Anya Mulcahy-Bowman: City Fellowship Report. January 2021


The purpose of my City Fellow project is to share the learning and development of BOOST Finance, which, at its heart, is about delivering services differently, that puts the community in the driving seat and works on the principles of providing access to information, ensuring the information is understood and that individuals understand what action to take and are supported to take this action to move to a place of being able to take independent action. The Community Development principle is also about progressing these ideas forwards and looking at empowering local people to take control both as individuals and as collectives, exploring potential solutions on common issues and themes. The BOOST model demonstrates a genuine willingness by several organisations to share resources and work towards developing a common purpose and empowering communities to take action. 

During this period and in addition to Bristol City Councils Impact fund, BOOST Finance Project has successfully been awarded additional monies from the C-19 Community Led Organisations Recovery Scheme to enable it to operate in a COVID19 safe way. BOOST Finance reconvened services at the end of October following assessments of how to facilitate the service and operate in a COVID19 safe way. With this additional funding we have been able to switch the service from a two morning a week drop-in to a five morning a week 1:1 managed appointment system. This additional funding has also enabled us to employ a Service Coordinator (a great progression route for one of our BOOST Volunteers) and Volunteer Trainer (in partnership with Talking Money) to pilot a volunteer training program to begin to develop learning and expertise being in the community and not just based on site. We have successfully recruited 6 volunteers and are continuing our recruitment drive. We have also widened our partnership, adding legal support services provided by Bristol Universities Law Clinic and Housing support provided by CHAS. We have also set up and begun running a membership-based Food Club in partnership with Family Action and FareShare. This service now has 56 members.  

The BOOST Finance partnership now incorporates: 

  • Wellspring Settlement 
  • Community Volunteers  
  • Bristol Somali Resource Centre 
  • Talking Money 
  • BRAVE 
  • CHAS 
  • University of Bristol Law Clinic 
  • Family Action 
  • FareShare 
  • Bristol Credit Union 
  • West Of England Works Partner 

Also, during this period we have drafted two papers outlining identified community issues and potential solutions. These papers have been forward to two boards to further influence potential informed approaches: 

  1. In collaboration with Nick Sturge and Morag McDermot, we have compiled a paper Recovering from Coronavirus – tackling unemployment a joined-up approach that has gone to Bristol City Councils Economy Board that identifies gaps in effective working in Bristol’s economy around the gap in connectivity between decision making at city / region level and the reality of what is happening, variously, in specific communities; and the gap between employment opportunities, however well enabled and curated to be accessible, and people, who could work but have too many challenges to overcome to get there. The paper proposes a practical mechanism to help bridge both those gaps at the hyper-local level, and which aims to build trust and understanding across those gaps which aids systemic change and a model which can be adapted and applied (rather than ‘cookie-cut’) in other communities. 
  2. A second paper, ‘Recovering from Coronavirus – tackling poverty’, highlighting the likely longterm impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, impacts that are already being felt and likely to continue to be felt for the next decade in some of the most disadvantage parts of our city and looking at new ways of meeting the need that was already high. This report promoted new and different solutions in light of a year of learning and not just the same solutions expecting different result. This promoted the ideas of BOOST Finance as a model and supporting community initiatives at a grass root level, in recognition of geographical and demographical difference. This paper has gone to ACFA championing an anti-poverty approach for Bristol based on community knowledge and expertise and building back better.  

In partnership with the Personal Finance Research Centre as part of a strategic funding application we are in the process of setting up a Community Employment Research pilot aimed at reasserting missing community voices into the narrative of building back better and supporting communities set their own agendas for change based on localised ideas and community experience of direct impact.    

