising coordination: Alon Aviram Adam Cantwell-Corn

Extra thanks to...

Sub-editors: Arvind Howarth Lorna Stephenson Alex Turner Proofreaders: Joe Mitchell Lorna Stephenson Emily Williams Production coordination: Lorna Stephenson

Membership outreach & engagement coordination: Isobel Tarr

Social media Matty Edwards Hannah Vickers

Digital membership & distribution coordination: Lucas Batt

The Cable is printed on 100% recycled paper fibre produced in King’s Lynn.

Web team: Mat Alborough - Lucas Batt Will Franklin Marcus Valentine -

Cable outreach organisers & volunteers: Katrina Billings Joe Mitchell Alison Allan

Directors: Fergus Arkley Nathan Fitzpatrick Tessa Gleeson Delroy Hibbert Mike Jempson Abdi Mohamed Kate Oliver Drew Rose Noelle Rumball Ben Sansum Robert Triggs Kate Whittle Front page illustration: Francesca Hooper


80% of media is owned by just 6 companies. Let’s change who owns the media. Come along to…

The Bristol Cable Annual General Meeting 2018 MAY 14TH | 18:30–21:00 Malcolm X Centre, 141 City Road, St Pauls, Bristol BS2 8YH

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£1 p/month Be part of it £3 p/month Sustain it £5 p/month Grow it

Contents 5–7 Campaign: Time for the council to boot out the bailiffs 8–9 Using MDMA to treat alcoholics 11 What your co-op’s been up to 12–13 NHS staff are being worked until they’re sick

23 Celebrating spring: Nawroz in Bristol 24–25 Interview: Darren Jones MP on the new world of tech 26–27 Locked up for graffitti 29 Thoughts of a Black social worker

14–15 Opinion: Recommissioning fiascos damage our public services

30–31 Efforts to protect children from FGM and community relations

16–17 Banjo Island - less notorious, still characterful

32–33 Domestic abusers holding themselves accountable

18–19 Photos: City are up, but which way will the Robins fly?

34–35 And now for some good news

20–21 Strip clubs: different feminists, different views


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Our Fuel Good Fund will help the 1 in 8 Bristol households in need. Switch to us using the code FUELGOOD and together we’ll make a difference. Now that’s positive energy. Search Bristol Energy now or call us free on 0808 189 4072 and quote FUELGOOD. *Based on a dual fuel switch. Learn more at

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13/03/2018 16:46

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Council sets bailiffs on tens of thousands of bristolians, but there is another way. This investigation is part of a Bristol Cable campaign calling on the council to stop using bailiffs to collect council tax. Read more about why we’re launching this campaign overleaf.



ucy got home one day in summer 2017 after picking up her kids from school. She found a stranger standing outside her door – a bailiff who had come to collect a debt owed to Bristol council. “I felt intimidated and scared,” she recalls, “and put the kids in the front room because I didn’t want them to be affected.” The man said she needed to pay £1,000 in cash immediately or he would seize her car. “I didn’t know if he was able to do that, but he insisted he could. I tried to Google it, but couldn’t find a clear answer,” Lucy continues, visibly shaken by the memory. Lucy’s story is one of thousands. According to information obtained by the Cable, in the two years to January 2018 the council outsourced the collection of 25,000 council tax debts to four bailiff companies. Behind every account is a struggling individual or family who will

have to pay bailiff fees on top of the original debt.

doormats and the problem is set to get worse.

Although council tax itself hits poorer people hardest, at a time of devastating cuts imposed by central government there’s a strong case to collect the £6.8 million in unpaid council tax in Bristol.

“If they had been more human, I wouldn’t have felt so scared”

So how to collect that money? Contracting heavies to enforce debts is a story as old as money itself. But in recent years charities have been calling on councils to review and even scrap the use of bailiffs due to the stress and debt traps it creates. While improvements to procedures have been made, a professional debt advisor in Bristol told the Cable the council is still too quick to resort to bailiffs. “It’s ridiculous,” she says. “I’ve seen a £44 debt rapidly become £457 once court fees and bailiff fees are added to the total.” Once bailiffs receive an account from the council, they can add £75 to the debt for

dropping a letter through your door, and £235 for knocking at it. If they take your stuff, you’ll have another £110 added to your bill. This isn’t just a Bristol problem. Nationally, the Money Advice Service has found one in six adults have missed three council tax bills in the last six months, or are struggling with repayment. With the financial year end in early April, demands for unpaid debts will be dropping on

Lucy’s council tax debt built up because of a mix-up in benefit entitlements. Letters demanding payment arrived, but Lucy, who has bipolar disorder – a condition that affects mood, which can swing from one extreme to another – felt unable to deal with them, and things got out of hand. “If they had been more human, I wouldn’t have felt so scared. The letters you get are very intimidating,” she says. “That’s what makes you put them aside and not want to acknowledge them.” The Citizens’ Advice Bureau had told the council Lucy suffered from poor mental health and was a mother to two kids with disabilities, but the bailiffs remained on the case.

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down silly things like the wall clock and the bookcase”.

and Fulham council will no longer use bailiffs to enforce council tax debts. In what it claims is a “revolutionary new joint venture” the council has partnered with Intrum, a self-styled ethical debt collection agency that claims to “take your financial circumstances into account and set up an affordable payment plan, allowing you to repay your debts and get on with your life”.

She set up a payment plan to get them to go away. “But I couldn’t afford it, it was crazy money and I was barely living and there was barely any food,” she goes on. “So I had to stop paying. Then they started coming again.” Council tax is considered a ‘priority debt’, meaning there can be serious consequences such as being declared bankrupt and, in rare cases, being sent to prison if it is not paid back before other debts.


Now she was facing down a burly man on her doorstep demanding she hand over the keys to her car or cough up £1,000 on the spot. “I begged them to let me set up a payment plan, and they said, ‘No, pay up or we take your goods’.” With her children and a work commute there was no way she could give up her car. And more private debt wasn’t the answer. “I’ve gone through payday loans before, and I didn’t want to go through that again,” Lucy says. Reluctantly, she turned to her family. A few phone calls later, she wrote a cheque for over £1,000 and the bailiff left. Her original council tax debt was only £500. “It was basically one rolling payday loan every month for 14 months” Lucy knows that she was fortunate to be able to turn to family for help. Megan had fewer options. In summer 2015 she fell behind with repaying a council tax debt when payments stopped automatically coming out of her income support benefit, when she returned to work after having a child.

“Sending in the ‘heavies’ with inflexible demands is ineffective, and doesn’t mesh with the Labour Party values of the current Bristol administration.” Paul Goggin, Labour councillor for Hartcliffe and Withywood “It almost immediately went to the bailiffs, and it was a really severe situation. It’s a really scary time,” she said. “They would bash the door very loudly, which is very intimidating when you’re a single woman on your own… I hate that they do that to women.” Megan eventually let the bailiffs, who would turn up unannounced as late as 9pm, into the house. She didn’t have anything they could take, she says, “so they started noting

So Megan turned to payday loans – only to find herself in a predictable but unavoidable trap. “It was basically one rolling payday loan every month for 14 months. Pay back, top up, pay back and so on,” she says. Two and a half years later she has only just cleared her original council tax debt, which began at £700 but ended up over £1,100. Other debt taken on to pay back the council tax is still with her. “I didn’t know my rights” Once an account is with the bailiffs, council oversight is minimal. A council source told the Cable it’s up to the bailiffs to tell the local authority and respond accordingly if a person they are dealing with is vulnerable in some way. Firms also have the liberty to determine repayment plans – or refuse them. Another concern is the lack of widespread knowledge of people’s rights when it comes to dealing with bailiffs. A quick scour of Google shows forum after forum of people asking whether bailiffs can do this or that. Fortunately there are still some advice services available, such as those given by Fran Begley and the team at South Bristol Advice Service in Withywood, one of several services in the city. Begley is a 20-year veteran of advising people on how to navigate the maze of welfare, debt and employment issues. She says her team have seen 1,000 people over the past year specifically for debt related issues. But times are tough here too; council cuts mean the budget for the advice centre is 17% lower than it was two years ago. Nonetheless, the team organise regular drop-ins and appointments to help people with debt and other issues such as welfare and employment. Begley’s advice for people struggling with debt or bailiffs? “Don’t put your head in the sand. We can help you. And we won’t judge you.” ‘Severe emotional and financial costs’ But too many people still end up on the sharp end of debt collection, and calls are mounting for councils to stop using bailiffs and find better ways to recover council tax. One council in London has answered that call. As of April this year, Hammersmith

£7.7m The amount of cash gained by four bailiff companies in two years, based on fees of £310 charged to each of the 25,000 accounts received from the council: Within 7 days they can add £310 in fees to the original debt. If they take your goods, a further £110 will be added to your bill.

25,000 The number of people or families that the council has set the bailiffs on in the two years to January 2018.

Hammersmith and Fulham council say the new approach isn’t solely about reducing distress. By using tailored payment plans and investing in early intervention, it is confident the amounts collected will rise and save money in the long run. “If a bailiff pressures someone into paying their council tax arrears at the expense of their rent, they are more likely to be evicted and end up in temporary accommodation,” says Hammersmith and Fulham Labour councillor Max Schmid. “This can have severe emotional costs for the evicted family and huge financial costs for the council and other parts of the public sector.” The idea has caught on with Paul Goggin, one of the three Labour councillors representing Hartcliffe and Withywood, wards that include areas within the 100 most deprived parts of the UK. Though cautious about any private sector debt collectors, he wants to see Bristol follow Hammersmith and Fulham’s lead and find another way. Having fallen into council tax debt because of ill health himself, Goggins has first-hand experience of what he calls “the pleasure of intimidatory and deceitful behaviour from bailiffs employed on behalf of Bristol council”. “I appreciate that, due to the massive cuts to local government funding by successive governments, it’s important to collect monies from those who can afford to pay,” he says. “But sending in the ‘heavies’ with inflexible demands is ineffective, and doesn’t mesh with the Labour Party values of the current Bristol administration.” Goggin thinks that there is an appetite within the Bristol Labour party for a new approach. But the ball is firmly with the mayor, along with cabinet member for finance, councillor Craig Cheney and the rest of the council, to make it happen. The council did not respond when asked to comment on whether they would consider another approach to council tax bailiffs. How many more knocks and payday loans will it take before alternatives are explored? Names have been changed to protect privacy. Help #bootoutbailiffs by sharing the investigation with your friends, family, your local councillors, and the mayor. You can follow updates online.


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here’s a long tradition of campaigning journalism in local media. In our Annual General Meeting in 2017, Cable members gave the go ahead for us to carry on this tradition. Taking this lead, the Cable is launching a campaign to call on the council and mayor to stop using private hired muscle in the form of bailiffs to collect council tax debts. In the past two years, Bristol City Council has outsourced the collection of more than 25,000 council tax debts to four private bailiff firms operating in the city. Behind each account is an individual or family

struggling with debt. They will be traumatised by bailiffs and pushed further into debt, and into the hands of payday lenders and worse.

a more tailored approach the amounts collected will rise, as well reducing distress and the knock on burdens for public services caused by debt.

