Our journey to Net Zero | Reviewing 1200+ carbon saving actions

The University is committed to reducing carbon emissions from its operations as quickly as possible and Climate Action Plans (CAPs) are integral to our Net Zero ambitions. The Sustainability Team is pleased to share that as of May 2024, 35 of the University’s 42 Schools and Divisions are actively working on plans, detailing over 1270 carbon-saving actions that are either in the pipeline, in progress or complete. 

Each CAP is designed by members of the School or Division, enabling them to pinpoint areas of highest impact. By empowering teams in this way, the Sustainability Team can provide expert support where it’s needed and monitor progress over time.       

Actions are selected using an online climate action planning tool, under themes including buildings, circular economy, transport and advocacy, as well as newly added themes ‘research’ and ‘teaching & learning’. The planning tool, developed by the Sustainability Team in partnership with Net Positive Futures, then enables users to edit issues and actions, and upload evidence, based on their area of impact and influence. 

The Sustainability Team’s managers for Transport, Energy, Circular Economy and Sustainable Science review CAPs annually, and provide feedback to support implementation and continuous improvement of plans, as well as reporting back to the Strategy Monitoring and Implementation Group.  

The recent review process reveals 90% of Schools and Divisions have now nominated a coordinator, who typically organise a CAP group or committee, consisting of volunteer students and staff. It’s estimated that around 600 staff and students are involved in the initiative across the University. Several Schools have now also recruited sustainability officers to lead the process, including Geographical Sciences, Physics and the Medical School.  

Barra Mac Ruairi, Chief Property Officer and co-chair of the Sustainability Strategy Monitoring and Implementation Group said:  

“I’d like to thank everyone participating in the Climate Action Plans initiative at the University for your time and energy.  

These plans are critical to meeting our Net-Zero ambitions, and are mandated by the University’s Senior Leadership Team. They represent our collective efforts towards reducing our carbon footprint and building a more environmentally conscious community.  

To the handful of Schools and Divisions that are yet to establish a CAP, we eagerly anticipate your submissions and look forward to collaborating with you to achieve full coverage.  

Let’s continue to stay engaged as we implement and build on actions in the year ahead, ensuring we make a positive impact on our campus and beyond.”  

Professor Philip Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) and co-chair of the Sustainability Strategy Monitoring and Implementation Group said: 

“Climate action encompasses all areas of University activity, from research and learning to our buildings and travel. It’s really encouraging to see the level of engagement and impact across the University. Thanks to those playing a part in helping the University to reduce its environmental impact and work towards a more sustainable future.”

Find out more about the Climate Action Plans initiative.

Green Labs | 100% Gold certification in Bristol Medical School

The Medical School is now the second school to achieve Gold Certification with the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) in 100% of its laboratories. This follows on from the Veterinary School achieving Gold in August 2023.

LEAF is a certification scheme, developed by UCL, that aims to improve sustainability and efficiency in labs in a range of areas including waste and chemical management, procurement, equipment efficiency and many others. The Sustainability Team has set a goal to reach 100% Silver LEAF certification across all 900+ University labs in 2024.

Professor Chrissie Thirlwell, Head of School, said “I am absolutely delighted that the Medical School has achieved 100% Gold LEAF status. This really reflects the hard work and commitment that the Technical and lab staff and the wider sustainability team have demonstrated in order to work towards Net Zero 2030 and beyond.”

Bristol Medical School has a longstanding history of integrating sustainable practices within their research. In 2020 and 2022 labs within Bristol Medical School won their respective categories in the Freezer Challenge, saving an estimated 548 kWh/day and 243 kWh/day, respectively. The School has also been making significant headway on their Climate Action Plan and have appointed a number of individuals who are working to implement sustainable operations in several areas of sustainability including travel, education, green spaces, labs, offices, computing and research.

The School would like to thank its Technical Teams and lab users in Southmead Learning & Research, Oakfield House, Dorothy Hodgkin and Level 7 BRI buildings who were instrumental in achieving the 100% Gold Certification.

Be the Change | Helping make sustainable fashion the new norm

The clothing and textiles industry accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than international aviation and shipping combined. Rethinking the amount of clothes we buy and refreshing our wardrobes with only second-hand pieces challenges fast-fashion culture, saves money, and encourages creativity.  

Throughout April, our fashion challenge competition invited staff and students to share their favourite secondhand, upcycled or repaired item. Congratulations to Chaeyeon Lim, Vicky Carliell and Caroline Kirk who have each won a £25 Love Bristol gift card for sharing snaps their fabulous fashion-forward pieces. Here are the winning entries, plus a few of our other top picks!



“Here’s a few photos of me in my favourite pre-loved charity shop purchase – my wedding dress! All 5 of my bridesmaid dresses were also second-hand (mainly from the Tenovus charity shop on Gloucester road). It was important to me to make my wedding as sustainable as possible, and I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a dress that would only be worn once.” Vicky Carliell




“A pair of handmade leather boots I bought pre-loved on Vinted were in a sorry state, with the sole nearly worn through, the uppers coming away from the soles, and the leather looking very faded and worn. As the boots are handmade, they can be resoled and repaired so I sent the boots off to the maker (Conker). I’ve since given the leather a clean with saddle soap, restored the colour with brown boot polish, and nourished the leather with Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam!” Caroline Kirk





“I’m wearing a necklace I made and a vest I exchanged with my muffler at a swap shop organised by Bristol SU. Selfie taken in front of Forsythia on a priory road. Being sustainable in spring, being sensible and stylish!” Chaeyeon Lim







“I’m wearing a second hand shirt from Depop, which I wore as part of the medal ceremony for my badminton club’s annual tournament. I was giving medals out to winners and the photo is me showing the medals to the audience.” Sam Cook









“Here I am in a dress that I made from an old duvet cover that had a big rip in it.” Rachael Carey

Rachael also shared a picture of the original duvet cover before she dyed it pink!







Josie Maskell

“I bought this dress on Vinted and the denim was too pale for my skin tone. It’s 100% cotton so I decided to dye it using an emerald green Dylon dye pod, I am now much happier with the colour!” Josie Maskell









“I found the dress (French Connection) in a charity shop a few years ago on Gloucester Rd and have worn it so many times in different ways. The leather jacket is also vintage French Connection from the Clothing Xchange in Broadmead and the vintage leather bag is from another charity shop by the Bear Pit.” Claudia Dupe






Imogen Stone

“I got this faux fur coat and leopard print hat from a vintage market in Camden (I’m on the right). They’re really warm and both a great addition to any outfit!” Imogen Stone







“I was in a charity shop looking for work wear and stumbled across this gem of a dress for £5 (I’m in the red). I’ve worn it to multiple weddings because I’m never worried about wearing something twice! Not featured also the two very stylish jumpsuits I bought for work in that trip – long live the Bedminster charity shop scene!” Emily Wride







Find out more and sign up to the ‘Fashion’ challenge here. 

