Inclusivity in action on the urgent matter of sustainability

Black & Green Ambassadors


Bristol is fast gaining a reputation as being a city that firmly has environmental sustainability on the agenda, endorsed by being recognised as the first UK European Green Capital in 2015 and a city that is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 (with more recent ambitions to bring this forward to 2030).  A wealth of innovative and collaborative initiatives and forums are all helping to drive sustainable projects and practices forward.

However, it was recognised that not all communities were involved and actively taking part in sustainability initiatives, this was highlighted by Ujima Radio CIC (Ujima) who ran a series of “Black & Green” activities and debates and projects back in 2015 and 2016 exploring issues of exclusion and disadvantage with Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) community representatives. This highlighted perceptions of elitism, lack of institutional representation and weak understanding of community needs, with BAME communities often feeling very disengaged on matters concerning environmental and sustainability.  At the same time, an independent review of the EU Green Capital 2015 also found the need for more thought and resources to be devoted to “addressing the barriers that prevent members of excluded groups from attending meetings or engaging with civic lives in other ways”.

And so the Green & Black Ambassadors programme was born, created under the umbrella of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership community interest company (BGCP) – along with Ujima and the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute.

The programme is committed to investing in leaders in Bristol who will work with and between diverse communities, businesses, other organisations and individuals to explore, amplify and enable solutions leading to an environmental and socially just future for all.

In 2019,  Black & Green sought a grant from The Society of Merchant Venturers (SMV) to help kick start a three-year project by funding year one direct costs and the recruitment and development of three Ambassador leaders from BAME communities. This was to be done in conjunction with BGCP and Ujima, with the project based on an earlier pilot  where two Ambassadors had successfully been recruited and deployed.  SMV was pleased to award a grant of £5,000 to support this incredibly important initiative and in doing so help to enable previously disengaged communities to engage with matters concerning the environment and sustainability.

The project is well underway and making an impact.  Three Ambassadors have been recruited (over 30 applied), Asia Yousef, Olivia Sweeney and Roy Kareem were chosen for their leadership potential and their proven interest in helping to address issues of exclusion and achieve environmental equality.  Training, mentoring (by the pilot Ambassadors) and coaching has been put in place to support them and they are paid an above living wage salary.*

Project successes  to date include:

  • At the launch event in November 2019, over 200 people joined from Bristol and further afield, creating local and international attention, with a local poet commissioned for the event. New audiences were reached and connections made that the Ambassadors have taken forward and nurtured, particularly around issues they are interested in – clean air, access to green spaces and cultural sustainable spaces.   ****
  • Media coverage and interest have been positive – including The Guardian, BBC online, Bristol 24/7, The Voice newspaper and social media platforms.
  • “The Black & GreenConversation” workshop was hosted by Roger Griffith and Gnisha Bevan (report due to be published in late Spring 2021).
  • Radio shows produced and hosted by the Ambassadors have covered topics of climate and ecological emergencies, food, urban environment, energy – showcasing local grassroots projects such as “Wilding St Paul’s”, and interviewing diverse leaders working on environment and equality issues.
  • Speaking opportunities have been seized and maximised – including the Green Mingle, London Climate Action Week, University of Bristol’s day of climate action  St Pauls’s Carnival online, Festival of Ideas  and many more
  • The Ambassadors played a key role in shaping the agenda for the West of England and Bristol Mayoral hustings in early 2021 – asking and getting all candidates to commit to how they will support the city and regions response to the climate and ecological emergencies in a fast and fair way.

Much more is planned and with lockdown restrictions lifting it will become easier for the Ambassadors to widen and strengthen their engagement with ethnically diverse communities across Bristol on environmental equality issues.  Community workshops are planned for June and July. A series of interviews are being scoped that will collect unheard  stories about people’s experiences in the city’s green spaces which will then be turned into podcasts.  An “Our Air Our City” campaign is being initiated to look at clean air solutions in ethnically diverse areas of the city,  and a way of working with local groups to explore and exchange sustainable cultural practices which may not be traditionally thought of as “green” including a focus on repair and food.

The project is based on a “ripple effect” principle, investing intensively in a set of dedicated individuals as a route to a wider, more significant influence, lasting impact and wider societal change.  Clearly, ripples have been made and will only increase as this programme gains momentum through its Ambassadors, with their reach, energy and passion for the important and vital matters of the environment, sustainability and inclusivity shining through.   All told over the three-year life of the project it’s estimated the nine Ambassadors (three each year) will engage with 200+ community participants, 30 Ujima volunteers and 150+ organisations and businesses.  They will also reach a local listenership of 30K+ via radio and audiences of 2,000+ at events and workshops, as well as engaging with wider local and national audiences through other broadcast, social and print media, events and public engagement activities.

* “Getting out there and talking to people, which leads to so many more connections. Being more comfortable and articulate talking about and around difficult topics like race, and becoming a little more radical in my ideas!”  Black & Green Ambassador – on their personal development.

*** The audience was diverse in terms of numbers, reach and range of interests.  As such it will firmly re-establish the Ambassadors within our community and beyond.  In addressing the issues of the extent to which the leadership of the organisation resembles its population, Bristol and its greater region is achieving more than many locations!  With the momentum that we already have, we have a great opportunity to become world-class exemplars in the wider environmental movement – a challenge we will relish”  Peaches Golding OBE