Crucially, it is not necessary or effective: There are viable alternatives for families, communities and public funds. Charities and campaigners have long called for new approaches.

It it yet to be seen how well the initiative will work out and whether this is the best solution. But we know for sure that the only real winners in the current setup are the loan sharks, bailiffs, and as revealed by the Cable, controversial financiers closely linked to a Conservative Party Lord and major party donors.

One council has answered this call. As of April this year, the London council of Hammersmith and Fulham will no longer use bailiffs to collect council tax debts. The council has partnered with Intrum, a self-styled ethical debt collection agency who claim that by using

If you want to contribute to this campaign by sharing your story or expertise then get in touch:

This must change. We’re calling on the mayor and all political parties to commit to investigating alternative methods

of collecting council tax, and begin a complete phase-out of the use of bailiffs. It’s not easy to decide which of the many important issues to campaign on. We want members to be further involved in developing and using the power of the co-op and Cable journalism for the better of our city, and beyond. So, come to our next AGM on 14 May to discuss how we can make this happen. Until then, help #bootoutbailiffs by sharing the investigation with your friends, family, your local councillors, and the mayor. You can follow updates online: series-boot-out-bailiffs or call: 07533 718547


Why we’re launching a campaign to stop the council setting bailiffs on Bristolians T


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Alcoholics in Bristol to trial MDMA therapy Approval for world-first trial marks massive step forward for research into psychedelics as medicine WORDS MATTY EDWARDS ILLUSTRATION SEAN COX



he UK’s first ever clinical study using MDMA has started in Bristol, in a landmark moment for the use of psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy.

After years of work to get the go-ahead, the trial will offer a small group of alcoholics from Bristol an eight-week therapy course including small doses of MDMA - the class A drug often known as ecstasy.

“MDMA represents the greatest, most innovative advance in psychiatric prescribing in the last 75 years” Research has already been done in the US into using MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with the aim to get the drug licensed as therapeutic medicine by 2021. However, this is the world’s first ever study looking at whether the drug is similarly beneficial for treating addiction. Candidates in contact with Bristol’s drug services will go on a detox and receive a course of MDMAassisted therapy. Dr Ben Sessa, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and senior research fellow at Imperial College London, who specialises in mental health and addiction, is leading the study. “MDMA represents the greatest, most innovative advance in psychiatric prescribing in the last 75 years, and it’s an opportunity not to be missed in terms of developing this as a clinical tool,” he tells the Cable. MDMA has successfully been tested to treat PTSD, because the drug removes the

patient’s fear response while leaving other faculties intact. This enables the patient to talk to a therapist about their trauma without fear - for possibly the first time in their lives. “If you are carrying around memories in your head of painful trauma that goes back to childhood, you often spend your whole life going there and avoiding it at all costs, whether that means becoming a heroin addict or an alcoholic or self-harming,” Sessa says. “The rationale behind this study is that we know MDMA works with trauma and that people with alcohol dependence have high levels of trauma in almost all cases, so we’re putting two and two together here.” The study, which is sponsored by Imperial College London and being run at a facility in the University of Bristol, will recruit daily dependent drinkers from Bristol drug services, who experience withdrawal when they stop drinking. After a detox of seven to 10 days, instead of going into typical treatment like individual therapy or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), they will start an eight-week MDMA therapy course. Eligible participants will receive weekly sessions of psychotherapy, including two day-long sessions with MDMA, after which they stay in the treatment centre overnight and are closely monitored. Follow-ups at three, six and nine months will continue to assess the safety and tolerability of the drug, but also if the patients have relapsed or stayed dry.

whose mental health problems are due to trauma or childhood abuse”. Currently, the rate of success for alcohol addiction treatment is extremely low. “We chose alcohol addiction because the current treatments for alcohol misuse disorder are very poor - the four-year relapse rate post detox is 80-90%, which is awful. After 100 years of modern psychiatry, is that the best we can do?” he asks. “People stay in treatment for years and it papers over the cracks by treating the symptoms but doesn’t get to the heart of the patients’ problem, which is often trauma. This diagnosis is crying out for something new.”

“Once all the data is in, it will be impossible not to license this drug, because the medical profession won’t stand for it not to be”

Addiction treatment ‘crying out for something new’

However, therapeutic MDMA use isn’t totally new. In fact, its history goes as far back as the mid-70s, as therapists who had been using LSD in psychiatry moved onto MDMA, which, unlike LSD, was still legal. “Some interesting research was done on trauma therapy in the early 80s, but then MDMA was banned,” Sessa says. “Of course banning drugs is a terrible way of managing them. The whole rave thing happened, MDMA became a recreational drug. All research stopped for 30 years.”

Sessa says he was driven towards studying MDMA after seeing how ineffective traditional psychiatric methods are for a large group of people and “particularly those

Only recently has research recommenced. “There really has been a reawakening in the last 10 years. People are calling it the psychedelic renaissance,” he says.

If this initial ‘open-label’ study goes well, the next stage will be a further ‘double-blind’ study alongside placebos in a few years.

Examples of this renaissance are studies at Imperial looking at treating depression with psilocybin, which is found in magic mushrooms, and US scientists considering future research into using MDMA to treat eating disorders. Restrictive drug laws Even with this renewed momentum, the legal status of MDMA in the UK has made it difficult to get the study approved, which has taken three years. “This is the UK’s first ever clinical study using MDMA. It’s been incredibly difficult, very expensive and has taken a lot of time and effort,” Sessa says. “We had delays when having the drug manufactured and adequately tested to meet all the right standards, as well as in getting the necessary regulatory approval and getting a Home Office license.” MDMA is a ‘schedule one’ drug - a regulatory category for substances that aren’t used as medicines - so it has to be tracked by the Home Office. Each site has to be inspected to acquire a license - from where it’s made, analysed and tested to where it’s encapsulated, administered and stored. “There’s no doubt that schedule one drugs are much harder to study,” Sessa says, who is highly critical of the UK’s drug laws. MDMA, also known as ecstasy, is officially a class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act - the most serious classification that also includes heroin. However, Sessa describes MDMA as a “staggeringly safe” clinical medicine as opposed to the ecstasy tablets that are taken recreationally. Even the concerns about that is overplayed, Sessa says, because the number of deaths is very low considering the huge amount of use - 750,000 doses every weekend.

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The difficulties in getting this study up and running now mean future studies won’t have to jump through all the same hoops: “We’re trailblazing here and setting things up. I hope future studies will be much easier than this one.” US researchers from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) are aiming to get MDMA licensed for psychotherapy for PTSD by 2021. The drug is currently in the final stages of trials and was recently granted ‘breakthrough therapy designation’, by the US Federal Drug Agency (FDA), meaning it has a meaningful advantage over existing treatments for PTSD. If a license is awarded for PTSD, MDMA could be used ‘off-license’ to treat other diagnoses in the UK, including addiction. Sessa is optimistic. “Once all the data is in, it will be impossible not to license this drug, because the medical profession won’t stand for it not to be.”



“Treatment papers over the cracks by treating the symptoms but doesn’t get to the heart of the patients’ problem, which is often trauma. This diagnosis is crying out for something new”




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What have our members been up to since the last edition of the Bristol Cable?



We uncovered the mysteries of offshore housing and tax dodging through Bristol properties at our January Members’ Meeting at St Paul’s Learning centre.

Members came to a special speaker event held with with Privacy International where we learned more about new developments in state surveillance which we have been investigating at the Cable.

We had our members’ meeting in Southmead and met with community groups including Team Southmead, and local publication The Mead. Now several Cable members are working on stories with Southmead residents and with our media coordinators. Look out for these online in the coming months.

Some of our members took part in making a short film to tell others about what it’s like to be part of the Bristol Cable. Coming soon!


We launched the media lab! 12 people are getting stuck into our free practical course in media skills - expect to read and watch their work online and in print later in the year.

Book yourself on to these events at

APRIL 19TH Gary Younge on ‘The Power of Stories’.

Members get discounted tickets. Book now!


The Bristol Cable Annual General Meeting. All members welcome.




Revealed: NHS staff in Bristol are being worked until they’re sick with stress

between January 2014 and the end of 2017. Though the data doesn’t show whether the stress is work-related or not, rising stress among NHS staff is widely reported in sector-wide staff surveys and and as told to the Cable by staff (see overleaf). Bristol MPs have responded to the investigation’s findings. Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West said, “The rising number of stress-related absences of NHS workers in the Bristol area are worrying but unsurprising. The demands on NHS staff have risen sharply whilst rewards and control over work has reduced. This is a recipe for stress and the government needs to listen to these staff and invest in our most treasured public service.”

In the 70th year of the NHS, an investigation by the Cable reveals that those who care for the nation are in need of serious attention ­­­

Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East said, “I have heard directly from constituents – who work across the health service – about the increased pressures they are facing in their jobs and the impact this is having on their own health and their family life.


WO RDS & DATA A DA M C ANTWELL- CO R N & RICHARD MUIR I L LU S T R AT ION FR AN HOOP E R DES IG N TOAS T O F BR IS TOL The number of Bristol NHS workers suffering from stress has soared in recent years, an investigation by the Cable shows. Analysis of NHS data reveals that workers in the North Bristol Trust, that runs Southmead Hospital along with a range of other services, have reported a shocking 80% rise since 2010 in the number of instances of staff taking time off work due to stress-related illness. The South West Ambulance Service who operate ambulances across the region have seen a massive rise of 270% of instances of stress-

related absence since 2013, while workers at the University Hospitals Bristol Trust that operates the BRI has seen a 70% increase in working days lost to stress since 2011. Across the three employers, the number of working days lost to stress or anxiety has risen by 45% in the seven years up to the end of 2017, making stress account for the greatest number of working days lost to any type of illness. In just four years 232,141 days, or 893 working years have been lost to stress

We cannot take for granted the hardworking and dedicated staff who are the backbone of our health service. These people deserve the utmost respect for working long and unsociable hours in high-pressure environments to keep patients safe. The government must do more to address the constant funding and staff shortages that have become the norm over the last seven years.”

Service and actively encourage staff to report incidents of stress and anxiety.” The North Bristol Trust’s Director of People & Transformation said, “We are clear that the health of those who work for us as important as our patients’, so already have a host of measures in place to proactively support the wellbeing of our staff and are working to provide even more support. Things we offer include: wellbeing and resilience workshops, mental health awareness raising and support and mental health first aid training from Mind.” The Director of People at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust said, “The Trust takes the health and wellbeing of its staff extremely seriously, and we are very concerned by this growth in absence due to stress. We do our best to support staff and encourage them to talk about any stress they experience and seek help. We have a support programme available which provides advice and guidance to help staff identify and manage potential causes of stress before they become a problem.” Whatever the root causes, in the 70th anniversary of the service, it’s clear the workers on whose care the population relies are in need of serious attention themselves.