Be the Change | Walking to Rehearsal with A Cappella

Be the Change is a University-wide campaign that encourages everyone at the University to make choices that have a positive impact on the world around us. Throughout March the campaign focused on travel, and how we should all look to take active travel (e.g. walking or cycling) where at all possible. One group of students that joined in with the campaign was the SU’s A Capella Society.

Read on to find out more about their efforts, as written by Izzy Fraser, Vice President of A Cappella Society.

“A Cappella Society has many goals for the 2023-2024 year, one of which being to champion sustainability and eco-consciousness in a way we had never done before. As Vice President of the society, I made it my mission for this goal to become a reality, and with the help of every member our wonderful committee (namely Jess Edwards, our Outreach Officer, Alisha Agarwal, our Marketing Manager and, not least, Aaliyah Butt our President) we managed to coordinate a whole Sustainability Month.

Support from the University and SU

The SU’s Sustainability Coordinator, Lucy Tallis, guided and advised us, directing us towards multiple means of funding to help us actualise the initiatives we had planned. For example, the SU’s Sustainability Grant provided full funding for a sustainable merch scheme, and the Sustainability Team sponsored us with a prize for our ‘Walk 2 Rehearsal’ scheme as it aligned with the Be the Change campaign.

Our application for the Be the Change prize fund included a poll that we distributed to members asking how frequently they take different modes of transport to rehearsals. The investigation revealed that 40% of members who responded had, at least once in the last month, driven/taken an Uber/got a lift in a car to get to rehearsal. As such, we believed that our ‘Walk 2 Rehearsal’ scheme would shift help change behaviour, not just for the week, but for our members going forward.

Running the competition

Academy and All Sharps members walking back from their rehearsal.
Academy and All Sharps members walking back from their rehearsal

The scheme ran via the University’s Bristol Moves+ platform for one week and was really popular, with eight groups competing against each other in to see who could achieve the most steps per member across the week. Group representatives made a sub-group on Moves+ for their members to join. We achieved strong engagement within these groups; for example, 11 of 14 members of Academy joined their group, and 10 of Pitch Fight’s 14 members took part in theirs.

There was much conversation within the society on what number of steps each group was on, with members organising group walks to and from rehearsal. There was a healthy competition established by members’ motivation to win such a great prize at the end of the week!

Pitch Fight members walking to rehearsal.
Pitch Fight members walking to rehearsal

What the society thought

In reflection, Lydia O’Boyle, Group Representative for The Bristones said that the group “have thoroughly enjoyed participating in Walk 2 Rehearsal this week”. She outlined how they have accumulated an impressive 683,648 steps between them. “This challenge has been lots of fun, not only motivating us to walk to our rehearsals together but also encouraging us to spend more time walking around the city.”

The outcome

A few of The Bristol Suspensions walking home after rehearsal
A few of The Bristol Suspensions walking home after rehearsal

The Bristol Suspensions smashed the scheme with their average member step count for the week being 73,741, therefore 10,534 steps per member per day. As a result, the group won the Love Bristol voucher and plan to have a big group meal out at an independent restaurant after Easter.

The Suspensions Group Rep, Tiggy Cottle, said “The Susps got absolutely stuck into Walk 2 Rehearsal, determined to win the Love Bristol voucher and all go out for a social together! The whole group really enjoyed walking to rehearsal and competing with other groups for the prize; we ended up with a whopping 811,154 steps! Well done everyone.”

The Bristol Suspensions taking part in the Walk 2 Rehearsal Scheme.
The Bristol Suspensions taking part in the Walk 2 Rehearsal Scheme

More importantly, the Walk 2 Rehearsal scheme has had the wider impact of improving our members habits in terms of using sustainable methods of transport. After the initiative finished and the results were out, I conducted a poll on our members WhatsApp group that revealed the success of the scheme through a significant shift in members’ practices – 86% of members who responded stated that across the week, the only method of transport they took to rehearsals was walking. Twenty-four percent said that they walked and used public transport. And what I think is most impressive is that none of our members took a car to rehearsal across the entire week!

Evidently, the Walk 2 Rehearsal scheme was a huge success, in terms of member engagement, enjoyment, and working towards our groups wider goal of championing sustainability. A Cappella Society want to say a massive thank you to Be the Change for sponsoring the initiative, and we would implore other societies to make the most of resources that can be offered by the SU to fund sustainability schemes. It is our responsibility to create sustainable practices in the present to work towards the green future that we want. You, and your society, can Be the Change too!”

Be the Change| Traveling by land or ferry over flying

We all want to enjoy some guaranteed sun, explore new places and experience other cultures. And the good news is, it is possible and even more rewarding to travel abroad in a low impact way. Read on to hear from members of our university community who have done just that!

A year abroad by land, Haydn Davies, Economics student and Sustainability Champion for the School of Economics

“I gave up flying in the summer of 2022 and managed to do my year abroad after that without flying. Considering that 5 billion of the world’s population will never step on plane, sacrificing being able to fly purely for leisure is a sacrifice I’m very willing to make. The happiness that you derive from leisure time is largely based off who you are with. Personally, I can have equally a good time in the Mendips with close friends as in Thailand!

Being fascinated by other cultures and history, the obstacle of land travel doesn’t impact my desire to get there. Sure it takes much longer, but that gives you much more time to experience and appreciate the local cultures on the way.”

Panoramic view of an Alpine glacier from the Bernina Express
Panoramic view of an Alpine glacier from the Bernina Express

A family rail adventure to Italy, James Ryle, Transport Sustainability Manager

“Our family trip to Italy, originally planned for summer 2020, finally came to fruition three years later. With two older teenage boys, we opted for a rail adventure in northern Italy, a region offering a diverse range of attractions, including seaside, lakes, mountain scenery, historic cities, and, of course, pizza and ice cream!

The challenge was to make the journey flight-free without being constantly on the move. The Man In Seat 61 website and the trainline app were invaluable for trip planning, allowing us to book and organize all train tickets easily.

In the end, after breakfast at St Pancras, Eurostar and the high-speed service from Paris to Milan made quick work of the outward journey, leaving time for the all-important first pizza of the holiday.

As we found, travelling around this part of Italy by train could hardly be easier, with a choice of fast inter-city and stopping regional services reaching everywhere on our wish list.

After a few days in Genoa, including a day trip to the famous Cinque Terre coastal villages, we headed for Bologna, a beautiful university town, if a bit of a baking oven at the height of summer.

From there we began a slow journey home via Lake Como and the scenic Bernina Express railway over the Alps towards Zurich, completing the final leg to Bristol via Paris and London in a day.

