Bristol hosts city-wide conversations to address radical division in the city

24 Apr 2018

Is this the moment for Bristol to re-assess the legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade?

City Conversations:

In January 2017, the Runnymede Trust published a report stating that Bristol was the most segregated core city in the UK. In stark contrast, in the same year, The Sunday Times celebrated it as the best place to live in the UK.

Responding to the report, three Bristol institutions – Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Post and Ujima Radio – today announced four City Conversations which will take place in venues across the city, culminating in a final discussion at Bristol Old Vic in the autumn. They are calling on the varied and diverse communities of Bristol to join together for some of the most powerful conversations that can be had – between people who think differently to each other and want to make a change.

The first of these conversations will take place on Wed 9 May at 6.30pm at City Academy School under the topic: 

How can we make racial segregation a thing of the past in Bristol? 

Bristol Old Vic’s Artistic DirectorTom Morris said: “For 250 years, this theatre has welcomed Bristolians from every walk of life for a good night out in the heart of Bristol. Like all great theatres, it also aspires to be a place where the people of the city can examine our society and ask the important questions of the day.

Today we are determined to play our role as a place where Bristol can reflect on the issue of segregation in its brilliant, diverse and vibrant population. The conversation may be daunting, but we think it will be enriching for all and we welcome the opportunity to support and hold the debate in a genuinely open and positive spirit.” 

Ujima Radio’s Roger Griffith said: “It’s significant that the three organisations who have come together through this initiative each represent a particular part of Bristol intrinsically connected to this issue. The historic legacy of Bristol’s economic prosperity as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is manifest in buildings like Bristol Old Vic’s theatre; the tensions of modern Bristol are demonstrated so strongly in the reactions to the Bristol Post’s ‘Faces of Evil’ headline of the late 1990s, and Ujima Radio has committed to representing the voices of historically marginalised communities within the city. It shows how complex this issue is but that’s no reason not to seize the opportunity with both hands to finally begin to talk and listen to each other.”

The conversation is a free event and will be hosted by an impartial chair. It will create the opportunity for those living within the city to bring their own unique perspectives and opinions together and also to listen to experiences that may be very different from their own.

All ages, backgrounds and views will be respectfully welcomed to truly reflect what the city thinks about itself and to decide how to move forward.

Bristol Post Editor Mike Norton said: “Bristol has always been called a city of ‘villages’ which, at face value, feels part of the city’s unique charm. But the danger of this is that we all tend to talk to those in our own particular silos – never moving outside our communities or comfort zone. The Bristol Post also has to admit to this behaviour historically and we have acknowledged our part in the divisions felt by many communities. No doubt some of the views expressed at the City Conversations will be uncomfortable to hear, but it’s the only way to move forward as a united city.”

The topics of the following three conversations will be generated in response to the views expressed in this first conversation, with locations confirmed soon after.


Russell Town Ave, Bristol BS5 9JH Wednesday 9 May at 6.30pm (Doors 6pm) 
FREE, but ticketed 

A crèche will be available
The conversation will be BSL interpreted

How to take part: You can book your place at the first conversation in the following ways:

By phone: 0117 987 7877 (Bristol Old Vic Box Office) Please let us know, via Eventbrite or by phone, whether you may need to take advantage of the crèche, giving detail of number and ages of children to be supervised

Year of Change:

The City Conversations sit within Bristol Old Vic’s Year of Change season, suggested as a theme for 2018 by Roger Griffith of Ujima Radio (an Associate Company of the theatre). Griffith was inspired by the year’s anniversaries of moments which fundamentally changed the world we live in, including the centenary of Women’s Suffrage, the 70th anniversary of the voyage of the Windrush and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King.

This also provides the context from within which Bristol Post has sought to redress its historic reputation as a paper which did not represent BAME communities and who had alienated many black Bristolians through its now notorious ‘Faces of Evil’ headline of 1996. The Bristol Post Editor, Mike Norton, issued an apology for that headline and announced a series of actions to make the paper and its staff more representative of all Bristolians.

The resulting discussions have led to the programming of a series of events across the city, which particularly focus on Bristol’s crisis of segregation and the need for a re-examination of the city’s relationship with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

In the spirit of collaboration which addressing these issues requires, this strand of work currently includes:

  • A day of city-wide commemoration of Frederick Douglass’ visit to Bristol in 1846, held in venues across the city on 28th May and co-commissioned by Bristol Old Vic and Colston Hall.
  • The first public airing of The Meaning of Zong, a new play about the Abolition Movement by Olivier Award-winning actor and playwright Giles Terera.
  • A series of talks about the city’s relationship with its past presented across the city by the Festival of Ideas.
  • The Diaspora Festival, curated by Bristol Lord Mayor and Green Councillor Cleo Lake.

Today, Bristol Old Vic is issuing an open invitation to all individuals and organisation who are themselves creating events which are similarly themed, to join under the Year of Change banner and create a truly Bristol-wide commitment to transforming our city.

For further information please contact 

Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK, and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. The historic playhouse aims to inspire audiences with its own original productions, both at home and on tour, whilst nurturing the next generation of artists, whether that be through their 350-strong Young Company, their many outreach and education projects or their trailblazing artist development programme, Bristol Ferment.

They use their funding to support experiment and innovation, to allow access to their programme for people who would not otherwise encounter it, or be able to afford it, and to keep their extraordinary heritage alive and animated.

On 24 Sep 2018, Bristol Old Vic completed its 2-year multi-million pound redevelopment project, which transformed its front of house space into a warm and welcoming public building for all of Bristol to enjoy, created a new studio theatre and opened up its unique theatrical heritage to the public for the first time.

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