Bristol & West of England Initiative homes in on boosting Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in the region

James Cortis
Content Producer | Business West
9th December 2021

Overlooking the floodlit pitch of Ashton Gate Stadium, the Bristol & West of England Initiative welcomed over 100 business leaders to meet for the final time in 2021 with equality, diversity and inclusion central to discussions.

Lisa Knights, Group Head of Communications at Ashton Gate Stadium, opened proceedings by highlighting the community-centric role that the stadium has played throughout the pandemic. 

By January 2022, the stadium will have supported the delivery of more than 4.2 million meals to homeless people affected by the pandemic, and seen more than a quarter of a million people vaccinated. 

Looking to the future, the exciting plans for a new 4,000m2 sports village and convention centre, situated as part of the stadium complex, seeks to gain formal planning consent early in 2022. This will provide a new home to the Bristol Flyers basketball team and spaces for both international business and local community events. 

Jaya Chakrabarti MBE next took to the podium for her first official role as chair of the meeting as President of the Bristol and WoE Chamber of Commerce and Initiative. 

For Jaya, the challenges of Brexit, Covid, access to talent and supply chain shortages remain immense. However, she commended the energy and enthusiasm with which Initiative and Chamber members are still able to approach broader issues such as climate action and social inclusion. 

She assured the audience of business and community leaders that Business West is ready to lead on this front, and that our newfound status as a B Corp signals the seriousness behind our strapline, ‘a force for good’.

James Durie, Chief Executive of the Chamber and Initiative, touched on the themes of change and uncertainty, highlighting that many businesses are still struggling to rebuild their balance sheets.  

Summarising some of the work of Business West Chambers of Commerce and Initiative to combat these issues, he stressed the efforts made to engage with local elections this year, ensuring that the policy needs of the business community are strongly heard within local government. 

Elsewhere in 2021, Visit Bath and Destination Bristol have been brought together under one unifying brand; Visit West. Additionally, investment in transport and decarbonisation continues, for instance a new Bristol Clean Air Zone in place by next Summer; and Severn Edge has become one of three shortlisted proposals for the UK’s STEP fusion programme, potentially bringing decades of investment and growth to the region.  

Introduced by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant, Peaches Golding OBE CStJ, delegates next heard from Captain Steve Higham OBE, Commanding Officer of HMS Prince of Wales, Bristol’s affiliated ship and the largest in the Royal Navy. 

This new aircraft carrier was built at a cost of £3.5bn, with ongoing upgrades costing £96m annually. 95% of this investment goes back into the UK economy, with SMEs from Aberdeen to Falmouth contributing technology and expertise. 

Captain Higham proposed a ‘uniquely symbiotic’ offer to the city of Bristol, whereby HMS Prince of Wales will advocate our region in far flung parts of the world, championing our industries and businesses. 

In return, Business West Chamber and Initiative members were asked to spread the word on the ship’s efforts to advance prosperity across the world and deliver on the Prime Minister's ambition for a global Britain. Captain Higham also highlighted the Navy’s need to improve diversity and diverse representation, and detailed how improvements are being made.  

Julian Okoye, Director of the Bristol Future Talent Partnership, next expanded on this point from a Bristol-centric perspective. 

While Bristol is often celebrated as one of the best places to live in the UK – a city that leads the green agenda and contributes £15bn to the UK economy – it’s also a hugely unequal place. 

Bristol is recognised as the seventh worst place out of 348 districts for multiple inequalities faced by black and ethnic minorities. And Bristolians from black African backgrounds are five times more likely to be unemployed than white people in the city. 

Aside from the moral imperative to drive change, Julian highlighted the missed business opportunities that these statistics reflect. Increasing evidence suggests that organisations with diverse leadership produce better business results and outperform competitors.

The Bristol Future Talent Partnership (BFTP) is stepping in to raise aspirations amongst these communities, remove barriers and provide talent with opportunity. 

Work experience is key to this strategy and Rob Sexton, Managing Director of Yeo Valley, described how the yoghurt company he runs partnered with BFTP to provide BAME young people with work opportunities. 

Yeo Valley introduced the group to farming, manufacturing, marketing and engineering – providing a wide breadth of experiences and networking opportunities to an age group that hadn’t yet made major career decisions. 

Rob summarised: “It’s good for your business, it's good for your staff and it's great for the young people.”

Continuing this theme, Christine Bamford, Co-Founder and Programme Director of Stepping Up, explained how her organisation is encouraging diversity in leadership across Bristol. 

The programme has been mentoring 300 middle level managers from diverse backgrounds, preparing them for more senior roles.

Kalpna Woolf, CEO of BeOnBoard, which works closely with Stepping Up to mentor diverse talent for board level, reflected that Bristol not only suffers from persistent inequality, but also segregation between different classes and races. 

Her other initiative tackling the EDI agenda, 91 Ways, invites people of all backgrounds to share food together and since it was set up 7 years ago has engaged over 20,000 people from 72 language communities in Bristol. The programme is also now being trialled in other cities across the UK. 

Kalpna concluded proceedings by thanking Business West for its role in incubating and supporting both organisations and reflecting that grassroots is key to turning Bristol into a city of opportunity, cohesion and collective strength.

The next  face to face Initiative Meeting will be on 9th March 2022 at the South Bristol Skills Academy.


Do you want to join the conversation?

Sign up here
  • Join the Chamber

    Be a part of the largest business membership organisation in the region and tap into a range of valuable business benefits.