Top tip? It’s perfectly possible to have an amazing holiday across Europe by train but remember the journey is a big part of the experience!”

Visiting family in Germany, Lucy Westover, Specialist Technician, Bristol Medical School

“My first long-haul train journey was to visit my family who live in Lübeck, northern Germany. There are several routes you can take to get to Germany going through either Amsterdam or Brussels, both of which you can get the Eurostar to. You can then get to Germany without too many train changes so the trains were relatively straight forward to figure out and book and the journey takes around 14 hours.

We really enjoyed the journey and it meant we saw so many German towns that we otherwise would have never been to; it made the whole thing feel like much more of an adventure! I am not planning on flying in the future to any destination I can get to via train. This year I am planning on a couple more train trips: back to Germany to see family, France with friends and I’m also planning an interrailing trip around Europe!”

Be the Change | Faith Terry-Doyle: How I’m taking action

This month, our ‘Be the Change’ campaign theme is ‘action’. We’re encouraging staff and students to challenge themselves to make a positive contribution by volunteering, recycling, growing plants, composting and raising awareness. All action, however big or small, can change the future of the world we live in. Read on to hear from Faith, a Sustainability Team intern and master’s student, as she tells us about her journey into activism. 

“Reading about the findings of an IPCC report in 2018 I remember feeling a real sense of shock and urgency to take action. At a similar time, groups like Extinction Rebellion, Youth Strike 4 Climate and Fridays for Future were making a name for themselves. I soon got involved with Extinction Rebellion Youth, Brighton. It was great to be around people who also cared so deeply about these issues, and I met some of my closest friends and my partner through being involved. When the pandemic hit, I realised how exhausted I was from it all and took a step back. 

Since moving to Bristol three years ago, I’ve slowly started to find my place in the climate movement again and have been figuring out how I can make a difference. There are many lifestyle changes that I have made, such as: 

  • Eating a mostly plant-based diet 
  • Buying seasonal and organic vegetables 
  • Growing what I can in my allotment 
  • Taking trains and buses instead of flying 
  • Using my social media account to raise awareness 
  • Getting comfortable talking with friends and family about climate change 
  • Cycling or using public transport instead of driving 
  • Buying almost all of my clothes second-hand 

I’ve also got involved with Green New Deal Rising, a youth movement campaigning for climate justice.

Green New Deal Team

Being part of Green New Deal Rising has given me a real sense of hope and the ability to connect with other like-minded people in Bristol. I love that Green New Deal Rising takes a stance that social issues and environmental issues are deeply intertwined – recognising this is essential to find effective solutions which ensure that no one is left behind. As well as calling for better environmental policies, we are campaigning for policies which ensure decent housing and secure jobs, with a key focus on uplifting the most vulnerable in society. 

Being part of Green New Deal Rising has been a great way to learn more about issues that I’m passionate about and has given me some much-needed motivation to continue campaigning for climate justice. I truly believe that no one is too small to make a difference, and when we come together in movements and communities, we can have a truly transformational impact.” 

Cultivating community and care through Climate Cafés

Wildfires, species extinction, forced migration, draughts, extreme storms, “code red for humanity” – it’s all a lot to process. According to a 2021 study by the Office for National Statistics, 43% of adults reported having been “very or somewhat anxious about the future of the environment over the past month”. 

We should view these feelings of distress and anxiety as a healthy response to what’s going on in the world, and providing safe and supportive spaces for these feelings to be expressed is a key reason why members of the Sustainability Team and Bristol Su are running Climate Cafés at the University of Bristol. 

Climate Cafés have sprung up all over the world in recent years, and they come in many different forms. They can be held in community centres, living rooms, universities, workplaces, an actual café – you name it. They range from informal discussion groups to more orchestrated events with guest speakers, with the common thread being that it’s an opportunity to come together with like-minded people to discuss our thoughts and feelings about the climate and ecological emergency. 

Climate Conversations and Crafts
Climate Conversations and Crafts

At the University of Bristol, we’ve run two Climate Cafés so far, this academic year; one for World Mental Health Day and one for the first day of COP28, which was part of Force of Nature’s Global Activation Day where young people ran 46 Climate Cafés in 31 countries on the same day! 

The Sustainability Team are still experimenting with formats. We’ve had sessions including journaling and even crafting – always over a cup of Fairtrade tea or coffee! Creating a welcoming space for staff and students to come together and share feelings enables us all to feel less alone. The beauty of these spaces is that once we’re given a chance to express ourselves, we can begin to move through sadness, anger and overwhelm and find a sense of calm, shifting us from a mindset of powerlessness to agency.

Journaling prompt
Journaling prompt

There is never any pressure to ‘take action’ as a result of a Climate Café, but feeling a sense of solidarity and community with other people who share similar worries is often a catalyst to being a little more hopeful and inspired to take action. 

Here are some feedback quotes from a previous Climate Café: 

“The relief I feel from just knowing that other people care so much has made me feel a hundred times lighter compared to when I came in. I have a ‘we can do it’ kind of feeling now.” 

“I feel inspired by how eloquently people expressed themselves and the care that people have for the world and all those who inhabit it.” 

“This has been a bit like a group therapy session, thank you for this lovely space.”  

To find out about our next Climate Café sign up to our newsletter 


Further reading and resources: 

Office for National Statistics 

Three-quarters of adults in Great Britain worry about climate change – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk) 

Climate Anxiety Resources from Bristol SU: https://www.bristolsu.org.uk/community-impact/sustainability/climate-anxiety  

“How to cope with eco-anxiety” by Caroline Hickman for Friends of the Earth: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate/how-cope-eco-anxiety  

“Anxiety and biscuits: the climate cafes popping up around the world” The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/04/anxiety-and-biscuits-climate-cafes-popping-up-around-world  

Be the Change : The plant-based foods we’re enjoying this January

It’s Veganuary, and, by no coincidence, this month the ‘Be the Change’ campaign encourages us to ‘eat a largely plant-based diet, with healthy portions and no waste’ in an effort to reduce the carbon impact of our meals. Read on to find out about some of the plant-based swops, substitutions and specials the Sustainability Team is enjoying.

Sara quinoa winter salad

Sara, Climate Action Officer Intern: “I am challenging myself to a low carbon diet by trying Veganuary this month. This is a winter quinoa salad I made with quinoa, roasted vegetables (roman broccoli, carrots, onions, brussel sprouts), seeds and beetroot dressing. Quinoa is a great versatile food to use in lots of dishes.”


Alice smoked tofu

Alice, Environmental Supervisor for Circular Economy: “I’ve discovered this smoked tofu is incredible in a stir fry – I add turmeric, peanut butter, soy sauce and a bit of honey for a satay vibe!”


