The Green and Black Ambassadors

Summary: The Green and Black Ambassadors project arose from a series of conversations during and after Bristol’s year as the European Green Capital 2015.  Although the year was lauded for numerous successes, including in public engagement, many (including the organisers) agreed that it failed to overcome barriers to inclusion, especially with marginalised communities. The G/B Conversation revealed many of those barriers and proposed ways forward, one of which was to properly fund members of BME communities to challenge and connect different groups. To achieve that we, launched the Green and Black Ambassadors Programme, to build bridges but also to challenge and provoke. To provide focus, we engaged with the African and Caribbean communities prominent in Bristol.  This work was funded by the Cabot Institute, NERC and the ERC.

NOTE: An inspiring and exhaustive collection of Green and Black Ambassadors multi-media resources are available at the website of our partners, the Bristol Green Capital Partnership.  This project has been an outstanding collaboration, including the University of Bristol, Ujima Radio, the Green Capital Partnership and of course the Ambassadors. Particular acknowledgment must be given to Ujima Radio, who initiated the Green and Black Project which was the foundation for much of what is discussed here.  Please also read the final report:


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Background: In 2013, Bristol was announced as the 6th European Green Capital (for 2015) and the UK’s first. This award acknowledge a wide range of initiatives, success stories and ambitions, including significant waste reduction, widespread cycling, city-owned renewable energy provision, a rapidly growing green economy, and strong university partnership.  The year had a particularly strong focus on climate change, as it occurred during COP21. Crucially, the award itself as well as policy decisions made during and since the end of the Green Capital Year commit the city to a bold plan of leadership and social and technological innovation to become more sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint.  For example, representing Bristol at COP21 Mayor George Ferguson committed Bristol to decarbonisation by 2050, a pledge that his successor Marvin Rees has reiterated. Such an ambition requires widespread buy-in amongst formal and distributed city leaders as well as Bristol’s population.

The year was characterised by a range of Summits, lectures and festivals; a cultural and arts program; new public and private initiatives; and more. However, this engagement was incomplete. Throughout the year, many explored the social justice issues arising from climate change.  Echoing commentary by numerous international political and religious leaders, discussions at Green Capital events frequently focussed on the ethical dimensions of climate change, including those related to class, ethnicity and race. As such it was considered necessary to engage a diverse cross-section of society (and of course, this was also considered necessary to mobilise support for the aforementioned policy objectives). There were many efforts to achieve this.  The Year included a Neighbourhood Arts Progamme and a Primary Schools Programme, both of which were rolled out across the city. The Cabot Institute led several events in the poorest parts of the city, to complement those held on our campus. Nonetheless, poor inclusion was a persistent and legitimate charge (Pancost, 2015), as it has been for other Bristol activities. It was the disconnection between the Green Capital’s ambitions for inclusion and the lack of it that has proven to be particularly frustrating to many.

 There are vital lessons to be learned from this and there is a necessity to resolve it if Bristol – and other similar cities – are to achieve their desired transformations. Ujima Radio, recent winner of the UK’s Best Community Radio Station, initiated this effort in late 2014 and explored it throughout 2015 via the Green and Black Programme.  In late 2015, the Cabot Institute and the BGCP joined Ujima to explore this further via a series of workshops with BME leaders.  Two broad messages emerged, as summarised by our partner Roger Griffiths (Chair of Ujima Radio): ‘To many, the ‘green’ debate has hallmarks of being predominantly understood as a white, middle-class domain; moreover, there is a strong narrative of existing and potential engagement with green issues across BME communities that must be recognised and developed.’ Around these wider issues, a number of specific challenges were identified:

  • There was a widespread perception that formal activities – and especially the higher level decision-making – was led by an ‘in-crowd’ of established green activists, city leaders, and usual suspects (university and industry leaders).
  • Many venues were considered ‘off-limits’ to members of the BME community for a combination of issues related to perceived class bias, reputation or history (bearing in mind the role of slaving in Bristol’s history). Aside from that, many venues in the city centre, Bristol’s traditional focus for events (including the University), are not readily accessible.
  • Participation in events remains difficult for many due to childcare or work responsibilities. This reinforces the ‘in-crowd’ nature of activity and city planning, as many were able to attend as part of their jobs. Events were numerous and often organised at the last-minute, which further disenfranchised those with less flexible personal or working relationships.
  • Similarly, many were able to either volunteer time or were seconded from their businesses to participate; this puts particular stress on community organisations with limited resources.
  • BME leaders who were invited to attend workshops and planning meetings were often asked to attend or even speak but ‘rarely to help set the agenda.’

