Canynges Society Event: "Bristol City Of Hope"
the City Mayor talks to the parish magazine
Mayor Marvin Rees
The Canynges Society invited the City Mayor to speak at their event “Bristol City of Hope” for St Mary Redcliffe at the church on 17 November. The event was well attended and the Mayor gave a compelling address. The magazine asked Mayor Marvin for an interview:
PARISH MAGAZINE: Mayor Marvin, thank you very much for stopping to talk to us about your visit last month. The address you gave was inspiring — what were your hopes in speaking to an audience at St Mary Redcliffe church?
MAYOR: Thank you — I saw the event as an opportunity to reflect and talk on my own understanding of the theme of hope. I wanted to give some personal thoughts on my background, and the role of faith and church in that. It was also a chance to inspire individuals and the Church to engage more in city-wide projects and challenges.
It was clear from what you said that the Canynges Society is very important in the life of the city and SMR. Could you say more about that for our readers?
St Mary Redcliffe and the Canynges Society are important institutions historically, and it was a pleasure to lend support to The Society’s aims, and particularly James Durie’s presidency this year.
As SMR considers its role as visitor destination, it should also consider how to tell the story of the church’s role in the city today. The many people I spoke to afterwards felt that the church and its community have a large role to play in the city and its challenges, and have an appetite to take these on.
I welcome this approach as I think there is so much that can be done. I encouraged people to get involved with the Social Prescribing work Alex Kittow has started. It gives an example of what the church can offer to people to ease the burden on GPs, with things such as befriending services, senior citizens clubs, parenting courses and more.
Sitting in the pew and reflecting on the quotation from scripture that you used, the words ‘architecture of hope’ sprang to mind — can do you describe how hope is built, and would you see yourself as an architect of hope?
I believe that hope is grown through struggle and perseverance, and is therefore intensely personal. I set out how my hope grew from my unhappy childhood and crystallised later. I don’t think I’d describe myself as an architect of hope for anyone other than myself, but I do also think that hope is a collective state — it is completely tied to the product of our interactions with others and our place.
You indicated that the verse of scripture you quoted came in deliberately balanced halves — one ‘civic’, one spiritual; could you expand on the spiritual half for the parish magazine?
Romans chapter 5: verses 3–5 (New International Version) —
“(3): Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; (4) perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
I said in my talk that I would usually stop here, but given the setting and the theme, I continued to include:
“(5) And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
In such a setting and with an audience particularly interested in the faith-based aspect of my view of hope, I wanted to add this.
In your talk you mentioned how your own life journey has informed your work as City Mayor — for our readers who weren’t present could you tell us something about that?
My life journey and experiences massively informed my idea of hope and also my vision of Bristol as a city where nobody is left behind.
During the talk I explained that my early years were difficult, especially for my mum as a single mother with a mixed race baby at a time when this wasn’t socially acceptable. We spent some time away in a refuge before moving back to Bristol in Lawrence Weston, and then moved to Easton where she still lives today. I found school difficult. I was for a while so terrified of failure that it stopped me from ever trying to achieve anything. I was scared of being found out as not quite as clever as some of my teachers believed me to be.
Things started to change for me when I had the opportunity to get out of the city on a school trip and see that there was more of the world than just Bristol. This intervention gave me the impetus to begin to push myself, and to try and escape Bristol and make something of myself. I aimed to join the marines so that I could travel and also really reach my limits. I was devastated when an eye condition prevented it, but I remained hopeful that I would have the opportunity to serve in another way.
In your view, are there societal influences at work in our city that counter your mission of hope?
During the talk I mentioned my concerns about the effect Social Media is having on our discourse and behaviour. My challenge for the city is for us all to think about “whose words are coursing through the veins of the city”, and what example we set our children and those around us.
During your address you spoke of how we use language in public, and the role of human relationships in securing hope — could you expand on this for our readers?
It feels as if some are determined to do the city down and to see the worst, no matter what. I don’t know if it is the anonymity or the disconnect with others, but the disregard some people have for their neighbours and peers continues to surprise me. They appear to me to be without hope.
I believe there is a clear need for the engagement of all people of faith within this, by promoting hope and positivity in the city through social media engagement.
In 2024 SMR celebrates Elizabeth I’s visit to the church 450 years ago — as we plan Project 450, our Development Project, how do you see us helping to build Bristol as a City of Hope?
The great thing about the heritage of the building is that it gives such an opportunity to speak into the future. My challenge would be that you shouldn’t only preserve and showcase the past, but get involved in writing the future. The next 450 years should be in your minds as you celebrate the last 450 and building Bristol as a successful city of hope, which includes all of its communities, is key to that.
Can churches enhance the life of the city, and if so how do you see SMR’s role in this?
Churches and faith groups have a huge role to play in our city — I believe faith groups provide an opportunity not just to be reactive but proactive in the life of the city and the messaging of what we want the city to be.
How does local government see the relevance of SMR’s medieval heritage to the life of a multicultural inner city area?
I don’t think it is for local government to help with the way SMR sees its relevance as a medieval building in an inner city area. SMR and community is best placed to make that decision for itself. The Council should have an enabling role, supporting the aims of faith groups and the third sector to deliver, rather than dictating our view or policy.
Of all the projects that you as City Mayor have initiated and supported, do you see any in particular as especially important?
There are so many projects and so much work that the council is involved with. Recently, something that felt particularly inspiring was welcoming families into their new homes, which we had built with a housing association. This was a real and tangible way in which we are having a huge impact on people’s lives and outcomes. A secure home is the foundation of a thriving life and it felt like a real ‘legacy’ to hand over keys to people who will benefit from these modern affordable homes for many years to come.
In 2016 I pledged to build 2,000 new homes, including 800 affordable homes, by 2020. I believe that only by working in partnership do we start to solve the housing crisis and its wider consequences.
A recent example of this good work was the Housing Festival, which has been founded by people of faith with a view to bringing hopeful resolutions to the housing crisis.
What is the place of contemplation and faith in the life of a busy city — how might the “dreaming spires” of churches relate to life in adjacent tower blocks?
Obviously the beauty of the building has an impact and helps people to stop and think, but I shared during the talk that I had welcomed the opportunity in preparing my thoughts to stop and think. In a world so dominated by constant input and stimulation, having the space, physical and mental, to really think about the subject of Hope is most welcome.
— Mayor Marvin, thank you very much for your stimulating responses to many questions, and again for your time.
Mayor Marvin Rees
responding to questions from Eleanor Vousden, Editor SMR Parish Magazine
To learn more about the Mayor’s work and projects please visit his Blog at thebristolmayor.com and the Mayor’s pages at www.bristol.gov.uk/mayor
To learn more about the Canynges Society, to become a member, or to donate please visit SMR website at www.stmaryredcliffe.co.uk/the-canynges-society.html
MAYOR INTERVIEW SMR MAGAZINE
Credits & details:
Eleanor Vousden; Editor SMR Parish Magazine
Contact details: email: editor.mag a_t stmaryredcliffe d_o_t co d_o_t uk
tel: 0117-231 0060 (SMR Parish Office)
City Mayor photograph: © Bristol City Council
“Bristol City of Hope” event photographs: © JonCraig_Photos; for the Canynges Society