by Rob Telford
Bristol West: 10 minutes with each of your local Green candidates in May 2015
Number 4: Ani Stafford-Townsend (Cabot)
Ani Stafford-Townsend is the Green Party candidate for Cabot ward. Ani works as a theatrical milliner and runs her hat-making business out of a shop in St James’ Arcade, Broadmead.
Why are you standing to be the councillor in Cabot ward?
I’m standing first as a voice for independent business. Cabot is home to a lot of businesses: big retail businesses, big other types of businesses, and then there’s loads of little businesses that you don’t really think about – especially in Broadmead and Park Street. You don’t really think of Cabot as having little businesses, but there’s a lot – and there’s no voice for them.
Because they’re little businesses they don’t have anybody to send to big meetings on their behalf and for the residents who live in Cabot it’s those sorts of things – the little businesses, the coffee shops, the cornershops, all those places – that make it a nice place to live and stop it from being a soulless city centre which nobody wants to visit. They stop it from being just about the nightlife. It has to be mixed for it to be a pleasurable place to live.
It’s also quite disjointed because it’s such a big ward – so vast and different, and very diverse as well. It’s quite easy for residents to get lost in it because it is so much about business as an area. So I think it’s very important to make contact with and be able to speak for residents who get forgotten and small businesses that get forgotten.
What are the biggest issues facing Cabot ward as an area of the city?
Housing is definitely a big issue. There are huge swathes of social housing. There’s also a lot of increasingly expensive housing so people who have always lived in Cabot can’t afford market rates and certainly can’t afford to buy anywhere. The social housing that exists – the new provision – is smaller and smaller and smaller. The older housing provision is getting more and more run-down. The social housing providers, seemingly, aren’t putting much money back into that social housing – certainly not the social housing that’s in older period properties. There are some terrible conditions that people are living in.
There are other issues. Transport and the corresponding terrible pollution is a big concern. School provision is quite lacking as well. It’s not a very family-friendly area but obviously there are a lot of people with families who live here. I think there’s a lot of marginal communities in terms of people who have come from somewhere else and are getting shoved somewhere and they feel very segregated from everybody. There are also a huge amount of students, who are transient as well because it tends to be first year or overseas students in halls – they’re very segregated and gated away from everybody else. It’s a very segregated and disjointed community.
Also, the thing that I keep hearing over and over again at neighbourhood forums and community events is that nobody feels like they’re listened to. Across the board, across the demographics – no one feels remotely listened to or cared about.
Cabot ward’s got a long history of returning both Liberal and Liberal Democrat councillors. You’ve had George Ferguson (Bristol Mayor), Stephen Williams (current Bristol West MP) as councillors, and more besides up to the present day. Why do you think liberal voters in the area should vote Green this time?
The Lib Dems have moved very far away from where they used to be. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of voting how you’ve always voted. I voted Lib Dem (as a student) because I looked around at the parties and it was the Lib Dems who were most closely aligned but they’ve moved so far away from those principles they had say, 10 years ago, which was when the likes of Stephen Williams got their strong return. They’ve changed. Tuition fees, being against the Iraq war – all of those things the Lib Dems stood for – they don’t stand for that any more. That’s why I don’t vote Lib Dem any more, because I’m looking for a party that does actually align with my principles and the same for everybody else. When I speak to students now, for whom many this is the first time they’re going to vote, they’re so astounded that students used to vote Lib Dem because of how far from the common principles of the student that the Lib Dems are.
What’s your background? What are you doing at the moment? What are the passions that drive you?
I’m from Bristol. I moved to London to study but then came back. It’s a very different city now to how it was in the 90s when I left.
My background is doing theatre millinery and theatre costume and I still do millinery now. I’ve also done a huge swathe of other things. When I worked in London I worked for a drug rehabilitation service that helped cocaine users get clean in Battersea. When I came back to Bristol I worked for a company called SocialData who did sustainable transport research, working with Sustrans and I ran a couple of projects with them encouraging people into cycling.