A spokesperson for the South West Ambulance Service said, “Staff are our most important asset and staff health and wellbeing is a top priority which is why we introduced our acclaimed Staying Well

Percentage increase number of days lost to stress has increased for all three trusts

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2017 data for SWAS & UHBT adjusted for incomplete data for 2017.



80% 60%

Working years that have been lost to stress across the three trusts in the four years between January 2014 and December 2017, based on an average working year of 260 days.

40% 20% 0% 2010








Percentage increase numberof days lost to stress has increased by 46% since 2011

NBT & UHBT from 2011 onwards; SWAS from 2013 onwards. 2017 data for SWAS & UHBT adjusted for incomplete data for 2017.

40% 30% 20% 10% 0% 2011








data has been adjusted to take into consideration Full Time Equivalent staff numbers. • The number of ‘calendar days lost’ includes all days from an absence beginning to ending, and therefore may include shifts not scheduled to be worked. •  For a full breakdown of the analysis, methodology and the raw data please visit:


For Peggy, the answer to the NHS’s woes is to have a fully public and properly resourced service. She says, “Most patients still have trust in the NHS, but the staff are creaking… The staff are wonderful, but there’s just not enough of them”.

Serving and retired NHS staff speak about the situation on the ground A doctor working in Bristol and speaking to the Cable on the condition of anonymity warned that even this data hid the full picture. “I know very tough and capable colleagues who often throw up while at work due to overwork and stress but would be reluctant to say they’re taking time off for stress, or take time off at all.”

Catching up with Philips in a rare moment of free time, it is clear that leaving is not something he would take lightly: “Maybe I can do something more useful with my time,” he says, “because this is not what I got into medicine to do.” With at least a full working day every week unpaid and unrecorded, Phillips is tired. But it’s not just his wellbeing that is at risk. It is patient care and safety. “We’re regularly working in unsafe conditions… and stress is the death of empathy.” He adds, “I have been trained to care for people, but I’m not given the time.” “All the trends were there back in 2005 and 2013” This should have been seen coming, says Nick*, a nurse in Bristol with 30 years service and a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union representative. “All the trends were there back in 2005 and 2013. But things haven’t got any better, in fact they’ve got quite a bit worse.” In the case of some NHS employers, “the attitude from management was just denial when it came to dealing with worsening working conditions,” says Nick. He adds: “It was certainly my experience, with colleagues and as a union rep, that we were very much seen as a disposable commodity.” On one occasion, after raising the issue of working conditions and stress, Nick was

For someone who has dedicated an entire life to caring for the public, this is hard to hear. Nick feels this sentiment is “a trend at times in the media, and probably coming from the government ultimately, that nurses are to blame for the NHS’s problems.” Despite this, Nick has stuck at it, though has taken time off for stress-related illness himself. One thing that helps him through is seeing his colleagues supporting each other. “But that will only take you so far, you need the right resources”.; he adds. Stress and lack of dignity at work are among a range of factors behind an unprecedented failure to fill vacancies and retain nurses across the NHS. These range from big issues such as years of being battered by pay freezes (notably not alleviated by the government’s recent offer), the removal of bursaries for nursing students who now face a full £9,000 per year in fees and the ‘Brexit effect’, a drop of 90% of EU nurses applying to work in the NHS since the Brexit vote. There is also little but significant things such as staff not having time to get a drink of water for several hours, which Nick modestly describes as “a nonsense,” The pace of change in the NHS, and how that change is managed, are also concerns for Nick, who has witnessed a management culture that seems disconnected from the realities on the ward. “We’ve had very experienced clinicians saying, ‘we’re concerned about the risk of certain changes and don’t feel this will work.’ But from the top down, the message was, ‘we know best and we’re not listening to you’.” The pursuit of these changes by expensive management consultants has had decidedly mixed results, with researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Warwick and Seville finding this year that there was a strong link between consultants and negative efficiency outcomes.

For Peggy Woodward, who worked as a midwife from 1970 until retiring in 2013, the current state of the NHS is not simply an accident or an unfortunate turn of events. “It’s like an abusive relationship. You’re not given enough money, and when you can’t feed the family you’re punished and more money is taken away… that’s what the government is doing to the NHS.” In her last years in the service, Peggy said, “I seemed to be working harder and harder, and given more and more paperwork to do, just to meet unrealistic government targets. I would have to go in on weekends, not saying I was coming in, just to catch up. I was doing at least 10 hours a week unpaid and unlogged. But then I decided I better leave before I have a heart attack or stroke.” While working, Peggy didn’t have the time to keep abreast of all the changes to the service. But once retired she started being active with local campaigners Protect Our NHS (PONHS). The group works to raise awareness of what Peggy describes as “a deliberate destruction of the NHS to get an American-style insurance system”.

Not everyone agrees with Peggy. The government and others intently argue that introducing competition and ‘efficiencies’ could strengthen the NHS for the future. The current health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, co-wrote a 2005 book with other Tory MPs calling for the ‘denationalisation’ of the NHS, and the introduction of an insurance-based system. On the other hand, patient and staff groups cite mounting evidence that years of under-funding, privatisation and mismanagement have pushed the NHS to the brink, laying the groundwork and justification for further breaking up and selling off of the service. In the 70th anniversary year of the NHS, and while it faces such grave threats, it seems apt to remember these words, attributed to the NHS’s founder and Labour MP, Aneurin Bevin: “The NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.” There is surely a fight going on, but the question is what sort of NHS will it be? Will it be that of Jeremy Hunt, or that of Peggy and her colleagues? *Names have been changed to protect identities Illustration:


With firsthand experience on the front lines of the NHS, Dr Phillips* is all too aware of the pressures staff face: “If I don’t come into work today, my colleagues just have more to handle. And this is quite literally a life and death situation.” Despite being relatively new to his career, Dr Phillips is seriously considering leaving the service, and in line with analysis by the British Medical Association, observes that colleagues are “leaving in their droves”.

told by a manager that he “could always find another job” if he didn’t like it.

“The way the government is treating the NHS is like an abusive relationship”

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Opinion: The re-tendering revolution is eroding our public services Disruption of care, risky transition periods and dangerous cost-cutting reveal a broken commissioning cycle. However, an alternative is possible.


ristol City Council recently failed to commission its new youth services contract on time. This is further evidence of the failings of outsourcing via short contracts that push services to the brink of financial viability - in the name of efficiency.

few years - and changing the entire model of provision each time - is inefficient and wastes both providers’ time and council money, they said. Every change in contract takes time to get to grips with, and to get to know young people you’re working with, they continued.

The new youth services provision was due to take over from the current model in April - a three-year contract with a 30% funding cut - but multiple appeals and reevaluations have caused a two-month delay in the handover. After weeks of further delays, all of the new area contracts were awarded to one provider, Creative Youth Network, compared with 12 providers previously.

This latest failure is symptomatic of how the outsourcing revolution and the relentless drive for savings is eroding our public services. Not only has austerity hollowed out hospitals, schools and local councils, but the deeply flawed cycle of re-commissioning contracts in the name of efficiency is disrupting vital services.

Outraged at the situation, a Bristol youth worker contacted the Cable to criticise the process. Re-tendering the contract every

Every few years, local officials try to reinvent the wheel in a blind attempt to enforce cuts from central government. Started under Thatcher, continued under New Labour and taken to a new level under


“The deeply flawed cycle of re-commissioning contracts in the name of efficiency is sowing division in our communities and disrupting vital services” the Coalition government, outsourcing public services to the private or voluntary sector has become commonplace. Recent outsourcing failures have sparked debate: Kensington and Chelsea Council faced criticism in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster for using an arms-length management company to run their social housing. The government is also now picking up the pieces after the collapse of construction and outsourcing giant Carillion, who built Southmead Hospital.

In January, North Bristol NHS Trust embarked on another money-saving scheme: to outsource the management of some its poorest paid workers, only for outraged staff and campaigners to force an embarrassing climbdown. While privatising the NHS is not directly comparable to charities providing services for the local council, the mad rush to cut costs can be just as damaging. In 2014, Northamptonshire Council declared itself a ‘next generation’ council

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“With Preston Council blazing a new trail for how to run local government, Marvin Rees and his Labour council can only deflect criticism using the shield of Tory austerity for so long. Less outsourcing and longer contracts that prevent a race to the bottom are the place to start” that would cope with central government cuts by shrinking in size, operating like a business and outsourcing much of their services. A few weeks ago, the same council hit the headlines for going effectively bankrupt - the first authority to do so in 20 years.

‘Unsafe and unviable’ drug services The youth services example is not the first time Bristol City Council has failed to re-commission a new service contract on time. The Cable revealed in October that no provider had bid for the complex needs element of drug and alcohol services, because it was deemed too difficult to deliver the right level of service on the money available. The council was forced to extend the existing contract a second time at the start of February, after yet another delay in the re-procurement process. The commissioning standstill means the current contract will run until at least June, four months longer than originally planned. Even when contracts are successfully awarded, the re-commissioning of drugs services is controversial, because long-term treatment is disrupted and providers are forced to offer the same services with fewer resources. Colin Drummond, head of the Addictions Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said “tendering of services, which invariably includes a cut in the value of the contract, has a seriously adverse effect on patient outcomes and may be partly contributing to the rise in drugrelated deaths. The constant re-tendering of services is hugely disruptive to the provision and continuity of care for people with addiction problems who have to have treatment over a number of years.

A 2017 report by the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) found frequent re-procurement of services was an unnecessary drain of resources, creating “churn” in the system and risks for service users. The ACMD heard evidence of providers being forced to merge and even the collapse of a major provider, potentially leaving thousands of people without treatment. To combat this commissioning contracts should be five to ten years in length, the report concluded.

In 2015, a contract to provide school meals was broken down into bite-size chunks so local firms could take it on, which now means individual local suppliers are providing different foods, from yoghurts to sandwich fillings. The man behind this revolution in Preston, council cabinet member Matthew Brown,

Council workers themselves are likely to find the system frustrating, but this re-commissioning process isn’t the only possible reaction to almost a decade of funding cuts from central government. With Preston Council blazing a new trail for how to run local government, Marvin Rees and his Labour council can only deflect criticism using the shield of Tory austerity for so long. Less outsourcing and longer contracts that prevent a race to the bottom are the place to start.

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In light of Bristol’s commissioning breakdown, a worker from one of Bristol’s service providers said the proposed funding reductions compared with previous contracts of more than a third “made its deliverability unsafe and therefore unviable”, leaving a “huge mess and levels of uncertainty”. “The failure to commission means hundreds of thousands more pounds of taxpayers’ money will be spent. This is obviously far more than the re-commissioning intended,” they added.

From hitting rock bottom in 2011 when a £700 million development of a huge shopping centre fell through, Preston’s major public bodies now spend local where possible - a total of almost £500 million in 2017 across Lancashire.

Awarding shorter contracts is intended to encourage efficiency, but the costcutting is spiralling out of control. When local authorities are having to extend their contracts for youth services or drug treatment anyway to prevent an emergency after the commissioning process has broken down, it’s clear this system simply isn’t working.

