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Listen: Bristol Unpacked with ACORN’s Wesley Bear on activism, the Barton House evacuation, and frosty relations with the council

Relations between Bristol City Council and community union ACORN have become increasingly fractious, with recent clashes over council tax and the evacuation of a Barton Hill tower block. Neil asks Wesley why, and whether there’s a way back.

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with Neil Maggs

In the last few months, Wesley Bear has been very publicly at the forefront of actions by ACORN. That’s the community union known nationally for taking direct action to stand up for tenants’ rights, which originated in Bristol almost a decade ago.

On 17 November Wesley, ACORN’s communications officer, was involved in an altercation with security guards at the Holiday Inn in Bristol city centre. Residents of the Barton House tower block evacuated that week have been temporarily housed in the hotel – in conditions many have complained are far from suitable for families.

A recording heard at the start of this week’s episode captures Wesley trying to speak to Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, during the incident, which, he claims, ended with him being assaulted by those security staff. The exchange, in which Wesley calls Rees a “villain” of the situation, marks the latest downward spiral in relations between the mayor – and the council more widely – and ACORN activists.

Over recent weeks the union has been calling out the council over its handling of the high-rise evacuation. People were moved out suddenly and chaotically over fears the structure is unsafe – and ACORN is calling for an independent inquiry into what happened. It’s also been taking the council to task over proposals to reduce council tax relief for the poorest households – which have now been scrapped.

Things weren’t always so oppositional. So what has turned them so sour? What exactly does ACORN believe the council has done wrong in its handling of the tower block emergency? Does the union really speak for the wider Barton Hill community? And does Wesley – as a communications man – see any way back to friendlier ties between ACORN and the powers that be?

Join Neil Maggs for another engrossing chat as he puts these questions, and many others, to Wesley.

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