I’ve always been into the green activism stuff without using the terminology of an activist. It was just something that you did: you cycled and recycled. You did all those things because it’s the right thing to do.
Increasingly I am seeing how lucky I am to be as old as I am – in terms of education – because I just got in before tuition fees. Seeing my younger siblings-in-law and children of my friends getting to be 18 and going to university brings that home. The future for them – as well as the future for my own child – is looking quite bleak.
My father has disabilities and I have a lot of friends with disabilities. We must fight for the support that people need financially through the benefits system. It’s been completely taken away. These last five years, austerity has really bitten people. I did know it before but is really quite acutely felt now. It doesn’t matter what your background is, actually, or how hard you work. When you get bad luck at work and lose your job, then you’re screwed. There’s no safety net anymore and that’s also what I’m fighting for.
What do you like about working in Cabot and being around this area?
I like that it’s so interesting and diverse. I love how many people are squirrelling away, trying to make their business work and trying to work together – paddling furiously like ducks and trying to look calm on top. It’s so green – that’s what I love about Bristol generally – there are lovely parks and lovely places to hang out. It’s so multi-cultural. There’s everything you can possibly imagine in Bristol and it all sort of congregates in the centre, which is Cabot.
The centre of Bristol has changed substantially in the last 20 years with huge increases in people going to live there. What do you make of it?
My mother grew up in Hotwells and I’ve seen how much Hotwells and the Harbourside has changed from when I used to go to the Three Tuns pub every Tuesday and Friday when I was 17 and 18. It was just a little pub in the middle of derelict land and now I go to it and it’s surrounded by buildings.
It’s not as simple as to say that’s “good” or “bad”. I’ve been in the social housing flats. A double bedroom means you can get a double bed in a room – no furniture, nothing else, you crawl into the bed from the bottom. I’ve also known people who’ve had penthouse apartments – huge huge flats. You could fit three of the social flats into one of those. And it’s so unfair! They’re all nestled up against each other and none of them have any outside space. The huge differences in quality of life for those people, nestling in the same bit of town. So many of those buildings still aren’t fully occupied, there’s empty houses there and all these empty office buildings too.
I remember going on a boat trip when I was about 14, so we’re talking early to mid-90s. We went in front of the Lloyds building and I was told how these buildings we are looking at are empty office buildings but they were still building more because it was more valuable to keep building more office buildings! I remember thinking “how does that make any sense?” And that’s before you even take into account how many people needed a home, especially in the early 90s when we were coming out of the recession then too.
My family had quite a hard time during the 90s recession. My dad hurt his back and also left Rolls Royce for ethical reasons, so we were really really poor when I was child. And seeing all these people who didn’t have anywhere to live and seeing all these office buildings built and everyone been quite honest about the fact that they were not occupied, they were empty, but that was the “best financial option”. It was wrong. 20 years later, we’re still making that same mistake. When will we learn?
What other challenges are there locally and nationally?
The obvious one is re-enfranchising those who are disenfranchised – getting people to come out to vote where they think there’s no point. This time around, there IS a huge amount of point because it is probably going to be a hung parliament and therefore every vote counts, especially in Bristol West! It’s a close-run thing. You can vote for your principles and vote for a Green MP and probably get one. Making a connection with people who haven’t voted for a long time is really important and getting them to vote – even if they don’t vote in the way that I agree with. As long as they don’t vote, nobody will listen to them and they’ll never ever get any help. That’s why the people who vote in a certain way – largely right-wing, more vocal – the anti-immigration voices are getting more air time because those people ARE voting. They aren’t actually the more popular voice, but they’re the loudest one. We need to change that. In Cabot, that’s a huge issue because there are a lot of disenfranchised voices.
If you were Mayor for the day, what single thing would you do?
I would make sure that no one in the council was paid more than 10 times the salary of the lowest paid.