James D pie
James D

James D,  Sustainability Manager for Utilities and Carbon: “My favourite low carbon meal is a “beef” and ale pie made with Quorn and mushrooms and vegan puff pastry but adding beef stock to keep the authentic taste!”


Faith Iron Fish

Faith, Communications and Events Intern: “I use a ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ when cooking to make sure I’m getting enough iron. I put the iron fish in a meal for 10 minutes whilst it’s cooking to infuses the dish with a lot more iron in an easy-to-digest form. I got mine online and I love it!”


James R Flat White
James R’s oaty flat white

James R, Sustainability Manager for Transport: “Hardly a new discovery and not much of a challenge because it’s so tasty but I love oat milk in my morning flat white.”


Hannah cheese
Hannah’s vegan cheese and crackers

Hannah, Sustainability Communications Projects Officer: “This looks really sad but I’m still working my way through the stacks of vegan cheese I bought for Christmas. I genuinely can’t tell the Cathedral City Vegan Cheese on Ritz crackers! I also love Violife’s Greek White as a replacement feta – it’s better, IMO!”



Tristan, Green Labs Analysis Officer Intern: “South Asian cuisine is a delicious, low carbon staple for me. Take for example, Rajasthani cuisine and the Jain diet. Did you know the Jain diet excludes all animal products, but also avoids root-vegetables pulled from the ground in an effort to minimise harm to living plants? It’s fascinating to see food overlap with spirituality and ethical values, and something we should strive more towards in the UK!”

Top Tips for a Sustainable Christmas

Christmas is a time of year we all want to indulge ourselves, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of the planet. Here are seven tips to help you have a sustainable festive season.   

1. Rent a tree

Seven million Christmas trees enter landfill every year in the UK. After the festive period, our rotting Christmas trees produce over 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases! The environmentally friendly alternative? Rent a tree instead! Or, at least make sure you chose FSC Certification – this is the only way to confirm that your tree has been sourced sustainably. Also look for Soil Association approval to check if your tree is organic. If your department has a real Christmas tree on campus, please contact Gardens & Grounds to collect it once you’re done.  

2. Decorate your home with nature

Avoid cheap plastic, glittery decorations and use what you already have wherever you can. Save money and go natural by making wreaths from foliage. If you have holly branches, berries or ivy growing in your garden you can use these or go out for a walk and collect some locally. This can then be composted after the Christmas period. If you plan to send Christmas cards, go for those without microplastics and glitter and choose FSC sourced and fair trade cards that support a charity. 

3. Rave about second-hand

Set yourself a challenge and buy your festive outfit second-hand in one of the many brilliant charity shops and vintage stores around the city. Buying fair trade gifts is another good way to have a greener Christmas, supporting farmers and organic growing practices – check out Traidcraft for ethical gift inspiration.  

You could also let your friends and family know you’re more than happy to receive second-hand items for Christmas, or for them to make a charitable donation on your behalf. You could even ask to have a tree planted to offset some of your carbon footprint!  

4. Enjoy active travel over Christmas traffic

Connect with the environment, enjoy fresh air and keep your carbon footprint down by walking, cycling or using public transport this Christmas. Where possible, choose the train to visit relatives further afield – a car journey from London to Liverpool (in an average petrol car) produces 62kg of CO2e, whilst the train for the same journey is just 15kg per person. Try to avoid flights – a return trip London to New York is 1.8 tonnes of CO2e per person which is equivalent to around 1/5 of your yearly emissions. 

5. Have a low-impact party

Swop the beige buffet for tasty vegan hors d’oeuvres, vegetable tapenades and fruity sorbets to surprise and delight your guests while reducing your carbon footprint. You can also forget about floppy paper plates and disposable table clothes – hire all your tableware essentials from the Party Kit Network, sometimes for free!   

6. Re-organise and clear out your workspace 

Slow down and connect with the reason for the season. Quieter periods are a chance to re-organise and have a clear out of your desk/office – use the Waste Management Guide to find how to responsibly reuse and recycle. Start to clear your fridge of food and drinks a week before you leave to avoid unnecessary waste and remember to adjust any scheduled grocery deliveries.  

7. Shut down and switch off devices

Have a walk-round of your office and see what non-essential electrical items might need switching off. A single monitor and computer left on 24 hours a day will cost around £45 a year. A photocopier left on overnight uses enough energy to make over 5,000 A4 copies. Fridges, kettles and microwaves can all be unplugged over Christmas if nobody is using them.  

When you get back in January, remember that if a monitor is turned off when not being used (e.g., lunchtimes), and the standby options are activated, energy consumption can be reduced by 90% per year!  


Have you any more tips to share? Leave a comment to let us know your top festive sustainability tips! 

How we’re driving down emissions with our new electric fleet

Fleet transport operations at the University of Bristol are on the road to Net Zero thanks to a major investment in new all-electric vans and e-cargo bikes. 

This month the University is expecting the delivery of its biggest ever order for electric vehicles (EVs), 13 Toyota vans worth a total of around £490,000.  

This exciting delivery represents a big step forward for the Cleaner Fleet Programme, managed on behalf of the University by the Sustainability team, which aims for an all-electric road vehicle fleet by 2025-26. 

The University first introduced EVs to its fleet in 2016, and (with the new delivery) now has a total of 42 all-electric vans and 7 hybrid electric vehicles, out of a total road fleet of more than 90 vehicles. In the past year the University has also established a fleet of 10 e-cargo bikes, helping to cut transport emissions still further.  

The EVs and cargo bikes replace older diesel and petrol vehicles used by schools and departments across the University for a range of activity including campus operations, research fieldwork and business travel. The Cleaner Fleet Programme also aims to increase vehicle-sharing within and between departments to help reduce the size of the overall fleet. 

James Ryle, Transport Special Projects Manager, is leading on the project and reflects on the undertaking:  

“Moving to an all-electric fleet is a big challenge for any organisation – sourcing new vehicles and installing charge points are significant projects in their own right. But it’s also an important way of limiting the climate and health impacts of transport, so it’s  very rewarding to see the new electric vans and cargo bikes take to the road.”  

The investment is funded by the University as part of its commitment to achieving a net zero campus by 2030, with grant contributions from the Energy Savings Trust towards the cargo bikes. Staff can find out more about the University’s Cleaner Fleet Programme visit the Sustainability Sharepoint site 

Climate Fresk : Empowering students with climate science education

Climate Fresk workshopAs part of this year’s Welcome Week induction, Xiaolong Shui, director of the programme ‘Msc International Business and Strategy: Global Challenges’ in the Business School, invited the new cohort of students and fellow colleagues to take part in a Climate Fresk workshop. 