This is summarised with clarity and purpose by our partner at Ujima Radio, Roger Griffith in the Green and Black Conversation. The Green and Black Conversation 2015-2016-2f0l648

One of this consortium’s main conclusions was to launch a Green and Black Ambassador Programme, to pay, train and support (and learn from) a new generation of leaders who would: 1) foster dialogue among diverse groups, including showcasing examples of sustainability leadership arising from BME communities; 2) serve as a positively ‘disruptive’ participant on strategic boards (i.e. BGCP Board); 3) generate bespoke material on environmental issues and sustainability solutions for BME communities, some of which will be broadcast by Ujima Radio; and 4) conduct further research on the obstacles to BME inclusion in environmental initiatives. Given the diversity of Bristol with at least 91 languages spoken and 45 religions practiced, we have focussed on those communities of African and Caribbean descent, recognising that even that represents a great diversity of cultures, faiths and experience. Crucially, a goal of this initiative, directly identified during community consultations and reiterated by Mayor Marvin Rees, is to invest in the leadership skills of those bridging environmental and social justice ambitions.


Our events and networks forged

The Ambassadors have contributed to or led dozens of events, all characterised by their diversity and ambition, connecting people from a range of communities to one another and to natural resources. They have occurred across Bristol and the West of England, either in traditional locations with a specific aim to challenge and disrupt conventional approaches to engagement (i.e. Cabot Institute lecture in the Wills Memorial Building or the BGCP Board Meeting); in communities with large BME or otherwise marginalised communities (i.e. Hamilton House); or by bringing BME citizens out of the city to nature-rich areas (i.e Slimbridge).

Through Festivals, Workshops and Lectures, the Ambassadors have reached over 1000 people, and likely several 1000 more through their monthly radio shows. These events have included classical outreach activities, engaged workshops, field trips and knowledge sharing. Emerging from these activities has been sustained and deeper engagement, outlined below. This is critical.  During one presentation, while discussing the outcomes of the project, the PI was asked: ‘How will you measure how BME communities have adopted more sustainable practices?’ This is a critical misconception of the entire project of engagement and certainly a misunderstanding of the Green and Black Ambassadors Programme. The goal is to constructively change the scientists, the campaigners and the communicators alongside the public participants; the goal is for these leaders to listen to, learn from and better understand the initiatives occurring in and knowledge generated in marginalised communities so that the scientific endeavour becomes richer and stronger – and better connected to a wider variety of the public.  Therefore, the Ambassadors have devoted particular effort to engaging and collaborating with organisations.  These include:

Slimbridge WWT: The Ambassadors brought BME citizens to Slimbridge to stimulate a conversation around engagement with nature; they then collaborated on a workshop to address inclusion and diversity in their nature programme.

Avon Wildlife Trust: The Ambassadors are developing collaborations to address diversity in the AWT programme.

University of West of England and University of Bristol (including the Students Union): The Ambassadors have worked with the Joint University SU Skills Bridge team including advising the team’s inclusivity efforts and featuring individual researchers on their radio show and promotion of Photovoice (Drs Shaun Sobers & Ade Olaiya).

Bristol City Council and Mayor: The Ambassadors have met the Head of the Sustainable Cities Team, engaged with knowledge sharing / interactions with the Mayor on social media, and met with Cllr Asher Craig.  This is serving as the foundation for future projects focussing on air pollution and health.