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“I’m not saying that the council shouldn’t be giving it to someone new,” said the Bristol youth worker. “But if you give it to someone new every time just because they’re undercutting the people that are already doing it, then every time you’re reinventing the wheel.”

A recent study by an NHS trust in London found that many heroin users were dying of overdose when being transferred from one treatment provider to another.

Much media coverage was recently given to a revolutionary new model of local government in Preston, as the council shifted contracts away from national companies towards smaller local firms to boost the local economy. It is hoped the contracts will be better for providers, as the council aims for local investment.

cited Bristol as one of the most likely cities to follow suit because of its tradition of collective ownership.


Even as costs and service pressures rise, the re-tendering process forces contracts to be delivered for less, as providers in both the private and public sector aim to undercut their competitors by taking on contracts on the cheap. We deserve better for our public services.

“The most vulnerable users are the most likely to fall out of treatment when there’s a change of provider,” Drummond said, with transition periods preventing services from being fully focused on providing care.

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f I said to you “Banjo Island”, what would you think of? If you’re new to Bristol, probably not much. If you know Bristol, you might pull a face and say “Stay away from there!”

So, for those that don’t know: Banjo Island is another name given to the council estate built after the war on Cadbury Heath, which is on the very eastern edge of the city. This is the story of the area, as told to me by the people who live there. First up, why ‘Banjo Island’? Steve sets us straight: “From an aerial view, you’ve got the [grassy] Island, and then Park Road looks like the neck of a banjo.” Les and Mark have lived in Banjo since they were “knee high to a grasshopper” and still live there, as do Kerry and Jem, Paul, Nick and Helen, Steve, Dave, and Malcolm. Most of them follow Bristol Rovers, and all of them drink in the Lamb, the pub that sits right at the heart of the community.




Despite its fearsome reputation, Maff Tucker finds a tight-knit community and good living in Cadbury Heath

A well-earned rep So, what about this reputation that Banjo has with the rest of Bristol? “It used to have a bad reputation,” admits Steve, “back in the 60s”. Paul agrees: “I think it’s always been known as a difficult area... it’s got that stigma.” Back in the day, Helen was a single mum looking for a council flat: “[They] told me that I could have the keys to a flat in Cadbury Heath. I can remember, I sat in his office and cried! I said I don’t want to live in Cadbury Heath… it had a really bad rep.”

“On the inside there was a loving, closeknit community that would be the envy of most Bristolians,” The reputation was deserved, earned in violent rivalries with other areas. “When we was kids, we would come up and sit on the wall and protect the Island. You’d get cars come round from Kingswood, Stockwood, Keynsham, looking for a big dust-up,” remembers Les. “When you got old enough, you would go to other areas, you would upset them, so they would have a go back. It was just a scuffle. You’d go over there and say ‘here we are, hello, come on, let’s have a go then.’ Then get back in the car and go home.” Malcolm and Nick back that up: “Every weekend in the Lamb there was a punch-up. It got quite notorious. People used to come over from Keynsham and Lockleaze, on their Vespas. One time loads came up from St Pauls.” Soft in the middle So, to the outside world, Banjo put on a tough face. But on the inside there was a loving, close-knit community that would be the envy of most Bristolians. Kerry remembers moving to Banjo in the 90s: “It was like a Butlins holiday camp! Everyone knew everyone, you walk past people and they would say ‘Good Morning!’

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UP THE GAS! The links between Bristol Rovers and Banjo Island have always been strong, and as always, the Lamb was at the heart of it. “The Lamb was always a Rovers pub, they put on coaches to go to away games. People got t-shirts made up saying “Banjo Gas, Up the Gas and Down the Lamb”, says Paul. There used to be a wild side to following the Gas as well, explains Mark. “In the 70s there would be coaches that went to away games, they would go en-masse with Kingswood to places like Notts County. They would get in the home end then have a bit of fisticuffs. In the 70s, it was like a badge of honour, to get into the home team’s end.” Malcolm smiles and adds, “Banjo Boot Boys! It was a long time ago. It was part of growing up, learning how to handle yourself, part of a family. You’d get beat up one week, then another week… It didn’t matter.” These days things are a lot calmer, but the Rovers connection is still strong, says Jem. “You can walk round in a Rovers top and someone will always chat to you or say ‘Up the Gas!’”


“You’d get cars come round from Kingswood, Stockwood, Keynsham, looking for a big dust-up,” They used to have summer fairs in the school, and it would go all down the street. All the businesses would be involved, it was a massive community thing. “On a summer’s evening everyone would be out and we’d all order pizzas, have a glass of wine. If the World Cup was on everyone would get their chairs out front and someone would get their telly out on a table.” The Lamb pub was at the heart of it. “This is our hub. You come in here on a Sunday, it’s buzzing,” says Nick. Steve agrees, “Without this pub, there’d be nothing.” In many ways, as everyone has grown older and calmer, so has the Lamb. As Dave says, “You don’t get trouble in here anymore. You don’t get it anywhere, and if you do it stops straight away, get them out the door.” “Years ago, someone would come in and it would be ‘pick a window,’” says Malcolm. “Whereas now you get Polish come in, you get all sorts. We got a Polish bloke in tonight, he’s just moved into the area, he’s fine.” There’s a wall of pictures in the Lamb that remembers the regulars that have passed away. Les points at a framed biker jacket: “Jamie England, he was abandoned when he was a kid, his nan took him in and brought

him up, along with me and my brothers and sisters because our dad worked days and our mum worked nights.” Different Times Today, Banjo is clearly changing. “On the Island, we used to have a big fete, have the quad bikes going round… but it died out. As people get older they don’t want to give their time up, people have families... that’s the way it is,” says Nick. Kerry agrees, “That generation has gone, the community thing has dwindled… there’s no kids out on the street anymore.” Although everyone agrees that Banjo no longer deserves its bad reputation, there are problems related to drug addiction, and not much for youngsters to do. Les says, “I don’t think kids can be kids no more. We used to walk to Longwell Green to get a gallon of petrol, push the bike down to Oldlands and spend all day riding around the fields. Now that’s all housing estate. These young-uns, they go up to Barrs Court (Moated Park) and they’re a nuisance.” Boredom led to a notorious incident in 2007 when a phone box was blown up on the Island. Malcolm remembers how

“the whole place just shook. We’re two or three streets away, and we found bits of the telephone box in the front of our house. It was just a kids thing, messing about, but it all went pear-shaped.” “We don’t often get a mention on Sky News!” laughs Nick. But he says it could have been a lot more serious: “If you look at the shop over there that Mahesh used to run, there’s a hole in the side where part of the phone box hit it. If someone had been walking past they would have been killed.” Overall, despite the changes, life is still good down Banjo Island. “It’s our identity this is,” says Nick, “I’ve loved it, every minute of it.” Malcolm adds, “every year we get the pub up together, a load of us, and we go to Benidorm. That’s what we do,” “I love it,” says Helen. “My kids have been brought up round here, my grandchildren are being brought up round here. My oldest grandson calls me ‘Nanny Banjo’.

He goes to Kingswood school and they laughed and asked him, is that because she lives in Cadbury Heath? He said ‘No, it’s because her dog’s called Banjo!’”

“Boredom led to a notorious incident in 2007 when a phone box was blown up on the Island,”


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Co-producer of One Stream in Bristol, a Bristol City fan podcast


fter a season filled with glorious moments and mesmerising football, most would presume Bristol City fans would have nothing to complain about. However in recent weeks a downturn in form has coincided with a season ticket pricing restructure that has left a sour taste in the mouths of many. Club representatives attended a supporters meeting in order to reassure fans that they are listening. In the end, they did very little to convince anyone that they really get the fans’ concerns. So with the weather bleak and cold, there was a different sort of atmosphere in the stands at Ashton Gate when Bristol City defeated Ipswich Town 1-0. Some fans wondered whether a tough run-in for a playoff position for promotion to the Premier League is the best time for an organised demonstration that could have an impact on the team. Many were simply happy to witness their team win again, but some genuinely feel they are being treated as customers rather than fans after the recent season ticket price increase. They took matters into their own hands in the form of banners and a botched walkout. Bristol City supporters should be soaking in every glorious moment of this enthralling season, but with the commercialised state of modern football it’s important the fans’ voices are always heard.

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Should strip clubs be banned?

The renewal of the licenses for two strip clubs in Bristol in March reignited debate in the city about the presence of sexual entertainment venues - are they legal and safe businesses that adults should be free to patronise and work in, or do they contribute to gender inequality? Here’s two takes on the issue. The council are running a public consultation on this issue. Have your say at


“We have to balance the right for some to earn a living with the rights of all women”




was pretending to work recently, so clicked on to Twitter for a bit of distraction. MP Thangam Debbonaire was commenting on the then-upcoming licensing review of Bristol’s strip clubs. We exchanged a couple of tweets. Cue, of course, the tweets accusing me of not supporting women’s rights to do what they want and wishing women harm. I am reminded of the scholar Mary Beard’s ‘The Public Voice of Women’ speech, in which she spoke about women’s silence in the public sphere, and how women’s voices are interpreted. Often when the discussion takes place of how sexualised we want our community, the discussion quickly becomes framed in terms of prudishness, envy and scorn. It is usually framed as a ‘woman’s’ issue (you know, somewhere in between the cost of tampons and the knee patting that us women are so touchy about). Women are told that we can only have a voice if we have personal experience. We are also expected to divulge harrowing stories to legitimise our experience in a way we would never expect from any other ‘victim’ of crime.

Drawing a parallel between the shocking recent news headlines of sexual assaults within pretty much every large organisation in the UK and the commodification of women’s bodies, as I did in my tweets, seemed fairly obvious to me. Asking why the exchange of money somehow makes it empowering seemed a pertinent question in light of the shocking Oxfam news. Yet the debate is regularly framed as prudish feminists interfering with women just wanting to earn a living. Within a couple of tweets, the safety of women was bought up by those who worked in Bristol’s strip clubs, which did seem to suggest that strip clubs may not be the safest places for women to be, both for those who work inside them, and women who have to navigate around them. To dismiss anyone who sees a connection between the sex industry and negative attitudes towards women seems to me to be completely missing the boat. I also wonder why so much anger is directed at women who object, rather than the men who do the actual hurting. I would be angry if going to work meant a chance of preventable physical harm, but berating women for men’s violence seems misplaced if not futile.

“To dismiss anyone who sees a connection between the sex industry and negative attitudes towards women seems to me to be completely missing the boat” And now we get to the heart of the issue. Surely by denying some women the right to earn a living, I am a ‘bad’ feminist (and probably some kind of middle aged prude to boot). Feminism is all about choice, and women should be able to choose whatever they want, it’s even empowering, right? I would suggest that ‘choosing’ to conform within a rigidly gendered structure is less an empowering choice and more a survival skill. Strip clubs may be a way for a small group of women to earn relatively well paid employment but we have to balance the right for some to earn a living with the rights of all women to live, work and navigate our city free from violence and harassment. Whether or not a direct link can be drawn between sexual entertainment and violence against women is much debated, but there is little argument that women’s lives are severely limited by sexist stereotypes, harassment and violence. We know that the trafficking of women within the sexual entertainment industry is rife.