The Climate Fresk is a collaborative workshop, designed to make climate science fun and digestible. In recent years, the game has gained popularity amongst schools and universities across the UK. At the University of Bristol, Climate Fresks have been conducted in several schools as part of the departments’ efforts to incorporate sustainability in the curriculum.  

The Business School event marks the largest Climate Fresk organised by a School in the University  , with over 30 participants forming five teams.  

During the workshop, teams were encouraged to interact and connect the dots within the intricate web of the climate system, tracing causes and consequences. The format of the game did more than just educate; it provided a space to process the often negative emotions associated with the climate crisis, and it invited discussion on the discourses and attitudes that promote inaction, as well as on the pressing need to address the climate emergency to achieve broader sustainable development goals.  

As the workshop progressed, the students engaged wholeheartedly with its content and expressed a strong interest in getting involved. Participants reported feeling more empowered to act and each person set themselves an action to take to have a positive impact. 

Climate Fresk workshop cardsProfessor Xiaolong Shui also led students to critically discuss various business practices, linking the content of the workshop to the issues explored in the MSc programme. 

Would you like to know more about holding a Climate Fresk in your School or department? Get in touch with Sustainability’s Climate Action Officer via this email address: uob-climateactionplans@bristol.ac.uk  

Are you interested in becoming a Climate Fresk facilitator? The University is looking at training facilitators in different departments. If you are interested in being included in this, please contact the education for sustainability team: edu4sd-team@bristol.ac.uk . 

Green Labs | Recognising excellence in sustainable science

Over the summer, the Green Labs Team were pleased to announce that the Churchill Building on Langford Campus has achieved Gold LEAF certification. The Churchill Building is made up of smaller research laboratories as well as the veterinary teaching labs, therefore the whole Veterinary School is now Gold LEAF accredited. LEAF CERTIFICATE

Whilst the audit was requested for a Silver award, it was clear that the technical team under Sharon Holt had gone above and beyond Silver criteria, resulting in the awarding of a Gold LEAF award, the highest of the tiers of LEAF certification. This certification will last for three years and is a huge step towards achieving the University-wide 100% Silver LEAF certification.  

 When asked about the Vet School’s achievement, Sharon Holt said “Holder of Bronze, aiming for Silver then achieving Gold is amazing! This was not just a team effort but a whole School effort as everyone must buy into our goal, which is to continue to work toward our Climate Action Plans to reduce its carbon emissions in response to the climate and ecological emergency”.
Some of the initiatives that helped them reach Gold certification include: 

  • A complete freezer cataloguing and clean-out operation to clear old, unusable samples and consolidate freezers. This is allowing them to eliminate several large, energy-hogging freezers. 
  • Careful monitoring of their DI water system – they have just one shared machine for decanting to reduce redundancy and waste. They also collect any wastewater and use it to rinse glassware, reducing water usage. 
  • Providing students and staff with reusable lab kits for home practise. This avoids a lot of plastic waste from single-use consumables, as many of the practicals from the teaching lab must be sterile. 

Much of the credit goes to Sharon Holt and her diligent tech team for implementing these changes, with the support from Stuart Pope, Operations Manager, who is the coordinator for the School’s Climate Action Plan. Their work is an inspiration and model for other labs to follow.

Please contact our Green Labs team at green-labs@bristol.ac.uk  to conduct an audit for your lab so we can work towards 100% Silver LEAF certification for the University by early 2024. 


Be the Change: Challenge yourself to reduce your waste 

The arrival on campus of Another Wave is Possible, the 90kg litter sculpture by eco-artist Wren Miller is a bold reminder of the harmful effect waste has on our environment. We can all take action and create change by making conscious, sustainable choices, however small they may seem – that’s why this September we’re encouraging you to Be the Change and challenge yourself to reduce the plastic you use to help wave goodbye to waste! 

We spoke to a few of our colleagues who are already challenging themselves to reduce their waste, read on to find out more about their experiences.  

Helen Fullagar, Projects Officer (Inclusion) HRHelen

“We all know that our impact on the environment is causing incredible damage to the world and its balance, and I’ve never felt like humans should treat Earth as something they can use, rather, it is something we should work with and protect. 

I try to choose loose fruit and vegetables where possible. I also grow a lot of my own fruit and veg in my allotment and garden. I’ve switched to a washable make-up remover cloth, instead of wipes, and reduced how much make-up I wear. I use a safety razor, instead of disposable plastic ones. I try to buy products in paper, card or glass rather than plastic. I also use shampoo and conditioner bars, bar soap and a solid deodorant. I’ve had one roll of cling film for about five years… and that came from someone else! I just use containers, or plates on top of things when microwaving, instead.  

By making these changes I feel I’m living more to a lifestyle that matches my values. There’s also a bit more community feel; having an allotment, getting involved in litter picks in the area, and going to smaller, local stores (like my local zero-waste store) regularly.”  


Paddy holding reuseable drinking vessels.Paddy Uglow, Digital Learning Materials Assistant Developer, Digital Education Office 

“I want to reduce my waste to make the world a liveable place for a little longer than it would be otherwise. Also I think I’ve always felt a wrongness with unnecessary waste of all kinds – whether material, effort, energy, time…  

I buy most of my dry goods in my own refillable containers. I reuse bath water to flush the toilet and have reduced toilet roll use. I use a heated blanket rather than heating the room. I grow more and store it in a freezer. I take any unusable plastic bags to the supermarket recycling point. I try to choose products with less single-use plastic and rarely buy any foods that come in single-use tins, cans or jars. Just recently I’ve managed to do nearly zero-waste camping; camping seems to generate so much waste, which really jars with being “in nature”. I have a 1.5L cold “bath” each day and rarely have hot baths or showers. 

The biggest challenge for me is cutting back on ready meals and ingredients that come in single-use packaging, but batch-cooking with my partner is a fun alternative. And I like the staff at our nearest scoop shop, so trips there are enjoyable. 

My tip to others is to be aware of anything single-use you use and see if there’s an alternative. Be suspicious of people suggesting you need to buy some kind of “green” product to be eco-friendly – do you really need a special reusable plastic cup? Just take along a normal cup, or even STOP at a café rather than dashing around with a cup of coffee!” 


Gemma Windle, Systems Manager, Development and Alumni Relations Office Gemma

 “I think really hard about what I buy and whether there is a reasonable less wasteful alternative. The easy wins are refillable cleaning products and toiletries and reusing packaging (such as jars and resealable bags). The introduction of a ‘soft plastic’ recycling bin at my local supermarket also helps me reduce my impact. 

Food is the biggest challenge. There is a zero-waste shop near me, but it’s price matched to Tesco, not Aldi/Lidl, it has very limited choice and limited opening hours. As much as I want to go plastic free, the zero-waste shop isn’t a realistic solution for me, so I end up buying a lot of food in plastic packaging and recycling it. 

