There's a slightly gloomy consensus out there that 2022 was a bad year for the UK. And although there are good reasons for that - like the death of our longest ever serving monarch, the invasion of Ukraine, a botched mini budget and sharply increased energy prices & the cost of living - I want to make the case that good things happened in Gloucester too, and highlight some of them.
Part of my case is that we quickly forget the good things - the end of all and any restrictions on COVID, and weather that saw record numbers at events like the Retro Festival in the Costa Del Glosta.
Help for Ukraine
And even in the worst things there were silver linings. The first invasion of a European country since World War 2 brought out a spirit in the Homes for Ukraine programme as remarkable, even if less widespread, as the neighbourhood volunteer food programmes during the pandemic. The support at rallies, services in our Ukrainian church and events and help organised by the Ukrainian Association, GARAS and others brought out another side of our diverse and multinational city.
'Slava Ukraini' gathering in Gloucester Docks, Feb 2022
Standing up to dictators
On a bigger scale it brought NATO together in a way that Putin neither foresaw or intended, spurring both Finland and Sweden to join and ensuring that Europe's security and NATO are inseparable, with Turkey also playing a helpful role. And the cost of solidarity against invasion - much higher energy prices - was met by a combination of solid British support for standing up to thugs and an enormous multi billion package of help from the government. This city and our country believes in democracy being willing to stand up to aggression - and 2022 showed that.
Defence and cyber contribution
The fact that our military intelligence about Putin's intentions was so good is partly down to GCHQ, and of course just down another road we also host the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), with some 25 nations represented here. Some live in Gloucester, which also highlights our city and county's commitment to defending our interests. I hugely appreciate all contributions by residents to our defence, both military and cyber.
Discussing defence with Commander Lt Gen Nick Borton of the ARRC
Education on the UP in Robinswood..
Coming out of a largely nightmarish two years of Education with COVID, the good news is that our schools are mostly doing well - and some very well. Nor is it just the usual suspects (i.e. our four grammar schools and Kings, which again won the best Independent school in Gloucestershire award).
Fresh from Ofsted is news that Robinswood School - the first academy in Gloucestershire - which fell to special measures in 2019 is now back where it belongs: 'good'. The inspectors gave the impact of school goals (" Be kind, be honest, be responsible, be respectful") special mention. I'd love to see all social media users adopting the same approach.
..and elsewhere: three secondary schools with their best ever results: and wins for rebuilding.
There were also upgrades in Ofsted ratings to 'good' for St Peters and Waterwells. Then the best news of the year - because it’s a great leading indicator of the opportunities ahead for pupils, and what they might achieve for their themselves and their city - were the best ever results from Gloucester Academy, Holmleigh Park and Barnwood Park and our schools have lots going for them, as these results and our Autumn Opportunities Fair at Gloucester Academy showed. The 30+ employers we assembled were impressed.
Meanwhile Moat Primary, Ribston and Willow Primary have also been successful in their bids to the government’s School Rebuilding Programme. Amazing special educational needs school Milestones (just outside my constituency) was also successful. Well supported by charities, the Willow Trust has done new and great work helping children with disabilities in Gloucester
(Left) At the opening of my Opportunities Fair at Gloucestershire Academy with 30+ employers
(Right) With pupils from Homleigh Park where there were four times more top grades than in 2019
Britain's Greenest Small City?
Some readers will know that I have an ambition for Gloucester to be Britain's Greenest Small City.
We start with the huge advantage of Robinswood Hill, Alney Island, Saintbridge Pond, Barnwood Park & Arboretum and many more great green spaces - including since 2012 the Horsbere Balancing Pond, a haven of bird life and new trees. We now also have many more Friends of...Gloucester Park / Tuffley Park/The Oval etc as guardians for safety, litter picking, play facilities and planting.
I'm particularly pleased about the improvements made at The Oval, another hidden jewel in our city. The City Council responded to the requests made by Cllr Lyn Ackroyd and I to open the park up, chop down leylandii, allow more light and reduce anti social behaviour. I funded some new shrubs and lower trees as a thank you to The Oval as a regular visitor during lockdown. The new Friends of The Oval got moving on bringing together residents interested in taking ownership of the community and have greatly improved the entrances with help from the Council.
And the City Council has also committed to a much needed improvement of the public tennis courts here by Spring 2024.
(Left) Joining Sarah Devaney, Founder of the Friends of Tuffley Park for a planting session in October
(Right) Seeing changes at The Oval with Chair of the Gloucestershire LTA, Enzo Mora
New Sudbrook Community Garden
I was really pleased in 2022 to complete and open a dream I had some years ago - to convert a derelict and unloved bit of factory concrete into a garden for a community in a ward with the least green space in the city - Barton & Tredworth.