Numerous connections and outputs have emerged from these events and activities, with highlights being: the embedding of diversity issues, awareness and responsibility across the BGCP network of over 800 organisations; a dramatically raised profile of BME-led initiatives in the city and a stronger dialogue between NERC researchers and marginalised communities; a website containing numerous blogs, commentaries and interviews (; and a multimedia archive of the Ambassadors’ radio show on Ujima Radio.  These dynamic and interactive shows have featured leading scientists, campaigners and politicians can be found on Soundcloud, i.e.:  Guests and topics have included: Fuel poverty in Bristol – Bristol Energy Network; What happens when you flush your toilet in Bristol – GenEco; Monitoring equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Ade Olaiya, UWE; Focus on Guyana’s biodiversity (World Wetlands Day special); Exploring spaces outside the city – Imayla. This network and knowledge building will culminate during the 10th Anniversary celebration of the BGCP on 6 July, where the G/B Ambassadors will showcase their findings to hundreds of industry, civic society, public and political voices in the West of England sustainability movement, a conversation to be broadcast live by Ujima Radio – this will feature environmental research, showcase the need for a far more inclusive approach to outreach activities, and provide critical commentary on how to better engage with marginalised communities.

Other networks that are being developed include those with Black 2 Nature, Resource Futures, GENeco, Sustrans, Journey to Justice, Bristol Food Network, Up Our Street, Bristol Energy Network, Easton Energy and Lifecycle UK.  In doing so, the Ambassadors are facilitating a rich but challenging conversation among some of the city and region’s leading environmental and social justice networks.  Over 20 other organisations have expressed interest in engaging the Ambassadors to explore their own diversity and inclusion challenges with respect to public engagement.


The Reception

It is hard to convey the enthusiasm with which this scheme has been received.  Industry, government, civil society and public participants in environmental and sustainability issues are passionate about inclusion for its own sake but also because of its necessity to achieve the profound changes to which Bristol committed when it was the European Green Capital in 2015.  However, those organisations and individuals recognised that well-meaning efforts to engage and include failed because of a lack of common understanding, misplaced or insufficient effort, disparity of resources, and the lack of facilitators that could help navigate interactions among diverse communities.  Against that backdrop, the Green and Black Ambassadors Programme has been hailed by numerous citizens, lauded by some participants as transformative, identified by members of the BGCP as an exemplar project, and celebrated by civic leaders including the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees.  This is evidenced by a strong twitter following, hundreds of retweets, over 30 requests to engage with other organisations and the Ambassadors’ prominent role in the BGCP 10th anniversary celebrations.

Such enthusiasm and engagement must be met with some caution.  The goal of the programme is not to simply better connect environmental researchers and organisations to more diverse communities as a box-ticking exercise.  The programme is meant to be disruptive and challenging – leading to genuine transformation of organisations, practices and relationships. We do not aspire to ‘communicate better’ but to have a shared agenda for making the scientific endeavour, including its participants and users, more diverse. As said by Zakiya: ‘Our task is to build bridges. We are honest about the barriers within our own communities and will hold people to account. We are also here to challenge the environmental and science sectors to co-produce, consult inclusively and step outside of the pervading bubble of whiteness and masculinity as necessary for validity. We have a daunting task that will agitate people on both sides of the divide but as we say in Jamaica “one, one cocoa fill basket”; by using our skills to fill the void in conversation, Jasmine and I are making way for better dialogue and real, inclusive actions.’

There is strong evidence that the organisations involved have been transformed, with both the BGCP and Cabot Institute being recently celebrated for better showcasing BME citizens, putting visible effort into engaging with those citizens, and adopting more rigorous and challenging practices. A crucial research question if the programme continues will be to explore how deep, wide and long-term such transformations have been in those and in other organisations.


What was learned

During Bristol 2015, the profile of environmental research was dramatically raised; from climate change scientists to atmospheric chemists to biodiversity experts, our work was showcased at Green Capital Summits, married to arts exhibits, centred in citizen science initiatives (i.e. Urban Pollinators), and integrated to local and regional policy makers (i.e. Pancost was invited to accompany the Mayor and BCC to COP21 and has contributed to developing Bristol’s 50-year trajectory by serving on the Resilience Sounding Board).

This initiative has not raised that profile but changed it.

Through the Green and Black Conversation we facilitated a community-led dialogue about the limitations of previous outreach and engagement activities in Bristol – including our own. The Ambassadors Programme allowed us, our partners and our fellow citizens to put those lessons into practice.