One thing I’ve noticed is I hardly ever have to take the bin out. And because my loo roll, cleaning products and toiletries all arrive by post it makes the weekly shop a lot easier to do on foot. 

I wish the companies were made to be more responsible for the waste they produce. It shouldn’t be legal to create something with no thought for where it goes when it’s no longer useful.  

It’s important to remember paper and cardboard has a carbon footprint too, so always opt for reusable where you can. It’s not just about plastic!” 


Sai PriyaDr. Sai Priya Munagala, Research Associate 

“Wherever possible, I have stopped buying things sold in single use plastic in favour of the loose produce – in the amounts that I need. For other purchases, I make sure to check if the plastic packaging is recyclable. I work in a laboratory set up and try to economise the consumables’ usage and actively encourage others to do so. 

Despite the urge to reduce waste, a few things are impossible to get without generating waste. Sometimes, it gets really heavy on the pocket to practice the more sustainable way as shops charge quite a lot to buy packaging-free products.  

It definitely involves extra effort and time, but I feel that maybe my bit would be helpful in making this planet a better place. People comment that ‘one individual’s changes are not going to affect anything’, to which I strongly disagree. If everyone argued against the comment, I’m sure that massive positive changes can be brought.” 


Want to know more about the sustainable choices you can make to produce better outcomes for the environment? Read more on the Be the Change webpage. 


Green Labs | Aiming for 100% LEAF Silver Certification

The University of Bristol is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its research and STEMed (Science, Technology,Green Labs accreditations picture Engineering, Maths) labs across campus through an initiative called Green Labs.  

The Green Labs scheme at Bristol encompasses a number of means to reduce the environmental impact of our research and STEMed labs. It is driven by the LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework), which is a standardised framework for meeting a total of 45 criteria spread across what is termed ‘Bronze’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Gold’ certification. This encompasses optimising water and energy usage, reducing waste, and integrating the principles of green chemistry into daily operations, to name just a few of the criteria. 

As we move through the remainder of 2023 and into 2024, our sights are set on a new, ambitious objective: achieving 100% institutional Silver LEAF certification by January 2024.  

This goal is driven not only by our deep-seated ethos of environmental stewardship and sustainable science, but also by the prospect of becoming the world’s first university to earn Silver LEAF accreditation across the entirety of our institution.  

We have set ourselves a deadline of 100% institutional Silver by January 2024 and as this date draws closer, the number of labs already receiving the certification is really encouraging. The School of Anatomy, Bristol BioResource Laboratories and the Level 7 Labs within the BRI are now 100% Silver.  

Besides reducing our environmental footprint and utility costs, LEAF certification offers other real-world benefits. It boosts research efficiency, strengthens relationships across departments, and opens up potential avenues for additional research funding. For prospective students and staff, it is a powerful testament to our commitment to sustainable practices, which can be a significant draw.  

The Green Labs team can provide tailored guidance and perform audits — whether in-person or virtually — our expertise will be invaluable in streamlining the certification process for your lab. For assistance or to arrange an audit, email green-labs@bristol.ac.uk  

The LEAF Process (a ‘How To’ Guide) 

We understand that the new, online LEAF tool may seem confusing, but the system has been updated to be even easier for lab users. Follow our 5-step guide to submit your Silver for 2024 submission.  

  1. Register or sign into the LEAF UCL (University College London) tool linked here.  
  2. Fill out the Award Criteria section of the website, remember if you achieved bronze in 2021 or earlier you will need to resubmit for bronze as well as silver. Fill out how you met each criterion, and you can provide supporting documents if you wish, you can also save your answers and complete later. For an in-depth tutorial on how to use the tool click here.  
  3. Once all criteria have been filled out, or you have explained why some do not apply to your lab, we encourage you to attach calculations for energy and cost savings, for more details click here. There is also a section to discuss individual actions or ‘Open Initiatives.’ These extra pieces of information are vital and help us calculate how much taking part in LEAF your lab saves.  
  4. Click submit sustainability assessment and the Green Labs Team will be in touch to organise an in-person or online audit.  
  5. After a successful audit you will receive a certificate and/or badge to recognise your contribution to sustainable science.  

There’s more information available for UOB Labs on this Sharepoint page

Inspiring green careers through Bristol Future Talent Week

Diversity, equality and inclusion are core to sustainability, yet despite Bristol’s reputation for being the only UK city to be a European Green Capital, young people in Bristol face some of the highest levels of inequality and racial discrimination in the UK, particularly in education and employment.  

The Bristol Future Talent Partnership works with young people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds aged 14 to 21 to remove barriers, raise aspirations and provide talent with opportunity by providing high quality work experience opportunities with our partner organisations. 

In July, the Botanic Gardens worked with the Partnership to host a group of 12 students, providing valuable insight into the range of sustainability-related roles across the University. From learning about the diversity of plants and taking cuttings at the Botanic Gardens, to learning about sustainable events at the SU, to touring our 100% bronze certified ‘Green Labs’, the week highlighted the range of roles in the ‘green industry’ to inspire the students’ future career development.  

The Sustainability Team hosted a half day with the students and explained the University’s Net Zero Carbon by 2030 target, alongside the plan to get there. The students heard from several members of the team and learned about carbon footprints, smart buildings and how the Team drives down the University’s transport emissions.  

“The benefits of work experience are vast but the type of work experience that young people can access usually depends on family connections. We hope that by offering work experience opportunities like this we can help make the industry more inclusive and diverse. The week was very enjoyable, the young people were a real pleasure to be with, and we hope our partnership with BFTP will be a long one.” Andrew Winfield, Bristol Botanic Gardens.   

For more information about the Bristol Future Talent Partnership, see their website www.bristolfuturetalent.co.uk 

Be the Change | Challenge yourself to save water and energy 

Be the Change is a University-wide campaign to empower staff and students to make more sustainable choices. It centres around six themes: food, fashion, travel, electronics, energy & water, and action. This May we’re looking at how we can challenge ourselves to save water and energy both across campus and at home. Read on to hear from the University’s Energy Analysis Sustainability Manager and Interim Head of Sustainability, Dr John Brenton, on how he’s making savings at home. 

“As you might expect, the topic of energy features quite strongly in the Brenton house. I remember my kids looking through my phone when they were young and saying “It’s always just full of gas meters!” and now I get those ‘memories’ prompts from my phone asking if I’d like a canvas print of a photo of a meter from somewhere around the University. 

