Accelerating change

In June 2020, Bristol was the focus of worldwide attention when the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston became a catalyst for change. Many groups across the city seized the opportunity to accelerate change by engaging in productive conversations with a much wider audience.

The Society of Merchant Venturers (SMV) made a series of commitments relating to the injustice of racism and inequality. We embraced the invitation to engage with others who share our determination to help create an inclusive, sustainable, successful city where there are opportunities for everyone.

We’ve attended many of the debates and discussions that are taking place across the city and we will continue to listen and learn. We agree that an honest, transparent and shared understanding of Bristol’s history is a story that needs to be told and we’ll continue to learn about our own history.

We’re collaborating more effectively than ever with dynamic organisations that are championing change. For example, Babbasa, whose work includes connecting young black people with high quality apprenticeships; South Bristol Youth, who help young people from disadvantaged communities to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to fulfil their potential when they leave school; Black South West Network, who are helping us connect with other organisations to provide tangible support to older black people; Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership, whose focus on social action helps local people feel empowered, realise their potential and make positive change; and One Bristol, who are working to deliver change in four key areas: heritage and legacy of the trade in enslaved Africans, education, young people and communities.

Working with Bristol & Bath Regional Capital, our members are volunteering their skills and expertise to help deliver ambitious projects to create significantly more affordable housing in the region, including current projects in Southmead, Knowle West and Fishponds.

By offering practical support where it’s needed, we’re committed to being fully engaged partners of the One City Plan which aims to create a fair, healthy and sustainable city by 2050.

We share a belief that Bristol can be a successful example of how individuals and organisations can work together to recognise and remove barriers, overcoming inequality and disadvantage so that everyone has an equal opportunity to create and share in the city’s success.

SMV has supported education in Bristol for more than 400 years and now, more than ever, education is one of the most effective engines for change. As co-sponsors of Venturers Trust, we were privileged to witness first-hand the inspirational efforts of staff and students from Colston’s Girls’ School (CGS) and The Dolphin School who designed and delivered transparent consultations which, in both cases, led to considerable change to their brand identity.

The Dolphin School chose a new emblem to accurately reflect their vision and values; and CGS chose to become Montpelier High School, forging a bright, new visual identity that represents its diverse, inclusive and proud community. We’re also supporting Colston’s School as they continue their own consultation into whether to keep or change their name.

We know that young people thrive when they’re surrounded by positive role models with whom they can identify and Venturers Trust has launched a series of ambitious programmes to improve diversity in education. These include connecting with diverse networks of teachers across the country to promote opportunities in Bristol; providing excellent training and development for teachers; and undertaking purposeful, inclusive succession planning in leadership positions.

Working closely with our co-sponsor, the University of Bristol, we will continue to deliver high-quality governance and hands-on support to Venturers Trust. All children from all backgrounds can succeed when they have access to a high-quality education alongside potentially life changing opportunities. Together we have a responsibility to equip young people with the skills and confidence to make brave decisions and to shape the future.

Over the past year, the pace of progress has accelerated but we recognise that there is much more work to be done. Regardless of the challenges, we’re determined to help create an inclusive city by working collaboratively towards deep and lasting change.