In September last year, The Schumacher Institute was awarded a grant of £27,000 to document Bristol’s history of ‘sustainability’ in a project called Bristol’s Green Roots. The Institute is an independent research organisation which honours the work of E.F Schumacher and aims to extend his ideas into the 21st century. We use critical systems thinking to address contemporary issues around, environmental and social justice.
This grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has allowed us to start to explore the beginnings of Bristol’s modern environmental movement; the variety of environmental organisations who call Bristol home, the influential people, initiatives, community groups and events which have shaped the environmental movement and the importance of the green heritage to the city’s identity.
We do not however wish to suggest that Bristol is a ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ city, rather that it is a city with a rich history of environmental involvement. Through examination of other UK and EU cities it has become clear that Bristol could do many things better. The Schumacher Institute feels the importance of this project is that it will highlight ways in which Bristol has been a pioneering city in the environmental movement but also, however, reveal the things that did not work as well. This will perhaps allow conclusions to be drawn on how to encourage sustainable change successfully.
The material we collect will be stored as an archive in Bristol Record Office so that it is available to the public as a research resource. The archive will contain documents, photographs, leaflets/flyers and publication materials from various environmental organisations and community groups, written material such as case studies and time-lines as well as filmed material from community groups, key individuals and young people. This archive will be accessible to M-Shed, Bristol’s new museum for use in their galleries and will form the basis for two exhibitions, one at CREATE and a travelling one for ourselves.
As part of the project we have also held workshops for community groups and young people and the filmed material from these will form the majority of our documentation of Bristol’s community perspectives. We will also be holding workshops for businesses who wish to come and learn about Bristol’s green heritage, forms of sustainable business practice and the ways in which it can benefit them and the city. Finally, we will be publishing a booklet which will detail Bristol’s journey from a city of injustice to hub of environmental action.
So far we have discovered that the main issue is that there are so many groups, people, organisations and initiatives which have contributed to and are contributing to Bristol’s environmental movement that is has been hard to know where to start! We are therefore in danger of leaving people out. We are exploring ways in which to make the archive interactive, the most likely course of action here would be for the Schumacher Institute to continue accepting material and information after the project has ended in August 2011.
Six months in, Bristol’s Green Roots has discovered a lot about Bristol’s history of environmental movement. One thing stands out however and that it that organisations and initiatives flourished when there was a decent platform for them to develop. In the 80s, this platform was Bristol Friends of the Earth. You can trace the beginnings of many of the environmental organisations in Bristol back for Bristol Friends of the Earth, including our kerbside recycling collection, Resource Futures, the CREATE centre and Sustrans, then Cyclebag, began due to a speech at a Bristol FoE rally. The importance of partnership and interconnected working has become very apparent through the course of my research.
A big issue for Bristol as a ‘sustainable city’ is the socio-economic disparity between the richest areas of the city and the poorest. The more deprived areas of the city are often the ones that become susceptible to environmental issues such as air pollution and fly-tipping. Health and mental well-being are inextricably intertwined with environmental issues and therefore the city will have to develop and regenerate the deprived areas of the city before we can call Bristol ‘a sustainable city’ for people and the environment.
Ultimately the main aim of the project is to document Bristol’s green heritage before it is lost, dispersed or deteriorated and help bring about an awareness of the importance of knowing your city’s heritage. While history is obviously important to this project, we are also interested in how this history relates to the future of Bristol; can we learn from these successes and mistakes of the past to build a better future for Bristol? We hope that this project and its outcomes will help raise the profile of Bristol’s environmental movement and encourage others to get involved in a city which has done a lot, but still has a long way to go.
If there is anyone who feels that there is something that they would like to contribute to the project; archive material (documents, leaflets, photographs), stories, anecdotes or would like to be filmed contributing your thoughts, knowledge and perspectives on Bristol’s green heritage and the future of the city, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.