Strip clubs and other forms of sexual entertainment do not exist in a bubble. Often the charge against those of us that call for an end to sexualised entertainment is that we should ‘just talk to the women involved’ as if the women who are employed are a subset of women, not our sisters, daughters, mothers and friends. We also have to look at wider society. To blame women who argue that the sexualisation and commodification of women is at the root of the inequality that women face again seems to me to be misplaced. I doubt that my call for an end to strip clubs is likely to affect women’s wages at the BBC, but we know that the men who make those kinds of decisions attend ‘President Club’ type of events. And what of my choice or the choice of thousands of others not to live in a city where bodies are commodities? As if how women are viewed and treated in strip clubs somehow stops at the door and has no effect on our lives or wider society. That us dowdy middle aged women somehow just can’t bear young, pretty women earning a good living rather than that we see a logical connection between sexism and the sale of women’s bodies. So, like most who object to strip clubs, I do not blame the women who work in them for all the ills of the world, nor believe that every man that visits them is a closet rapist, but I do question how we will prevent a whole new generation of #metoo if we continue to see women’s bodies as yet another commodity, packaged for instant consumption.


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“There is a social culture which believes that women in the sex industry are unable to make their own decisions and speak for themselves” NO.


s a dancer from Bristol, I was thrilled to hear that Urban Tiger and Central Chambers had been granted the renewal of their license for another year. However, this news is bittersweet as the charade of applying for these licenses, which are both expensive and difficult to obtain, must begin again next year. It has become a source of constant consternation for the women who work in these clubs. As one dancer remarked, “We’re safe... for another year anyway.”

“It has been proven that adding legislation to the sex industry increases stigma for the workers” There is so much power and weight behind the opposition camp that they no longer even need to provide accurate statistics to support their cause. Avon and Somerset police stated their opposition to the license renewal by reporting that there was an increase in sexual assault “in the vicinity of these clubs”. However, in this context, the ‘vicinity’ counts as a 300-metre radius, which in a small town centre like Bristol encompasses a lot of different areas including, but not limited to, Park Street, Baldwin Street and Queens Square - not to mention that this is circumstantial evidence as there is not enough information to link the increase in assault in these areas to the presence of either club. On the other side of the coin, evidence from dancers who do choose to speak out in defence of their work falls on deaf ears, and they are informed that their experiences are anecdotal and unusable.

On a larger scale there are an estimated 80,000 men, women and trans* people employed in the sex industry in the UK, from legal work such as lap dancing to work that is currently illegal, including prostitution. They come from all walks of life and they work for many reasons. In my limited experience, I have worked with many single mothers, students and entrepreneurial women who are building their own businesses. The flexible hours provided by this line of work are ideal for women who are trying to support another major aspect of their life. I have also danced with women who simply enjoyed their work and feel they shouldn’t need their bodies to be policed by the higher-ups (i.e. the council or the government) when they have the right to free choice and freedom of expression. The other justification which is often used for the criminalization of the sex industry is the fear of people trafficking. However, further criminalization has been shown to drive people working in the sex industry farther underground, making it harder for victims of trafficking to be discovered, and harder for those who genuinely need help to ask for it. It has also been proven that adding legislation to the sex industry increases stigma for the workers, which exacerbates many other problems such as access to work reforms and welfare. Currently, if police raid sex worker venues and find women who have been trafficked into the country, they will remove all of their possessions and place them in a deportation centre to be sent back to their home country, sometimes splitting up families in the process.

In addition to this, pro-abolition groups also grossly exaggerate statistics and tell emotive stories about the victims of trafficking which make it impossible to speak against in any capacity without being perceived as ‘backwards’ or ‘evil’. In the English Collective of Prostitute’s parliamentary symposium, they reference Professor Nicola Mai’s study of immigrant women in the sex industry - this found that only 6% had been trafficked into the country. Another symposium participant, Paulina Nicol, described defending sex workers who have been caught up in police raids where they were looking for victims. Many other institutions suffer with problems of trafficking, but none stir up as

many emotions as the sex industry. Instead of banning these institutions, we create new work reforms to prevent trafficking and, perhaps most importantly, support those who have been victims. I am far from the first or last sex worker who support decriminalisation of the industry, and although my personal experience is restricted, I am appealing for councils, legislators and policy makers to take the time to visit women in the wider sex industry and discuss what they want for their safety and their future. It is time to take the rights and welfare of these women seriously.

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There is a social culture which believes that women in the sex industry are unable to make their own decisions and speak for themselves. This attitude is reflected in the language used when sex workers are discussed: women in the sex industry are often referred to as ‘girls’ and are deliberately excluded from discussions which concern them. What is most upsetting is that groups with this kind of attitude will often refer to themselves as ‘feminists’ and yet they continue to perpetuate the belief that one can legislate a woman’s ability to choose what she does with her body.

WORDS ALICE, with help from MELISSA, both founding members of the Bristol Sex Workers Collective

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‘We have to be united’: Celebrating spring with Bristol Kurds This year’s Middle Eastern holiday Nawroz coincided with fresh offensives on Kurdish cities in northern Syria WORDS LORNA STEPHENSON PHOTOS SANGAM SHARMA


t the end of march, the Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls was the venue for a Bristol community celebration of Nawroz. As dancing began after delicious Kurdish food was served, the Cable chatted with co-organiser of the event, Tara Marin, about what Narwoz means for the Kurdish community.

“Yes, it’s mythical, but there are loads of real stories like that too – for us it all comes back to symbolism. Every Nawroz we have

The 2018 celebration coincided with the Turkish offensive on Rojava, the Kurdcontrolled region in Northern Syria (Turkey claim they are targeting terrorists on their borders). It’s the latest in a long line of attacks, oppression and attempts at ethnic cleansing of Kurds, from the governments of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia.


Marin explains that Nawroz, which celebrates the coming of spring, is celebrated by different communities around the Middle East, but particularly by Kurdish people. “Nawroz actually translates as new day, so for us there’s loads of history. There’s loads of stories I could go into about Kurdish heroes who saved us from tyrant kings,” says Marin.

a bonfire, we jump over the bonfire and we have picnics. It’s a symbol of new life and new beginnings, and spring as well.”

Towards the end of 2017, Iraqi forces occupied the Kirkuk region in the south of Kurdistan, after the region of Iraqi Kurdistan voted for independence in a referendum unrecognised by the Iraqi government. The current circumstances made coming together as a community all the more important for Marin. “These days we

are facing so much oppression, so much persecution just for being Kurdish. So for us, we have to be solid, we have to be together, to be united,” she says.

and explore what’s happening. There’s a lot happening in the news that we don’t know about because [...] the mainstream media doesn’t cover it.

“I understand why British people and a lot of the outside community don’t know about Kurdistan and what happens to the Kurds,” she starts, before explaining that a failed British occupation of Kurdistan resulted in the area being split into five parts spread across Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Armenia.

“Afrin is the latest Kurdish populated city that has been occupied. Every year or every few months we have another new city that the Turkish or Syrian regime or Isis are trying to take, but we try and hold on.”

“If you meet a Kurd, the first thing they will say, they will not say what country they’re from, they will say ‘I’m Kurdish’. It’s before my religion, it’s before the land I was born in,” Marin explains. “We have our own government, our own flag, our own food, everything. Our own dress, culture, language. So I understand why people don’t know about us, but we are a nation that survived a lot.” Given the current conflicts, Marin says she wants non-Kurdish people find out more about current affairs in Kurdistan: “I would love for people to just type in ‘Kurdistan’

The week before the Nawroz celebration, news emerged that a Bristol woman, Anna Campbell, was killed while resisting Turkish forces with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units in Afrin. As for supporting Kurdish people, she says: “The only way you can really support us is to share everything on the news, share, share, and let your MPs know because if the MPs are aiding and giving weapons for people to attack us... our voices will be heard one day.” “In every country we’ve been doing protests for Afrin. We didn’t get heard, which is quite disheartening. But we are Kurds, and we’re loud, and we’ll just carry on.”

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Artificial intelligence, robots, and the future of society: interview with Darren Jones WORDS SANDI DHEENSA AND MICHAEL COX PHOTO MICHAEL COX



he so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which we are living through the early stages of, will fully embed existing and future digital technologies in society.

As with earlier such shifts, the last of which was the ongoing ‘Digital Revolution’ that began in the 1980s, there are positives and negatives. Two troubling aspects are the rise of decision-making by artificial intelligence (AI)-powered algorithms, and automation in the workplace by robots and AI. Let’s start with algorithms. ‘Traditional’ algorithms – formal descriptions of how people or computers should perform tasks – have been in widespread use for years. Universities, for example, use ‘degree algorithms’ to calculate final degree classifications from students’ assessed work. But AI-algorithms are created by feeding a computer program huge amounts of data and ‘teaching’ it how to behave. For instance, a facial recognition algorithm might be taught by providing the program with thousands of images and telling it which are of the same people. Through the ‘learning’ process, AIalgorithms pick up human biases, such as showing women job-hunters lower paid positions than men. Predicting or explaining algorithms’ decisions can be impossible, because they are based on a machine’s ‘intuition’. This complexity means they are ‘black boxes’ even to their creators. People will not always know when their data is used to train a machine, nor when they are being subjected to a machine’s decisions. Surrounded by algorithms Darren Jones, MP for Bristol North West, is one of few MPs with significant insight into 4IR – he leads Labour Digital, a volunteer group comprising entrepreneurs, trade unionists, academics and others, which shapes Labour policy on the subject. Jones is also a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, one of a number of cross-party groups that grill ministers and officials on policy and spending decisions, call on experts to

We are hurtling into a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’: an age of artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and unparalleled automation in the workplace. Should we be worried? To find out, the Cable spoke to Darren Jones – one Bristol MP who is paying attention interrogate policies further, and publish reports to which the government has to respond. Jones’ committee has ongoing inquiries into algorithmic decision-making and biometrics and forensics. How worrying does he find the current situation? “We haven’t had a public debate about the ethics of algorithms: lots of people don’t understand them,” Jones warns. Such a debate is needed urgently – because AI-algorithms already surround us, without us even knowing. One of the most controversial examples is their use by police forces. Constabularies have used AI-algorithms at Notting Hill Carnival and elsewhere for real-time facial recognition. These algorithms are notoriously poor at recognising black people’s faces, increasing the risk of false positives. What’s more, since the police national database contains millions of images of people never convicted of a crime, the algorithms enable them to identify innocent people – arguably a major infringement on privacy. Constabularies are also deploying algorithms that use crime data to predict, to within a 500 sq ft area, where crime will happen again, as well as to predict arrested people’s reoffending risk. The latter made news recently after analysis showed that adding postcodes into training data could reinforce harmful biases in policing decisions: the algorithm decided people in poorer areas would be more likely to reoffend.