Like most other households, we’ve been trying to cut down on what we use. There are four of us (my wife and I plus our two children, aged 20 and 15) sharing our 1970s house. These are some of the things we’ve been trying: 

  • We use the oven less. When the oven goes on, we try and make sure several things are in together. We’ve bought a multi-cooker/air-frier and they are very efficient (as are microwaves) – the downside is we eat more chips, but the upside is… we eat more chips! We try to keep lids on pans when we are simmering things, and boil water for vegetables in a kettle rather than on our induction hob. 
  • We keep thermostats on radiators in our bedrooms low. We tend to keep the living room and kitchen at about 18-19C, but if we feel cold we turn them up for an hour. 
  • We use the four-minute shower timers the Sustainability Team distributed earlier in the year.  
  • We put “hippos” in the cisterns of the toilets too to save water when flushing, and have two water butts to provide water for the garden in summer. Looking at our bills, we’ve managed to to get our water use down to 60m3 a year. 
  • We use our curtains to help control temperature. In the winter, we close curtains as soon as it gets dark to help trap in the heat. In summer, closing curtains can help keep a room cool during the day. 
  • We’ve turned down the flow temperature on our condensing boiler. 

Compared with last year, which was a much warmer winter, we’ve used about 7% less gas and 20% less electricity, totalling 6,150 kWh and 2,000 kWh respectively. An average Bristol house will use something like 10,000 kWh gas and 2,900 kWh electric, so I’m pretty pleased with our savings”.  

To find out your annual consumption check your bill (or energy monitor, if you have one). Could you challenge your household to save water and energy? Sign up to the challenge on the Be the Change website 

Our journey to net zero | Reviewing 900+ carbon saving actions

The University is committed to reaching carbon neutrality from its buildings by 2030, and departmental Climate Action Plans (CAPs) are integral to achieving this. Each CAP is designed by members of the School or Department, enabling them to pinpoint areas of highest impact. By empowering teams in this way, the Sustainability Team can provide expert support where it’s needed and monitor progress over time.     

In January, 26 Schools and Departments submitted plans for an initial review, detailing over 900 committed carbon-saving actions that are either in the pipeline, in progress or complete. Actions are selected under four themes: buildings, circular economy, transport and advocacy, with the online planning tool prompting relevant steps to reduce carbon emissions. The Sustainability Team’s managers for Transport, Energy, Circular Economy and Sustainable Science reviewed each CAP, and provided feedback to enable effective implementation of plans.  

Climate Action Plans will now be reviewed annually, and progress recorded and reported to the Sustainability Strategic Monitoring and Implementation Group. With the first round of reviews complete, the Team has a solid benchmark for progress across the University. 

 Anna Lewis, Sustainable Science Manager, led the review process and said: 

“It’s so important to review the Departmental CAPs so that we can provide specialised feedback and offer support for the planned actions over the coming years. Innovative activities and plans are highlighted, which allows for peer learning as well as a consistent approach across the University.”

A recent survey of CAP coordinators has enabled the Sustainability Team to identify new ways to support CAP working groups (or committees, as they’re sometimes referred to). One outcome is to facilitate peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and the Sustainability Team will soon host a session in which coordinators will be able to review other CAPs, share ideas for improvement, and collaborate on future projects. 

CAP working groups continue to benefit from bi-monthly CAP Clinics, hosted by the Sustainability Team. These clinics focus around the four themes within the planning tool, but are also a space for coordinators to share any questions or challenges with the wider network.  

Overall, 62% of Departments have submitted a Climate Action Plan, with 83% of all Departments successfully engaged in the process. CAPs will continue to be an important resource to help the University achieve its ambitious net zero targets, as well as to continuously demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and climate action for many years to come. 

For more information visit the Sustainability website or contact sustainability-comms@bristol.ac.uk.  

Be the Change | Choosing second-hand fashion, whatever the occasion!

The clothing and textiles industry accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than international aviation and shipping combined. Rethinking the amount of clothes we buy and refreshing our wardrobes with only second-hand pieces challenges fast-fashion culture, saves money, and encourages creativity. Read on to hear from two colleagues who are relishing the fashion challenge.   


Vicki Carliell, Teaching Associate, VET school

Vicky and her second-hand wedding dress

“I’ve been a charity shopper since my student years, when numerous student balls, formal dinners and work placements required fancy clothes I couldn’t afford. I once found a gorgeous blue silk cocktail dress (which costs more to dry clean than the dress itself!) – I’ve enjoyed many occasions in that dress over the years.  

I’m getting married this summer and we’re considering the environmental impact of all our choices. My wedding dress and all five bridesmaids’ dresses are all coming from charity shops. Initially I was nervous my bridesmaids would think I’m being cheap, but they’re excited and think it’s cool I’m doing it. We’re looking for bright, colourful, mismatched dresses – bold and vibrant! 

When it came to choosing dresses, they came to Bristol and we first visited the Tenovus Bridal Store on Glouster Road. They’d held back some dresses I’d pre-selected, closed the store and made it a really nice experience for us. We found my wedding dress and three of the bridesmaid dresses that day. Some of my bridesmaids are now considering donating their old wedding dresses to charity to give them another lease of life, which is a great thing to do.” 




Josie's old outfit of the day
Josie’s ‘old outfit of the day’

Josie Maskell, Student Administrator, School of Physics 

“I’ve always loved finding unique items of clothing at low prices in charity shops, but following sustainable influencers online, I’ve learnt more about the huge impact that fast fashion has on the planet. I’ve challenged myself to reduce the amount of clothing I buy, and to buy second hand as much as possible.  

It can be hard finding specific items you need or want but apps like Vinted and Ebay mean I can search for specific items second hand, and filter by colour and condition. It can be more work buying second-hand, but I find it especially rewarding when you find the perfect item of clothing after searching – it’s much more exciting than just picking something up from the high street.  

Another way I refresh my wardrobe is by going to clothes swaps. You take along a few good quality items to swap, and everyone’s items are put out on racks to browse. I love these because you never know what you are going to come home with, and it encourages you to have a clear out so that you aren’t holding onto excess clothing.  

Having access to so many great second-hand items online, I have been tempted to over consume and buy things I don’t need. I try to follow the 30-wear rule, where you only buy something if you can see yourself wearing it at least 30 times.  

It’s fun to be creative with the pieces I have, and I often share my outfits on social media using the “old outfit of the day” hashtag, which was created by sustainable influencers to encourage people to join the slow fashion movement. Since doing this, I have heard from a few of my friends that I’ve inspired them to buy more second-hand items which always makes my day.” 


Find out more and sign up to the challenge here. 

Be the Change: Clothes swap and repair, Wednesday 19 April, 4-6pm, Physics Building  

The Sustainability Team is partnering with The Emporium of Loveliness  and Gorgeous by Design to help you on your way to a more sustainable wardrobe. Simply bring along your gently used clothes to swap for something different or bring along an item in need of a minor repair and get it fixed for free! Staff and students can sign up for this free event on the Be the Change webpage.   