Dreams can be helpful, but turning them into reality hard. Without the support of the City Council, Rooftop, Cllr Saj Patel, Markey and many others this could not have happened - led by the project management of my Chief of Staff Jennie Watkins.
Made in Gloucester Green Energy
The Green Energy and Eco Park is a project agreed between Hempsted Recyling Centre owner Enovert, the City Council and myself, with help from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
All credit to Enovert for changing their business model here from revenue from landfill to revenue from Made in Gloucester green energy, while planting trees for the future.
They now have planning go ahead for the first phase of 5,120 solar panels which will over time produce around 2.09GWh a year, saving 486.2t of CO2 or equivalent to planting 22,332 trees - starting in the Summer of 2023.
On the Eco side 3,000 new trees have already been planted there, some as part of new Hempsted Woods project, and some as part of the government funding for a Glos Wildlife initiative 'Severn Treescapes', along 60 miles of the banks of the River Severn.
It's particularly good that pupils are involved - mostly Hempsted Primary so far, but we've encouraged others and six are now lined up with the Wildlife Trust to go and plant trees. We hope to plant 100,00 over time on this big site.
Do help me to help every child to plant a tree in our city by encouraging school teachers, heads or governors to mail me on this address for more info.
(Left) Bulb planting with Cllrs Sajid Patel, Litu Zaman and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust at Sudbrook Community Garden
(Right) Planting new trees with pupils from Hempsted Primary as part of the Severn Treescape
New wards & buildings at the GRH
We know how incredibly difficult current high demand is for those working in our GP surgeries and NHS Trusts while the Integrated Care Board for Gloucestershire wrestle with the challenges of providing more domicillary care to enable patients to leave the hospital and others to come in, the Hospitals Trust has used government funding to increase and improve its buildings:
- A new Care of the Elderly ward
- A new Same Day Emergency Centre
- A new Emergency Department
These should mean more space to accommodate those coming to the GRH, but increased flu and other issues in an aging population are really testing the NHS, and I'll write separately on what more can be done.
Meanwhile so far not one cancer operation has been cancelled and while our backlog of surgery is bad it is the best of the SW and Wales.
Meeting staff at the new GRH Elderly Care Ward just before it opened
A first ever pharmacy for Podsmead in Regeneration plans?
After a 10 year campaign started by my Chief of Staff (then City Cllr for Podsmead) Jennie Watkins with community leaders, I'm delighted that the principle of establishing a pharmacy in Podsmead has now been accepted and two applications submitted. Alongside a wider regeneration programme led by Gloucester City Homes, this will make a real difference to residents.
Gloucester's first 4 star hotel coming soon
Regeneration in the City Centre continues. The new Whitefriars accommodation and Tesco by the old bus station blends in so well everyone thinks it's always been there.
Beside the new Transport Hub Grosvenor House is now pulled down and work on our new 4 star hotel well under way - with Kier's Skills Hub looking at over 100 new jobs and apprenticeships there and elsewhere on the large site. There will be an announcement on the hotel brand shortly.
(Left) Where Grovesnor House once stood now work on The Forum starts
(Right) Opening Kier's Skills Hub with graduate Uneke and City Council Leader Richard Cook
Britain's first ever conversion of a department store into a University City Campus
Around the old Debenhams you can see hoardings with the images of what the building will be - with a new library, cafe and wellbeing centre for the public: and all the UoG Health courses taught there, with teaching courses to follow.
The UoG City Campus opens at the end of 2023 - not long now - and is the brainchild of retiring Vice Chancellor Stephen Marston, who has worked so closely with myself and the City Council to make the university much more relevant to Gloucester.
Work starts and finishes 2023 on the underpass to the GRH
Preparing for underpass works to start at Gloucester Station with GWR, Councils and the LEP
Appropriately - since many students and apprentices will have practical work in the GRH and walk from the new City Campus via the underpass at the railway station, the work there I've wanted to see for a decade starts imminently, and finishes in the summer.
It will take away the steps, make the underpass accessible to all, straighten the pass so a clear line of site all the way, be lighter brighter and safer.
It's taken a decade to get where we are - and not done yet - but you need persistence and support so thank you GWR, LEP, Department for Transport and both councils. Now for implementation!
Meanwhile in 2022 we did complete the new entrance and exit from station direct onto Metz Way and widened the existing entrance to make it safer for all.
The A417 Air Balloon 'Missing Link' now definitely funded - and happening faster
I am delighted that this project recently got its final approval, and is moving ahead faster than earlier anticipated, despite its hefty cost (c £500m) - because of its local and national importance linking the M4 to M5, and the current road's alarming safety record. You can now see the route being worked on close to the roundabout.