The most important of these lessons was: “Do not assume that different communities are not engaged; assume that they are but are doing it separately or differently.  So ask them what their ideas are.”  Consequently, engagement must be co-designed, with joint agenda setting (‘We are invited but the agenda is already set.’), and a recognition of different forms of knowledge and a shared capacity to contribute.  Within this broader context, five key themes emerged: 1) Change or recognise the constraints of terminology, its culture and ownership; 2) Profile activity beyond that which takes place in white middle-class neighbourhoods; 3) Create a new set of green narratives that relates to different cultural perspectives and experiences; 4) Challenge leadership and decision-making, especially by developing new leaders; and 5) Fund and support active projects that make the difference rather than just well-meaning manifestos and statements of intent.  From these lessons derive some self-evident actions for future events and initiatives: a) engage under-represented marginal communities early and often, funding them as appropriate, while creating the space and open dialogue that encourages all to contribute their ideas; b) host events in a variety of venues and actively ensure that all feel welcome at all venues; c) depoliticise discussions by acknowledging and exposing their political dimensions rather than treating them as apolitical; d) challenge those with influence and position to ensure that BME citizens are given voices within institutions – and to ensure those voices are supported when they provoke and challenge; and e) guarantee representation.

This project also reinforced the challenges related to time and capacity to engage. Engaging the public but especially marginalised communities requires time to gain trust; but at the same time, the public can have limited resource or capacity to engage. For poor communities, time and resource issues are compounded. These are difficult barriers to overcome but can be mitigated by: longer lead-in times and earlier invitations; providing child-care support; and having fewer events but delivering them in a way that involves a wider cross-section of the city (including perhaps running the same event several times at multiple locations).

Crucially, it was argued and accepted that privileged leaders, including many in Bristol’s thriving green economy and HEI sectors, must both build structures and cultivate the culture change that allows inclusion to thrive. Liberating the strength of our diversity requires not just good will but the creation of structures that promote inclusion, including training and genuine financial support of community partners. It is illuminating that one of the Green Capital’s strong inclusion stories was the School’s programme, which essentially engaged every primary school child in Bristol.  Tapping into structures or networks – where they exist – can facilitate engagement; but where they do not exist, they must be built.

These issues affect everyone.  Class, race and gender need not be obstacles. This gap needs to addressed and acknowledged and realised by communities and organisations together if we want to move forward as a city.’ Jasmine Ketubah-Foley, Green and Black Ambassador.

Arguably, this investigation has moved into issues far beyond those that are the normal scope of engagement and outreach discussions: how to better communicate to diverse audiences, tailoring messages, choosing diverse venues and format. Nonetheless, valuable lessons were learned – derived from the above – that could be applied to nearly any NERC-based science outreach. The programme reinforced the lesson to connect research findings to the needs and interests of your audience; however, most audiences were quite receptive to a creative connection – linking palaeoclimatic events to air pollution challenges or past biotic change to current migration debates were welcomed. Other lessons were surprising – although not in hindsight.  For example, NERC scientists work all over the world or on samples collected from all over the world; BME audiences, perhaps due to a more recent immigrant past, wanted to hear more about this.  Who were the partners and collaborators?  What was it like working in these countries, especially for communities that have ancestral roots there?  And most critically, are these scientific efforts still informed by colonial biases – have we worked with, respected and co-authored with citizens from those nations?


Project Highlights

All of us involved have different thoughts: For some it is the disruptive presence of BME citizens in places that had seemed ‘off limits’ such as the University’s Great Hall; for others, it will have been the excitement of young people taken on a field trip to the wetlands.  More broadly, we argue it is the fact that the language of social justice and inclusion are now ubiquitous in environmental and sustainability conversations, exemplified across the manifestos of all major party candidates for Metro Mayor (we cannot take all credit for that but the Ambassadors Progamme has been a focus and distillation of numerous other conversations).  Personally, the PI of the project thinks that the best outcome has been the unleashing of Jazz’s and Zakiya’s talents.  We have given some training to these exceptional women, but the real benefit has been the commitment of the partners to give them a platform and show city leaders the skills, knowledge and passion they already had.