“This affects every area of government and needs to be driving every area of policy” As Cathy O’ Neil, a Harvard PhD graduate, data scientist, and author of the book Weapons of Math Destruction, contends, algorithms that send more police to poorer areas, and sentence residents to longer terms, can feasibly feed into other algorithms that

rate the same people as high risk for loans and mortgages and block them from jobs. The right to human intervention The EU’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Jones points out, guarantees individuals the right not to be subject to decisions made entirely by algorithms. Decisions should involve human intervention – for instance, police officers balancing algorithmic suggestions against their own judgements. The GDPR also gives people the right to challenge decisions made.

“Through the ‘learning’ process, AI-algorithms pick up human biases” Alarmingly, however, the UK’s Data Protection Bill, currently progressing through parliament, ‘permits exemptions’ from this right. Jones is concerned about this, and about how loosely ‘human intervention’ might be interpreted. “You can see how the police, for example, might end up becoming slack: ‘The algorithm says do this, so I’ll do this,’” he says. “Suddenly that’s seen as human intervention and the right no longer exists.” The Bill, moreover, exempts ‘immigration enforcement’ decisions from regulation. “What does that mean? It’s not defined,” says Jones. Labour has tabled amendments on these aspects, but, Jones adds, “they won’t become law unless the government supports them”. An independent body, Jones goes on, should analyse input data, test algorithmic decisions, and check for biases. The newlyannounced £9m Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation would ideally fulfil this role, but its designated remit and function is still to be decided. Moreover, it is housed in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport – aka the ‘Ministry of Fun’ – even though, as Jones argues, “This affects every area of government and needs to be

driving every area of policy.” The Centre, he continues, is “just an advisory body” – meaning the government doesn’t actually have to listen to it. Through one tabled amendment, he hopes to give it statutory influence. Giving away public data Shady decision-making aside, another area of concern is around companies holding onto the huge profits they can generate via AI-algorithms, which may have been trained using our data. A case in point is the NHS handing Google’s DeepMind company millions of patient records to develop AI-algorithms to spot disease, despite no revenue for the NHS having been secured in return. “We need to be aggressive on this,” Jones says. “Think about how much revenue we could generate at a time when we need to be pumping in much more money [to the NHS].” Few parliamentarians, especially in the Commons, seem to be paying attention. “If you watch the Data Protection Bill’s second reading, there’s barely anybody there,” says Jones. Of those MPs who are engaged, he warns, “Government can choose to ignore us. The will of parliament used to be quite definitive – even if there were opposition, there’d be debate. Under this government, the Tories aren’t even turning up a lot of the time: it’s a real problem for our democracy.” Job losses from automation That assessment is all the more troubling given that AI-powered algorithms won’t just make decisions about our lives: along with advanced robotics, they will put people out of work. Predictions about total job losses from automation vary: the World Economic Forum expects 7.1 million losses across 15 countries by 2020, with routine office and admin roles hit hardest, followed by manufacturing and production. “You’ve only got to go to GKN Aerospace [a manufacturing plant with about 2000 employees in Bristol] and look at wingcomponent manufacturing,” says Jones. “Ten years ago, it would have been loads of

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“Ordinary people will need to take notice and make some noise to ensure 4IR benefits, rather than destroys, societies and livelihoods” people with drills: now there’s whizzy robotic arms lasering things in.” Soon, driverless vehicles could drastically affect “tonnes of logistics jobs in Avonmouth,” he goes on. To protect workers, Jones suggests government and industry work together to identify jobs most at risk and find ways to keep people in meaningful work. His team wants to start a discussion on this with all 1,800 employers in his constituency. “We need to know businesses’ investment decisions, almost in real-time, so we know when jobs are going to change – before it happens,” he argues. Jones also emphasises the importance of opportunities to ‘upskill’ and that higher

education institutes like the Open University have a role to play – but he is vaguer on what that role would be. And he concedes there are no guarantees people will have access to ‘upskilling’, nor that other jobs will always be available. So what now for policy? Jones hopes the Science and Technology Select Committee will have influence – and as well as leading Labour Digital, he’s about to launch a crossparty ‘Tech Ethics’ commission to try to influence policy “over the next parliament or two”. It’s easy to feel reassured by Jones’ confidence – but it’s telling that his most common refrain during our interview is that “a lot needs to change”. And he and the small band of interested politicians

can’t change things alone. Ordinary people will need to take notice and make some noise to ensure 4IR benefits, rather than destroys, societies and livelihoods. The Guardian’s recent investigation into the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica – whose

‘psychological warfare tool’ has alleged links to the Trump and Vote Leave campaigns – only emphasises the urgency. In the words of Cathy O’Neil, “This is a political fight. We need to demand accountability for our algorithmic overlords.”

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I did time for tagging Jack Keeling, who was imprisoned for graffiti, talks to the Bristol Cable about his sentence, Bristol’s graffiti scene and the council’s promise to create legal graffiti walls WORDS HANNAH VICKERS PHOTOS HANNAH VICKERS



ack Keeling (Instagram: Seskimoe1) used to be a prolific tagger. In June 2016, his ‘SESK’ tag was all over the city and he was sentenced to 16 months in prison for 70 counts of criminal damage. The judge said that he hoped the sentence would act as a deterrent to others.

that are clean and well developed, with systems that work well, don’t get tagged nearly as much as more deprived areas.

Keeling wasn’t expecting a 16-month sentence. He’d just watched the defendant before him - a teacher - get four weeks for having indecent images of children: “I was saying to myself, ‘Oh nice, I just watched this nonce get four weeks and I’m in here for graff. I’m sweet, I’m going home.’ I walked in there with a grin on my face.”

“There’s always going to be a percentage of people that are unheard, and the best way to [be heard] is to put your own advertising up.”

“In a way I deserved it, but 16 months! I was a scapegoat,” Keeling says.

“It is a form of protest - for someone who hasn’t got anything, that’s the only mode of protest. And also to say to the world: ‘I’m here. I matter’,” he says.

“The best way to be heard is to put your own advertising up”

He spent the first two months in HMP Bristol, a category B prison, then was moved to an open jail. “I was in there for graff, not killing someone,” he explains.

Dante was recently nearly arrested for painting in the Bearpit, where he had been painting out a tag so he could paint a mural over it.

He’s not the only graffiti writer to feel disproportionately punished. A London tagger, Kristian Holmes, who painted under the tag ‘Vamp’, got three and a half years for 39 incidents. In the same week entertainer Stuart Hall was convicted of child abuse and sentenced to 15 months.

The Bearpit used to be one of Bristol’s few safe spaces to paint. But, now the council has taken the space back and Bristol Waste - a private company owned by the council - has painted the whole inside of the roundabout in grey, getting rid of both the tags and the murals.

“It’s fucked up. The whole world’s fucked up. It’s money. Money talks,” says Keeling.

“If they haven’t got enough resources to police properly, then they could be using those resources in better ways,” says Dante.

Why taggers tag Keeling says that tagging was escapism for him. “I broke up with someone and I jumped into graff,” he says. He liked to tag in hard-to-get-to spaces, on roofs 16 floors up and on trains. The more difficult or dangerous the spot, the more kudos you get for getting your name there.

“The best way to fight tagging, if you think tagging’s a problem, is by sticking murals up there,” he argues. “By putting a grey wall on there you’re not making anybody happy. It looks horrible and it invites that sort of [tagging] mentality. It’s a red rag to a bull.”

“When you’re coming up on the scene, you need to make a name for yourself, people need to know who you are.”

For Keeling, though, it’s also about the feeling of seeing a newly painted tag the next day “when the sun’s glaring on the chrome”.

Bruno Dante, Bristol graffiti artist and owner of the Matchbox Gallery on Stokes Croft, says that for many graffiti artists and taggers, tagging is a way of making themselves seen. He points out that areas

“The feeling you get when you see something on a wall, whether it be a legal wall, a roof, whatever it is, the feeling you get is better than any drug, any sex, anything. You cannot beat it,” he says.

“It is a form of protest. And to say to the world: ‘I’m here. I matter”

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“When you’re coming up on the scene, you need to make a name for yourself, people need to know who you are”

Operation Block Keeling’s sentence was part of a city-wide crackdown on illegal graffiti. In November 2016, the council launched its Clean Streets Campaign, with Marvin Rees promising to make Bristol ‘measurably cleaner’ by 2020.

King showed Keeling photos of his tags around the city, and called him by his tag to see how he responded. Keeling feigned ignorance.


PC Stuart King led the investigation against Keeling, as part of the police’s work identifying and prosecuting high volume illegal graffiti and tagging, known as ‘Operation Block’. At the time, more than 30 offenders had been investigated for more than 400 offences, with those found guilty either ordered to clean it up, or given custodial sentences.

As well as potentially reducing the amount of unwanted graffiti and tagging around the city, having legal walls would give artists the space to be able to practice and hone their craft. It’s not a new idea. Bristol legends, Banksy, Cheo and Inkie started out on a legal wall that social worker John Nation, since nicknamed ‘the godfather of graffiti’, put up at the Barton Hill Youth Centre. “Free walls will basically get the people who are doing the ‘get it up’ thing to take it to the next stage,” says Keeling. “If they’re allowed to paint a wall, they can take their sweet arse time with it, and make it look banging.”


“I asked, ‘What’s Sesk? What is that? Aftershave?’ He was like, ‘Ah, you’re funny’. I said ‘Bruv, I don’t know why I’m here.’” “He had a catalogue full of graff, a propermade one,” Keeling goes on. “It was like an annual… like a Beano. I was like, ‘Can I get a copy of that?’” Could Bristol be the first UK city to have a network of legal walls? The council’s Clean Streets Campaign has drawn criticism from street artists for its blunt anti-graffiti message, which some say doesn’t take into account the benefits graffiti brings to Bristol. Early last year it looked like the council and members of the graffiti community were coming to an uneasy truce. After two local artists approached the council with a proposal for ‘legal painting walls’, the council began to work with them on a plan to map out walls already being painted on regularly and make them formally legal. However, so far a network of legal walls still haven’t been finalised and and now the council is cracking down on walls that were once considered safe to paint on.

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Among the trauma and the bullshit: Thoughts of a black social worker The candid voice of someone on the sharp end of personal and institutional racism WORDS ANONYMOUS ILLUSTRATION JAZZ THOMPSON


’m a Black British social worker with over six years experience, and I am now waiting to escape from my role working with children and adolescents in Bristol. Why? Because of racism. The usual destructive shite that pushes competent and passionate Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) clinicians around the therapeutic circuit until they eventually burn out. I’m 29, I have a long time before I’m allowed to burn out. I wonder how many more times I must do this throughout my career.