Gloucestershire MPs discuss a solution to the Missing Link at the Air Balloon Roundabout in 2019
A good year for brown field site housing
Various schemes are being worked on which together will add over 1,000 new homes to Gloucester, largely on brownfield sites.
For years I've encouraged site owners like the NHS at Holly House to bring forward sites for new social housing, supported the Council bid to the government's Brownfield Site Fund (we won the biggest award in the UK) and urged Council and developers at Bakers Quay and Great Western Road to move forward as soon as possible. Having new affordable accommodation close to the GRH can only be good as we try to increase staffing there.
Great 2022 Cultural wins
Great cities have great culture and our cultural scene benefited in 2022 from the biggest ever Gloucester Goes Retro festival - a fitting tribute to founder the late Cllr Colin Organ - and the successful regeneration and re-opening of the Folk of Gloucester under Civic Trust leadership, immediately followed by their Lottery Heritage win. Their buildings on Lower Westgate St have never looked better and the happenings there are growing all the time.
In the late autumn I was delighted that Arts Council England (ACE) awarded Strike a Light, Gloucestershire Libraries, the Gloucester Culture Trust (GCT) and the Guildhall almost £3m over the next three years to improve venues and performances in Gloucester. I also want to see award winning The Music Works keep thriving and attracting funds.
Sadly the Gloucester History Festival coincided exactly with the period of national mourning, but we have a Spring Weekend on the 23-25 April 2023, a bigger than usual Festival in September and a new programme of King's Talks starting soon too.
Biggest Retro Festival yet was a fitting tribute to the late Cllr Colin Organ.
New Gloucester Rugby training and events venue in Kingsholm
Most fans rightly focus on what happens on the pitch at Kingsholm, but off the pitch changes are good for our city too. The unoccupied logistics centre adjoining Kingsholm was acquired by the club during the pandemic and all the club's training relocated from Hartpury. That space in 2022 was also given planning permission for part of it to be used for events - keeping them or bringing them to the city centre and providing more jobs, alongside the training ones, in our city.
What's happening to the new Sports Hub at Blackbridge?
2022 was a frustrating year for progress at this important project: and 2023 is therefore crucial.
The Blackbridge Charitable Community Benefit Society (BCCBS) are working hard (unpaid volunteers with no financial benefit from what happens) to create a new Sports Hub on the edge of the large playing field site there.
Some misinformation about plans has worried residents and keen dog walkers. Having looked closely at the site and plans I think most of these are being addressed through better communication and transparency.
I look forward to working with the trust, councillors, partner organisations, and residents after consultation to a planning application - so that before long children can learn and play much more sport here, rather than having to go to e.g Plock Court.
Meeting some of those involved in the Blackbridge project including Bob Purcell and Gerry Hartin
Crime & Compassion: the Knife Angel is coming
When it comes to crime and compassion, and communities caring for each other, the news headlines do Gloucester no great favours.
For we do have our issues - as the recent cache of stolen weapons at Naas Lane confirms (good work by our Police on this). No MP or parent can be unconcerned when knives are being carried and teenagers murdered.
So uncomfortable truths do need to be addressed, justice must be done and behavioural change is critical. I hope the giant Knife Angel coming to Gloucester early in 2023 will make us all think and work to end knife crime.
Do find details at: https://www.gloucesterbid.uk/knife-angel/
Some people will not like this symbol outside our Cathedral. Progress in 2022 for a compassionate Gloucester includes:
- The new Gloucester City Mission Night Shelter (set just off Eastgate St)
- Gloucester Feed the Hungry (based in Council owned premises on the Oxebode)
- Role done by the Community Builders and the CIC, Gloucester Community Building Collective
- More funding to deal with Domestic Abuse and greater police awareness and training
- Greater awareness of Spiking and a possible change to the law following my Ten Minute Rule Bill
- The Shared Prosperity Fund distributing £1.6 million to many community causes like The Friendship Cafe and Young Gloucestershire.
There is always more to do and I will go on working with many partners in 2023 to do so.
Last but not least...
..in 2022 a Gloucester pub won CAMRA South West Pub of the Year. So huge congratulations to The Pelican, nestled beside the ruins of St Oswald's and the great Queen Aetheflaed's resting place.
Nor is the Pelican alone in thriving. In 2022 there are more shops, cafes & bars open in St Aldates, next to the about to open City Campus.
Preparing for the future
This year the Business Improvement District (BiD) Council and others will also want to prepare for the new customers coming, and their impact on footfall. Don't let's talk our city centre down when these great catalysts for change with a new hotel, tech hub and Uni Campus coming soon..
I'll share more with you on other 2023 news as decisions are made!
Meanwhile I hope you agree there's lots happening in Gloucester, much of it positive, and I'm loking forward to urging it all forward in 2023.
P.S. Let me know your reactions, thoughts and hopes on firstname.lastname@example.org