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African eyes on Green Capital


Ade Olaiya interviewed members of Bristol’s African and Afro-Caribbean communities to find out what European Green Capital 2015 means for them.

Organisers of European Green Capital 2015 have made efforts towards the inclusion of  marginalised groups for this year’s events, but this issue remains controversial. It is unclear whether Bristol’s socio-economically deprived communities and the organisations representing their interests will benefit to the extent they should from Green Capital.

The first round of project funding included steps towards including these groups. Notably, African Voices Forum (AVF) secured £10,000 from the Small Grants fund, and 91 Ways to Build a Global City received £25,000, half of the money it bid for as a Strategic Grant. However, many other organisations working with marginalised groups who applied for funding were unsuccessful in their bids.

In a city where people of African descent account for 16% of the population, it is argued that these funds will have a very limited impact on making European Green Capital 2015 inclusive. The Inclusion Group of Bristol Green Capital Partnership has highlighted the need for organisers of Bristol 2015 to identify the blind spots of this year’s events.

Despite general agreement that funding to raise awareness on environmental issues and sustainability is a good thing, leading representatives of local African-led community organisations interviewed felt that they have not been actively involved in environmental policy for Bristol Green Capital 2015. They also expressed concerns over the benefits for local African communities.

In October 2014, BCFM and Ujima Radio hosted the Green and Black Debate with a panel of representatives from the Council, Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Bristol 2015 Ltd.  A member of the audience called European Green Capital 2015

an opportunity to challenge this sense of disengagement that is affecting a lot of communities across the city.”

However, according to Jean Smith MBE of community support group Nilaari,

in reality a lot of people still have no idea what (European Green Capital) entails… Nilaari’s involvement up until now has been minimal”. But she added “I would consider raising related issues when the opportunity arises.”

Hilary Banks, Chair of the Malcolm X Centre, said her organisation had not engaged with Bristol Green Capital, but still welcomed it as positive for Bristol’s people of African descent.

“We are generally assumed to know little about environmental issues. People of colour living in socio-economically deprived areas experience low employment, poor education, transport infrastructure and housing; along with pollution these are environmental indicators of poor quality of life.”

She added,

“funding should be used to build, share and disseminate knowledge in the mainstream on environmental issues and sustainability.”

Of the funding process, AVF’s Peninah Achien-Kindberg, a member of the Board of Directors of Bristol 2015, suggested poor publicity and lack of time to prepare suitable bids had affected numbers of applicants from African diaspora led organisations.

AVF is collaborating with Bristol Energy Network to deliver training focusing on reducing fuel poverty and energy efficiency in African diaspora communities through workshops and house-to-house visits.

With its funding, 91 Ways to Build a Global City plans to “provide a focus for the minority communities to come together to discuss Green Capital issues over food.” This should provide an opportunity for environmental equality and social justice causes to work together towards inclusive city-wide urban sustainability.

Hopeful that more funding will trickle down towards African diaspora communities, Achien-Kindberg acknowledged that Sustrans will use some of its £44,100 funding to address the issue of transport as a strategic city-wide project which should include inner city areas.

“Longstanding environmental issues such as traffic congestion and resulting pollution, have adversely affected health and well-being of children and adults living in Easton over the past eight years and need to be addressed,” said Asher of Ujima Radio Station.

Mr Kunle Ogunnaike,  architect and researcher at the University of West England, also spoke of the need to bring the skills of healthy living to greater numbers of local youths. “Green Capital will definitely address the needs of local migrant communities if they are empowered”.

Moves towards Bristol European Green Capital’s inclusiveness must be grounded in practical solutions if individuals belonging to marginalised communities are to benefit as they should from Bristol’s award and its legacy.

Ade Olaiya, MA, is a PhD student of Universal Human Rights at UWE and member of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership Inclusion Group.

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