I’m wary of detailing the actual incident I experienced and what came after this. Although racism within workplaces, in my experience, tends to follow a similar cycle: White professional is racist. BAME professional, and hopefully some of their white colleagues, are understandably offended and challenge the racism. White professional becomes fearful and angry at the sheer audacity that they could be considered racist and seeks to shut down all dialogue around this. BAME professional continues to challenge the racism. (Black people and people of colour have been experiencing racial discrimination for centuries. We don’t need to be told if something or someone is or isn’t racist. We’re the experts here, trust us.) White professional reluctantly agrees to engage in dialogue, but only on their terms. White professional denies any racism took place and cries. The institution rallies to protect their white colleague from what they feel is the undeniable trauma of having their racist actions challenged. The narrative

The oppressive experience is exacerbated further by the organisation reinforcing the following key points. The instigator of the racism expresses their distress at the BAME person being visibly upset. Dependent on the levels of ‘white fragility’ - a severe discomfort from white people in being confronted about racism and race issues - this progresses to a narrative of the BAME person being aggressive and scary, and the instigator feeling intimidated. Consequently, the BAME person is told that raising their concerns of racism is not helpful for team dynamics and to stop discussing it. Now, it’s not like I’m out to label white people as racists without cause. There are enough racists. It really doesn’t benefit us BAME people. I believe an open discussion, wherein the person who instigated the racism can reflect and learn is the best approach, though sadly not followed in my experience.

on supporting white fragility as a priority. With the focus on protecting the instigator of the racism, who is now considered the victim, I was left with depression, anxiety and feelings of humiliation and isolation. One of the most oppressive feelings was the insistence on silence. To not discuss the incident, to deny that this had happened. Most of us have the same aim here. Most white people don’t want to be racist, or at least don’t want to be labelled racist. Black people and people of colour don’t want to be subjected to racism. Radical idea, what if we worked together? White people, examine your privilege, challenge innate prejudices and call out racism. This decreases the chances of you being racist or being called racist. If we allow it to happen, racism can be pointed out and awareness raised. This is not to label people as a despicable racist, but in fact for the complete opposite reason – to decrease racism and build a better workplace and beyond.

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I am exasperated by this cycle, despite having a certain level of resilience when dealing with overt racism. Discussing my experience with other Black people has at times left me disillusioned. The response is often, “This is to be expected, now keep your head down and get out.” If I’m honest, I have often been guilty of this outlook. However, I allowed the passion for my career, a caring and therapeutic one, to raise my hopes and expectations. My frustrations relate not only to the initial racist incident, but to the ongoing cycle that focuses

DIVERSITY: RHETORIC TO REALITY? Organisations such as the Runnymede Trust have highlighted the persistence of racism in the workplace, despite PR pronouncements from organisations that may be to the contrary. In their January 2017 report, ‘Bristol: a city divided?’, they surveyed BME employees and found that “participants highlighted the way in which workplace culture itself is not a neutral space and can ‘embody systemic institutional, social and cultural racism’.”

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It’s an odd position for me. I am all too aware that racism is entrenched in all aspects of society and workplaces, but despite this, I had higher expectations of my colleagues. These colleagues are social work professionals and therapists. Ethics, morals and self-reflection should be the foundations of such occupations. However, I wasn’t expecting my colleagues to not be racist. Anyone can hold prejudices or racist beliefs. I was expecting a better response to racism as therapeutic professionals.

of the ‘emotional and confused black person’ who has merely misunderstood is introduced. The BAME person continues to struggle with the racisminduced stress, and either remains in the organisation in a very isolated state, or seeks new employment at the earliest opportunity.



Safeguarding shouldn’t mean alienating: parents criticise FGM investigations There’s growing discontent among sections of the Bristol Somali community around how anti-FGM efforts are being handled. Getting the balance wrong risks driving a wedge between families and the professionals paid to protect children


he aromas of stewing meat and cardamom-scented rice fill the Somali cafe in Lawrence Hill. Abdihakir Asir, a father of three daughters, huddles over a table waiting for our chat to get started.


After some initial pleasantries, I realise I’m not the only one recording the conversation. Asir has his phone set on record. Given the sensitive issue at hand, he’s understandably keen to ensure the reporter sitting opposite doesn’t misquote him. With recorders running, Asir dives in, describing the public outcry in February when a Bristol father accused of allowing his six-year-old daughter to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) was found not guilty of child cruelty. Judge Julian Lambert threw out the case, describing it as “deeply troubling” and dismissing the evidence as “wholly inconclusive”.

“We changed the social norms in our community – a change happened in the late 1980s and 1990s. Why are we being targeted and stigmatised for the actions of our ancestors?” That case stemmed from a tip-off by a worker for the Bristol-based charity Integrate UK, but Judge Lambert deemed the account of the key witness to be “inconsistent”. A consultant gynaecologist who examined the six-year-old found no evidence of FGM, nine weeks after another doctor had reported a “small lesion”. In the case’s wake, Asir says, “loads of people came forward” with allegations of intrusive questioning around FGM – as well as coercive behaviour – by education and social work staff and police. This included the signing of declaration forms. It is a criminal offence to arrange FGM,

so there is nothing legally objectionable in itself to asking a parent to give assurances in writing they won’t do it. What practical effect such an agreement might have, and whether it is being used oppressively – as some parents tell the Cable – depends on the circumstances. In the bid to stop FGM, and land the first conviction in the UK for the brutal procedure, Asir says Bristol Somali parents have been indiscriminately questioned by police and safeguarding teams. “[This] unfair treatment,” he says, “is clearly damaging the [anti-FGM] programme itself.” After speaking with Asir, national antiFGM campaigner Hibo Wardere, tells the Cable she was shocked by the lack of evidence in the collapsed trial, as well as by subsequent stories told to her by Bristol Somali parents. Wardere, herself a victim of FGM, came from London to observe the collapsed trial. “We campaigners are letting down the community if we don’t speak up for them,” she says. Wardere adds that the case has acted as a wake-up call for Bristol’s Somalis to voice their concerns over how FGM safeguarding strategies are being implemented. Deputy chief constable Sarah Crew tells the Cable by email, “We know that FGM is prevalent and


accepted in a number of countries around the world. Young people in Bristol have told us that this is happening and we must do everything in our power, within the law, to protect them.”

But frustrated members of the Somali community insist the police and authorities are overstating FGM’s prevalence and are damaging community relations with their actions.

A real and direct alternative - Join the Cable! ‘Humiliating and damaging’ processes Two Bristol mothers, Ayan* and Hibo Mahamoud, separately describe to the Cable how they were questioned by police and safeguarding teams before their families took extended holidays to Somaliland with their daughters. Ayan says she was also questioned by antenatal teams when pregnant with one of her daughters, having undergone FGM before she moved to the UK. She has since undergone reconstructive surgery and says she is adamantly against FGM. Safeguarding teams, the women say, insisted they or their husbands signed declaration forms stating that they wouldn’t allow their children to undergo FGM. The two mothers recall being instructed that if the declaration forms were not signed, FGM protection orders would be sought.

These court-instructed orders, which have been in use since 2015, would lead to the confiscation of their children’s passports, on the basis that they were taking their prepubescent daughters on extended visits to Somaliland, an area where FGM is practised. Mahamoud says that the evidential basis for deciding whether a child is at risk is tenuous. “You can tell the professionals are in a really hard place – they know they have to do this,” says Mahamoud, who has two daughters aged six and nine. There’s a clear need to protect children. But forcing parents to sign declaration forms on the sole basis that they are going on holiday to a region where FGM takes place is humiliating and damaging to community relations, she says. Asking families to sign a declaration that they understand that FGM is illegal, and that they will protect their daughters from FGM, is outlined in council policy. FGM safeguarding guidance states, “It is the duty of the investigating team to look at every possible way that parental co-operation can be achieved” and that “if no agreement is reached, the first priority is protection of the child and the least intrusive legal action should be taken to ensure the child’s safety”. Ayan, a mother of three girls, tells the Cable that both she and her husband were

questioned by police and safeguarding teams when their daughters visited Somaliland in 2017.

that we are all playing our part to keep children and young people safe from all forms of abuse.”

The primary school got in contact after finding out that Ayan’s daughters would be going on holiday to Somaliland. “I was told straight away that I would be referred to social services,” she said.

At an FGM conference in Easton in February, attendee Ahmed Duale tells the Cable there are genuine concerns, but also rumours, regarding anti-FGM work, and that clarity in the community is urgently needed. “It’s wrong to think the community was specifically targeted,” he said. The number of FGM protection orders issued and declarations signed is far lower than some speculate, says Duale.

She was called in for a meeting with the headteacher to discuss the trip, and questioned about her children’s safety. Ayan voiced her frustrations with the process, explaining that she told the headteacher it was discriminatory. Her two eldest daughters were also questioned by the school safeguarding team and her husband went to Bridewell police station to meet with a safeguarding officer, she says. “He had to sign the declaration form whether he liked it or not,” Ayan says. “He was basically forced into signing things. He was told he couldn’t travel with the kids if he didn’t sign it.” This type of questioning and pressure to sign declaration forms has had a negative impact on community relations, Ayan goes on. “It doesn’t make you want to integrate, or feel British – it makes you feel less British. It does make you question your identity.”

But whether perceived or actual, there is a pervasive sense of unfair treatment within sections of the local community. The atmosphere could prove toxic if not addressed quickly, creating a gulf between safeguarding professionals and families in Bristol. In March, a group of Bristol Somalis formed an ‘FGM Committee’, made up of seven women and four men. Their main objectives include, “Creating opportunities for the community (mainly fathers and mothers) to participate in the FGM campaign alongside (young) campaigners, and to promote the rights of parents and families.” They also aim to tackle misconceptions, engage with the local Somali community through education and awareness, and develop links with the

Zainab Nur, a social worker and project manager at Hayaat Women Trust in Cardiff, a women-led support service for sub-Saharan women living in Wales, has started working with Bristol parents to address concerns with how anti-FGM efforts are handled.

police and the Home Office FGM Unit. Meanwhile, Labour representative Ruth Pickersgill is one of four councillors for Easton and Lawrence Hill who will convene a stakeholders meeting to discuss community concerns. The recommendation to hold the forum came out of the Zero Tolerance for FGM conference in February. Pickersgill tells the Cable, “We will open it to community members and organisations who work on FGM issues to discuss their concerns about the particular prosecution case, but also the wider issues of how the legislation and guidance on FGM is working in Bristol – and we would ask for ideas about how work in this area could be improved in future. “The main aim, as always, will be to ensure that we work out how to keep girls safe from any abuse in the most appropriate and effective way.” One case of FGM is clearly one too many. To keep people working together to eradicate the practice, concerns about the balance between safeguarding children and maintaining families’ dignity need to be dealt with. * Name has been changed

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“I don’t know a single woman in my community who would commit FGM on their daughters,” says Nur. “We changed the social norms in our community – a change happened in the late 1980s and 1990s. Why are we being targeted and stigmatised for the actions of our ancestors?” Need for clarity In practice, as the mothers we speak to acknowledge, anti-FGM efforts are fraught with difficulties as safeguarding teams try to protect children while not damaging community relations. A spokesperson for Bristol council says, “We aim to work inclusively with community leaders, and have been developing a triage process to ensure our practice supports the strong stance taken by the Somali community on eradicating FGM. We continue to listen to communities to ensure

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“We will open a forum to community members and organisations who work on FGM issues, to discuss concerns about how the legislation and guidance on FGM is working in Bristol”


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Learning not to abuse your partner

The programme that puts abusers at the heart of the solution WORDS HANNAH VICKERS ILLUSTRATION FRAN HOOPER


ne night a month, a group of men meets in the upstairs room of a closed cafe. Their only connection to each other is that they all have a history of committing domestic abuse - and that they’ve each decided voluntarily to do something about it. It’s a sparsely-furnished, brightly-lit room with snacks on the table and a whiteboard covered in notes. It has the look of a room that’s not often in use. There only two participants and the facilitator here tonight - it’s a welcoming atmosphere and both men come across as unguarded and selfreflective. It feels weird to be here having this friendly chat, given what we’re talking about. The men who attend these monthly meetings, known as the ‘relapse prevention group’ have been through a group programme for perpetrators of domestic

wasn’t what he’d been expecting. “I think to a certain degree I went in feeling sorry for myself,” he explains. “Looking for a bit of sympathy, a bit of a pat on the back, a bit of ‘you’re not alone’, agreeing with you. “But then the reality kicks in: that actually, no, it is your goddamn fault, you’re the one that did it, you stand up and accept it, now let’s work out how to change it.” “I just knew that I needed some kind of help with my attitude,” says Paul, another of the men in the group. “There might be the tendency, because you’ve done the initial programme, to think

“The reality kicks in: You’re the one that did it, you stand up and accept it, now let’s work out how to change it” abuse run by Splitz, a charity offering domestic abuse support services. It’s not a court mandated programme, but is looked upon favourably if custody of a child is in question.

that now you’re perfect and you can go back and conquer everything, and the reality is that you’re probably no closer than you were before. It’s just that now you know your weaknesses.”

