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Listen: Bristol Unpacked with Ruth Pitter on the role of the charity sector, pioneering Black theatre and her recent MBE

Neil chats to Ruth, a daughter of the Windrush generation, on her decades of work with Bristol’s voluntary and community groups, how that’s changed as public services have been cut – and whether she feels conflicted about receiving an honour associated with empire.

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with Neil Maggs

Ruth Pitter has been a stalwart of Bristol’s voluntary sector for decades – and in January 2024 was awarded an MBE as part of the New Year’s honours list for ‘services to equality, charity and community’ in the city.

This has included work with Voscur, the umbrella organisation that supports Bristol’s voluntary sector, and SARI, which battles racism and provides support for people who have faced hate crimes. She has also been a pioneer in the local community arts space, co-founding two unique theatre companies – Breathing Fire and Black Women Let Loose – for women of African and Caribbean heritage.

Ruth’s career has spanned a period during which councils have faced massive cuts, with community organisations expanding and competing to fill the resulting gaping holes in services – and often bringing innovation to how things have done. What is the role of the voluntary and charity sector these days? Is it right that things have to be this way in the UK? Do countries like Germany, where the state still takes care of things, offer a better model?

What has been the impact of Ruth’s theatre companies among communities who are much less likely to feel represented in the audience – or the productions – of mainstream Bristol theatres such as the Old Vic?

And as a daughter of the Windrush generation who has spent her life fighting for fairness, does Ruth feel conflicted about accepting an honour that is inextricably linked to empire?

Lock in with Neil and Ruth as they chew over these questions and many more, in the latest unmissable episode of Bristol Unpacked.

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