The Rebirth of The Hungry Caterpillar Food Coop

Popular student-run food cooperative, the Hungry Caterpillar, is finally enjoying its rebirth after spending lockdown in hibernation. We caught up with Jane Williamson, a volunteer and organiser with the co-op, to find out more about the relaunch and what to expect from the new and improved cooperative.

“The Hungry Caterpillar came from a desire to have more affordable, cheap and low-waste groceries on campus,” Jane explained. “Bulk shops can be colossally expensive and inaccessible to students and those on lower incomes – more expensive than shopping at a supermarket. Our aim is to bring together students to do something positive around sustainable yet fairly priced food.”

To achieve their goals, the cooperative buys from local wholesaler, Essential Trading Cooperative, and resells at the same price – a ‘positive uprising’ against the c

ulture of big supermarkets. Members bring along their own containers and buy produce by weight, minimising food waste and plastic packaging.

Run by student

society BUST (Bristol University Sustainability Team), the Hungry Caterpillar is open 1-3pm every Wednesday in the Multifaith Chaplaincy. Each week, customers can also enjoy a cheap and sustainable lunch before the stall, made with ingredients from the co-op and vegetables donated by a local grocer’s shop.

Janes explains that this is a second life for the Hungry Caterpillar, and the cooperative wants to offer even more than before.

“It’s conceptually a reincarnation – bringing the Hungry Caterpillar back from the ashes. But now we’re reimagining it; the food stall is central, but we are also running movie nights and clothes swaps”.

The itinerary of the co-operative over the next few weeks includes a seed planting session and a Hungry Caterpillar patch-ironing workshop. Jane tells us that they are also looking into setting up a supper club, and an affordable veg box scheme so that they can also offer fresh produce. It’s clear that joining the cooperative is about more than picking up groceries.

“It’s also a way to make new friends and take simple impactful action,” Jane added. “The Hungry Caterpillar is not just those who run the stall. The cooperative is open to suggestions of new products to stock and enjoys collaborating with other students and groups for events. It operates like a society, with volunteers signing up via a rota to run the stall every week. Everyone is working together to get sustainable, low-waste, and low-cost food onto campus- it feels great to be a part of it!”.

Both staff and students are welcome to join and use The Hungry Caterpillar cooperative, which is open from 1-3pm every Wednesday in the Multifaith Chaplaincy, Woodland Road. You cecome a member for just £3 a year through the BUST sign-up page on the SU website here.

Zero-Waste Pop-Up, 12:30-15:00, Thursday 27 April, Bristol SU Living Room, Senate House 

To mark World Food Waste Day, The Hungry Caterpillar is running a pop-up shop in the SU living room, to help you consume more considerately, reduce your reliance on single-use plastic and save some money! Make sure to bring your Tupperware along and stock up on essential household ingredients and snacks. You can purchase annual membership to the co-operative for just £3 on the day, or right now using this link.


Be the Change | Sarah Rogers: ‘Taking action in my local community’

Sarah Rogers

This month, our ‘Be the Change’ campaign theme is ‘action’. We’re encouraging staff and students to challenge themselves to make a positive contribution by volunteering, recycling, growing plants, composting and raising awareness. All action, however big or small, can change the future of the world we live in.  

We caught up with Sarah Rogers, Project Coordinator within the University’s Public Engagement team, to find out about her inspiring journey to setup a community garden in her local community.  

 “My friend Becca and I met at a playgroup, and we kept discussing how there very little free provision of activities in the local area to take our children to. We decided to attend a large local event and asked people what they wanted and where – so we knew a community garden with regular activities for children and old people would be popular. Then we supported each other to take it forwards,” Sarah explained.  

“We started Hillfields Community Garden right in the middle of the pandemic. The focus is improving local nature, connecting people to reduce isolation and supporting people in poverty with free healthy meals. We had some funding from a local organisation that gave us an unconditional grant, which covered raised beds, plants and tools. We set about flyering and put up posters, and attracted other likeminded people. For a long time all we had to organise ourselves was a WhatsApp group!” 

The area of Hillfields, Fishponds, was built around 1920 and was one of first council estates in the UK and the world designed as part of the ‘Homes for Heroes’ initiatives.  

“The whole ethos was around ‘dig for victory’, so every home was designed with a substantial garden so everyone had an allotment,” Sarah described. “Over the course of a century, I think people have forgotten how to grow – we’ve got Monty Don and RHS that replaced the ‘everyday’ style gardening. I reject this  –  I’m an everyday, indiscriminate gardener – all plants get same attention and I see what happens! The thing I like most about gardening is it starts afresh every year, you can learn and try again.”  

In 2021 we held 22 events and groups which were attended by 580 people, last year we expanded to three community events per year, four regular monthly groups, and 25 volunteers, 27 activities which were attended by 1,200 people! We are also now an Award Winning Garden and have been featured in local radio, by Bristol City Council and in a national magazine.  

Sarah enjoys bridging her work at the University with her work in the community, and believes they compliment each other well.  

“Last year I did the Female Leadership Initiative (FLi) with UoB Staff Development and it was one of the best things I’ve done in terms of supporting me within my leadership at work and outside work. The initiative has also benefited from working with the University in other ways, for example last year we linked up with Engaged Learning and three Business students [Emeli, Holly and Maria] who created a Business Plan . They recommended we become a charitable incorporated organisation, which we are now applying for. 

I’d encourage staff to use their volunteering day to work with grassroots projects like ours, not only “getting out there” but using their work-based skills to support local initiatives.”  

There are plenty of ways to find suitable volunteering opportunities. On Wednesday 8 February the SU is hosting a volunteering fair. You could also browse VOSCUR for opportunities. You should then have a conversation with your manager to agree a date.  

“Consider your volunteer day a trial to see if you like something and could continue to volunteer longer term. My top tip would be to look locally – what’s on your doorstep? Where you can invest time a few streets away? Passion but no skill is also ok, you’ll learn on the job.” 

For those looking to start something new, Sarah advises finding like-minded people to work with you and looking into the support available for startups through VOSCUR Voscur | Supporting Voluntary Action 

“Go and find your tribe – no one can do everything by themselves. It might mean putting an ad in a local shop or speaking to people at the school gate. It’s also important to set boundaries and agree the timescales you’ll work on something for as there is so much need. Look after yourself too, don’t burnout!”  

We wrapped up our conversation by discussing how rewarding working voluntarily can be both mentally and physically.  

“The biggest thing for me is the example I’m setting for my daughter, and how she see’s the work I’m doing,” Sarah ended.  

You can find out more about Sarah and her community work on her People Power Bristol video. This video  will be shown with other multimedia stories about social action at an event at Bristol City Hall on Saturday 25 March 2023. 

Community Garden
Hillfields Community Garden