Today’s guest blog comes from Edward Rowberry, Chief Executive of Bristol and Bath Regional Capital, following their third birthday celebrations last night.
For the last decade, cities across the globe have been performing a juggling act. On the one hand, the need for strong city leadership and services has been expanding: increasing social and environmental challenges require cities to act locally, nationally and internationally. On the other hand, funding for these activities has become more and more unstable and less secure. In response, the more innovative cities around the globe—where I count Bristol—have begun a shift from being primarily a service provider to becoming more of a service enabler.
There will always be services that only the public sector should provide. Yet there are others that could be part of the private or voluntary sector, supported by a city that is both a convener and a collaborator. In this context, the source of funding to do the work becomes paramount. Typically, we are only used to thinking about two forms of money: tax money that the state uses to perform services at a loss, and investment money that banks use to maximise profit. But there is another form of money emerging. This type seeks to create a positive social or environmental outcome while also creating a modest return that can go on and fund the next thing – a financial version of the circular economy.
When looked at through the lens of the city, this could be termed place-based investing. That is, using investment for the good of a particular place. In our case, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital CIC (BBRC) www.bab-rc.uk was created to use money for the benefit of our region: to see our local economy thrive financially, socially and environmentally.
Recently, we celebrated our third anniversary with our partners and fellow city innovators at Leigh Court. There, we released our first-ever impact report, detailing how we’ve been able to secure £27 million of place-based investment into the region so far. This included providing 161 new homes on the Dunmail school site in the area of Southmead, of which 34 were discounted for keyworkers and 27 were for ethically rented homes. We also helped raising £1 million to build 6 5-a-side football pitches for South Bristol Sports Centre for the community to enjoy. Some of our investments have been as small as £5,000 through our Community Innovation Fund pilot programme.
Through these successes we have also come to a realisation that so much more needs to be done. One of the things that I love about Bristol is its entrepreneurial and collaborative nature. This extends across the city, and is at the heart of City Funds, a new place-based investment fund due to be launched next April. The fund is unique globally in that it is a partnership between an impact investor (BBRC), a grant maker (Quartet Community Foundation), and a public body (Bristol City Council). This partnership will allow us to bring investment, grant, community assets, resource from business and knowledge together to create bespoke packages for change makers working towards the goals of the city. As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing like it in the world—a testament to Bristol’s creativity.
In the same vein, BBRC’s successful collaboration with Cheyne Capital Property Fund, United Communities and the Council on the Dunmail housing scheme has paved the way for an imminent second project. Endorsed by the Mayor at our anniversary gathering, we continue to work hard with public and private partners to create another much-needed mixed-tenure development in Bristol. We continue to pursue this co-designed and co-owned strategy because we know it works, especially here.
In my work, I speak to lots of people about money, and what money can achieve if it’s given the right constraints and the right motivation. And I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do with the money we’ve invested. But in these three years, what I’m most proud of is being part of a wider city culture that seeks to collaborate towards solutions. It’s this attitude that will drive the investment, and the city, of the future.