More fundamentally, it has changed perceptions on engagement between diverse publics, civil society organisations and universities. It is not enough to think about science communication as apolitical and in isolation.  If we want citizens to engage with scientists, then we must show that we have made commitments to their communities, that we are engaged in the challenges those communities face, that we are committed to addressing the flaws within our own institutions.  It is not enough to say ‘we wanted to have a diverse panel but there are very few black climate scientists.’  Of course, scientists should be very cautious about appearing partisan but nor can we ignore the challenges of those we engage, especially where it interfaces with our work.  Engagement is far more than ‘better communication.’ It is becoming constructive partners in our communities, of which science outreach is a small part of a wide portfolio.



There is much that could not be achieved during a brief pilot project (even extended to 10 months by co-funding).  First, given the key outcome that engagement between researchers and communities must be protracted, allowing for deep, mutual, respectful and trusted collaboration, these types of initiatives must have long-term investment.  Building trust is always important but particularly so for marginalised communities with a history of being excluded. Second, we caution against extrapolation to other marginalised communities; our efforts focussed on BME communities of African or Caribbean descent (already a multitude of different voices) and that means that we have not probed a range of more nuanced issues related to religion, gender or class. Future efforts could widen this exploration; we doubt that the fundamentals will differ (diverse venues, family or worker-friendly times) but nuanced findings almost certainly will.  Third, we aspire to test the long-term changes these interventions have made.  Have AWT or WWT (or UoB and BGCP) embedded diversity in their practices?  Have they adopted new policies or practices?  Do they remain dependant on the initiative of marginalised groups or individuals, such as the Ambassadors, or have they taken on their own responsibility to support inclusive initiatives?  If these changes have occurred then these organisations, in partnership with NERC researchers, will be better poised to connect our research findings to a wide and diverse part of the UK’s population.

We collectively agree that we must challenge/re-imagine models of scientific ‘pubic engagement’ – and that therefore NERC should think about moving away from the kind of measures illustrated in this report (i.e. to be judged on number of events and number of people ‘engaged’) and towards thinking about ‘quality’ of engagement – long term meaningful relationships based on the sharing of knowledge and expertise.  Most importantly, however, the final reflections should belong to our two Ambassadors:

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Holding the green sector to account

Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley, Green and Black Ambassador

Being part of the activist movement in Bristol, something kept picking away at the back of my brain. After some time I realised I could find almost no black or brown role models to look up to. Where were the culturally rich BME communities of Bristol who have so much to say on the environment, environmental racism and sustainability? Why were they not thriving in this supposedly inclusive space?

Bristol’s year as the European Green Capital in 2015 had many successes but it failed to include BME communities. The community radio station Ujima ran a debate about the issue in 2015 and this project has grown from there. The University of Bristol Cabot Institute and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership joined up to continue to fund it along with the public engagement funding from NERC. Together they set up the ambassador programme to pay, train and support a new generation of BME environmental leaders – Zakiya and I.

We are trying to find out why inclusion has failed so far and we’re challenging Bristol’s research and BME communities to work together. We have a radio show on Ujima, we run workshops and we took a group of young BME people to a large wetlands centre outside of Bristol to explore why these nature attractions aren’t attracting diverse communities.

Zakiya and I come from community research backgrounds and worked as radio and TV broadcast journalists. Our passion to tell people’s stories and our brazenness in asking difficult questions with a healthy sense of justice fits well with the role.


Tackling inequality in Bristol

Zakiya McKenzie, Green and Black Ambassador

In March 2017, The Sunday Times named Bristol the ‘best place to live in the UK’. As a black woman, single mother and mature student, I cannot help but wince at this misleading accolade. The difference in life expectancy between the city’s wealthy and deprived wards is as much as a decade. I grew up in Jamaica, studied in NYC and worked as a journalist in Johannesburg and I absolutely love ‘ole Brizzle’ – but nothing prepared me for the city’s virtual segregation.

In one of our workshops people told us they found it difficult to get the time to attend research events, particularly if they worked for small organisations with limited funds. Participants also found that they might be invited to events, but not to help set the agenda.

Our task is to build bridges. We are honest about the barriers within our own communities and hold people to account. We are also here to challenge the environmental and science sectors to step outside of the pervading bubble of whiteness and masculinity as necessary for validity.

We have a daunting task but as we say in Jamaica “one, one cocoa fill basket”. By using our skills to fill the void in conversation, Jasmine and I are making way for better dialogue and real, inclusive actions.



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