Bristol Housing Festival

Patrick Shine

The Exceptional People that have made Bristol Housing Festival happen

The formal launch of the Bristol Housing Festival took place on October 23rd. It is an innovative and complex showcase of how a City can embrace new technology and ways of working, to address some of the most pressing local and national issues of the day.

The Shaftesbury Partnership has been involved in this project for nearly 12 months. As we launch, I’ve been reflecting on the many individuals and organizations who contributed their time, ideas, formal pro bono assistance (and in some cases cash) to get us to this point. But within this array, three individuals stand out to me as being central.

The first is the mayor of Bristol City, Marvin Rees. Through his vision, and his leadership he has brought together a wide range of public sector agencies and council departments to make it happen. Anyone who has tried to do something “for the first time” in Government knows how hard that is. Leaving aside his personal qualities, this is a reminder that at City level the Mayor is often the difference between transformation and doing things “way we’ve always done it”.

The second is the project director Jez Sweetland. He has been the engine of the project, working tirelessly and taking the responsibility to make sure everything gets done. He’s done this without a script (i.e. blazing the trail as we go), showing quite exceptional drive and commitment. Working with Jez has confirmed to me the lesson of many years working with Social Ventures - leadership is critical and often the hardest thing to find.

The third individual has played such a behind-the-scenes role I’m reluctant to share his name at this stage. A very experienced architect, with a passion for doing things differently, he has been instrumental in connecting us with (among others) high-tech housing builders, smart city consultants, universities and leading software houses. He has helped us to understand how new technology (e.g. blockchain, or distributable ledgers) can provide the IT needed for the complex systems needed in 21st-century housing innovation, in a way that is both robust and individualized.

These three individuals have covered off the most important elements needed when putting together complex and innovative programmes: political leadership, project leadership and intellectual leadership. They symbolize the wide range of talent that has come together to help the project become a reality and, in some senses, it is unfair to single them out. But projects need leadership and vision and these three individuals exemplify that.

One final point: how did we find them and how did they come together? I blame our founder and director Lord Wei. His track record, his prominence, and his eclectic set of networks have been enormously important in bringing together such exceptional people from such different backgrounds. “Success has many fathers” but without these four people the Festival would never have happened.



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