The relapse prevention group is something that the men also decided to do of their own volition once the initial programme ended, to support each other and continue reinforcing the positive behaviours they’d learned.

The most recent theme they’ve been talking about is emotional abuse and intimidation: what it looks like, the ways the men do it and what the impact of it on their partners.

“It just helps remind you,” says James*, one of the group members, who is in his forties. “Otherwise you just go back into your life, and though you don’t necessarily forget about it, you can think ‘oh, I’m fixed now’, and maybe slide back into past behaviours.” He joined to try and save a relationship. They split up before the programme started but he went on it anyway. He says that it

James says the group needs to pose hard hitting questions to the participants. “Otherwise you’re just there for the sake of it, almost. You need to address what’s really going on so you can make changes.” These follow-up group sessions are now informing Reprovide, a pilot study that was launched last year to investigate ways of making perpetrator programmes more effective. So far, they’ve recruited 36

“It’s shocking how much effort goes into supporting people who are dealing with the consequences of these problems and how little support there is to stop this problem”

perpetrators and about half of their partners or ex-partners to the programme. Facilitators work from a manual designed by researchers and other experts, dealing with different aspects of abusive behaviour, like anger, respect, challenging patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes towards women and teaching participants techniques to deal with anger. Lead researcher of the Reprovide study, Professor Gene Feder, has published several papers on the healthcare response to domestic violence in the UK and abroad. He says that while perpetrator programmes have existed for decades, evidence about their effectiveness remains uncertain. He hope that this study will make future perpetrator programmes more effective. “We are not that interested in outcomes at the end of a perpetrator programme; what we’re really interested in is how things are a year, two years, five years down the line” Feder says. Why we need perpetrator programmes Funding support for perpetrators can seem like a controversial decision, but experts say that these programmes are key to prevention. Carol Metters is CEO of Bristol domestic abuse charity Next Link, which provides the support for the female victims of the men on

the Reprovide programme. She says that it’s not enough to support women experiencing abuse, that abusers’ attitudes need to change. “We know that if we help a woman to leave a violent partner, the chances are that the violent partner will get another partner and start beating up her. So we have to address men’s attitudes and behaviour,” she says. “We can save women, but we need to change men.” “If you’ve got a real commitment to tackling domestic abuse - and I would say Bristol has - then you have to be willing to fund this. Domestic abuse costs the public purse millions. It’s an investment to invest in this programme.” Lisa Furness, who spent a decade volunteering on a WomanKind helpline, says that prevention rather than cure is “a healthier way of dealing with things”. “The argument is always made that that the victims are the ones that deserve the resources. But I really think that this is putting the cart before the horse”. “It’s shocking how much effort goes into supporting people who are dealing with the consequences of these problems and how little support there is to stop this problem, at the point where a person is realising that their behaviour is becoming violent and destructive or dangerous,” she says.


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CHANGES IN DOMESTIC ABUSE LAW Over recent years, the law has become tougher on domestic abuse, which until 2004 wasn’t a criminal offence. Before then, incidents of abuse would have to be prosecuted as criminal assault, threatening behaviour, sexual assault, threats to kill or criminal damage - and victims only had up to six months to report a crime. Under the new legislation, victims can report the abuse up to two years after. This is an important modification, given that longterm coercion - itself a criminal offence from December 2015 - and intimidation are often integral to perpetrators maintaining control over their partners.

Furness once took a call from a man who called the helpline after having lost his temper and “lashed out at” his wife. “Normally - because of funding - the rule would be to apologise, end the call and let them know that there are other lines that are not women-only that they could call,” she says.


The number of women killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016.


The number of perpetrators found guilty of murder in 2016.


The number of perpetrators who pleaded not guilty to murder in 2016, 28 of whom were found guilty of murder.


“We can save women, but we need to change men” But, she was worried that if she hung up on him - when he was asking for help, admitting he had a problem and couldn’t deal with it on his own - that the next call she got would be from his wife or daughter. She talked to him and helped him calm down and then tried to find him support, but beyond men’s helpline ManKind and a couple of places offering anger management, there was very little available. “Any guy that’s got the courage and the self-awareness and the resilience to step forward and say ‘this is happening to me, I’m struggling to control it and I need help’, is inspirational. Very few people get to that stage, and the help needs to be there for them. It just should. It seems absurd that it wouldn’t be.” *Names have been changed


10% 6,700

The number of incidents of domestic violence reported in Bristol in 2015/16.


The number of victims who had to face their abuser in court without legal support during the first nine months of 2017, because of changes to legal aid. Up from 1,309 in the same period in 2012.


The percentage of referrals to refuges that were turned away in 2016-17.

The number of women killed every week by a partner or expartner in England and Wales. The number of murder investigations linked to domestic abuse that Avon and Somerset Constabulary are currently working on.

The percentage of 16-19 yearold women who are affected by domestic abuse every year.


Now, further advancements have been put forward. Under new proposals as part of government’s draft domestic abuse bill consultation announced in early March, domestic abuse suspects will be banned from contacting victims, consuming alcohol or drugs and may be electronically tagged. The new ‘civil protection order’ is designed to be an early intervention, protecting victims from further abuse from suspects before they get convicted, and breaches will be punishable as a criminal offence.



Community action around the city


Funding cut, services cancelled, staff laid off. It’s not all bad news, though…



Knowle West Health Allotments

DigiLocal has secured funding from The Engine Shed to develop its coding clubs.

“You can’t hear the cars and there are amazing views down to the suspension bridge. It feels like you get away and have a breather.”

Children at the DigiLocal club in Barton Hill learn coding language to make games and acquire developing skills, working on projects that take two to three weeks to complete. They learn Scratch first, a simple coding method to make games, before progressing to learning Python, a powerful programming language used by professional developers. The DigiLocal initiative supports 12 communities across the west of England to run 16 clubs every week, with 48 volunteers helping to run the clubs across Bristol and Bath.

“It’s not uncommon at the moment that people are in a precarious situation” John Bradford, CEO of High Tech Bath and Bristol CIC, which launched the initiative, says that the plan is to develop a package of content that comes from the community. “DigiLocal has been supporting the Somali and other communities around Barton Hill for nearly three years,” he says. “They undertake projects with the support of mentors from tech companies and the local community, structured within our LINKS progression scheme. This funding will allow the development of new projects based on the stories and games from their cultural heritage. We want young people to see their culture positively reflected in the high tech world around them, something which is all too infrequent at the moment.” They want to have volunteers and mentors from each community they’re based in, and hope that in the long-term some of the young people going to the clubs now will go on to volunteer and mentor other young people. The Engine Shed project is running until September, with all of the clubs coming together in late summer to showcase projects from all over Bristol.

Fleur Handley is a community gardener at Knowle West Health Allotments, a project that offers rare moments of quiet for children, adults with learning difficulties or simply local people wanting to get involved. Set up in 2012 as part of the Knowle West Health Association, the allotments provide various workshops and sessions in gardening, cooking, and woodwork as well as selling cheap produce. “I think it’s super important just having a green space. Especially around here where for generations people have lived in the same area and don’t often get out and about,” Handley tells the Cable. Jess Fish, the allotment coordinator, says: “We do a lot of work in mental health and wellbeing as well as physical wellbeing, so would encourage people to come use the space and connect with other people in the community.” The allotment used to be funded by the council’s public health budget but this was cut last year, forcing them to look for alternative revenue and smaller funding pots.


“We are looking at quite a lot of uncertainty, but we have some really strong members of staff and the board who work tirelessly to find a way forward. It’s not uncommon at the moment that people are in a precarious situation,” Fish says. And yet, the allotments provide a community space for often neglected areas of south Bristol, from Knowle to Filwood and Hartcliffe. Fish says it’s difficult and will take time to challenge assumptions about these areas, but “actually when you come to a place like this there’s definitely a really good sense of community and people are proud of the area”. You can get involved with the allotments at


Own your media! Join the Cable from £1 per month. Team Southmead wins legacy money to award local grants A Southmead volunteer-run organisation has been awarded legacy money from the London Olympics to give small grants to local groups. Team Southmead - a group created by local residents to fill the gap left by the Neighbourhood Partnerships - has been awarded money from the Fourteen Foundation, a programme set up by a Big Lottery Fund charity, to boost local projects. It’s the only community in Bristol to have been able to continue giving out grants, say organisers.

Fourteen Foundation has chosen 14 communities across the UK to receive three years of funding to improve wellbeing and increase community participation in sport, physical activity, the arts, culture, social action and volunteering. The aim is to ensure that the money goes where it’s most needed, and local communities are best placed to decide where that is. Volunteers at Team Southmead say that the money awarded will be given out in £250 grants to support new and existing local projects that will increase wellbeing in the area. “The grants will be to help set up a group or support an existing one with

“This is the last of the legacy money from the 2012 Olympics so we must make sure that it is spent wisely and makes a change to residents’ lives.” With Bristol’s 14 Neighbourhood Partnerships falling victim to the more than £100 million in cuts the council is implementing, a hole has been left in many communities. Residents formed Team Southmead to fill the gap and meet regularly to discuss local problems and opportunities.

“We want young people to see their culture positively reflected in the hightech world around them, something which is all too infrequent at the moment”

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a view to making it sustainable,” says Team Southmead member, Deana Perry. “We would fund activities and perhaps equipment to set things up, but it has got to benefit the residents of Southmead.


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The Bristol Cable - Edition 15  
The Bristol Cable - Edition 15