Anya Mulcahy-Bowman (Wellspring Settlement): update September 2020

Context: ‘My original proposal’

Portrait of Anya Mulcahy-Bowman: A lady in her 30's. Anya has wavy pink hair gathered at the top of her head, and blue eyes.I led the development, set up, pilot and evaluation of the BOOST Finance Project and now manage it. This collaborative, innovative, project was in direct response to community feedback and places community engagement, expertise and experience at its foundation, with an organic approach that allowed for the development of the service to be guided by and respond to the presenting needs of the community, seeing the participants as the experts of their own lives. The approach responds to the barriers that create the communities’ sense of disempowerment and develops partnerships to respond. I am in the process of establishing an Economic Development Partnership with geographic partners. Strategic questions for investigation include looking at a ‘wider development’, piloting the tool in other geographic locations to fit differing presenting geographic issues, as the economic development partnership offers, or ‘deeper development’, offering more in our direct community for example engaging in the opportunities the Temple Quarter development presents for this community. As part of the fellowship programme I want to develop collaboration with both the University of Bristol, the local authority and wider collaborators to ensure the opportunities being developed on the doorstep of the Lawrence Hill ward are available to and benefit this community. The BOOST model is part of this and lends itself to informed development and innovative response. 


In its most immediate sense BOOST Finance has had to pause direct delivery as it has been impossible to continue a drop-in based service during this time. We have redirected our organisational energises into meeting the immediate practical and emotional needs of the community during this difficult period. This has included a call centre and befriending service, food delivery and shopping services, prescription collection and delivery service, family services including delivery of arts and craft, nappies, formula milk, children’s clothing and monitored use of our Family Centre garden for families in over-crowded high rise flats as well as support to and the establishing of mutual aid provisions across Lawrence Hill. With the support of Bristol University we have been able to engage a proportion of the community in a series of survey’s to assess the ongoing and changing needs and aspirations of the community we work with to ensure our Covid19 Emergency Response Service adapts and meets this community’s needs 

What that means for me

Much of the opportunity the City Fellows provided was the chance to collaborate with others to help both develop the BOOST model across the City through the development of a Community Partner Economic Development Partnership and make connections on ‘our doorstep’ to ensure the opportunities that present through the Temple Quarter development reach this area has been put on hold. Much of this has had to go on hold with much more of an immediate, inwards focusing approach being needed. 

As we enter a new phase of the pandemic situation communities are facing more immediate challengesMany are dealing with either reductions or loses of income, rising debts, challenges to  mental health, anxieties of having to step out into the world again, children returning to school, mixed messages from government which are confused and unclear whilst challenges that were present before Covid19 are exacerbated. Meeting up on any level, other than virtually, continues to be very difficult and for those groups on the margins of decision-making processes, the reality of digital exclusion, either through means or skill is ever apparent and make this type of engagement impossible. It has been difficult to maintain focus on a City Fellowship program when my role has and continues to be very directly involved in the response to the needs of our community through this time.  Services are struggling to reopen under government guidance we are seeing more issues that are not ‘emergency response’ type interventions but either gaps in service provision due to COVID19 service closures or gaps that have always been in the system.  

Challenges that this has presented

My interpretation of this heading is how this is affecting my original vision when joining the fellowship and where I find myself now. There is a strong argument to say that despite the winding path I find myself on, it is all relevant as we look to be informed and directed by the communities we are involved in as communities at the margins. Collaboration on any level remains a challenge in times of social distancing and a rapidly fluxing and changing working and community environment. Things feel at an another precipiceThe government appears to be shifting its narrative on to one of blame, of illegal activities, of bans, of new laws, of stronger enforcement of the rules, of fines, of Covid-secure Marshalls, of curfews and punitive action, the language of community spirit and togetherness appears to be rapidly disappearing, the sense that we are all in this together, of Thursday night appreciative clapping sessions. The challenge now is how do we hold on to a sense of hope, empowerment and community in light of the ongoing Covid19 challenge? 

Opportunities this offers

Covid19 and recent events have laid bare the very real social inequalities that existAs food poverty and the benefit system take centre stage, along with other issues, we have an opportunity to act and promote these issues as for a short period of time for some, they will be able to relate to what it actually feels like to be unable to feed your family, not nowhere the next meal is coming from and experience of having to navigate a very confusing and opaque benefit system as peoples financial securities have come into question through no fault of their own, challenging a carefully orchestrated ‘undeserving poor’ rhetoric that has been feed to us over this last decade or so 

recently attended a Finance Bristol & Bath Recovery Planning workshop facilitated by Bristol’s One City Economic Board which is a filter into the production of an economic recovery strategy and associated actions plans for Bristol, the mood from this was very much one of challenge to the notion of recovery, posing recovery as suggesting that overcoming and reverting back to the ‘norm’, when it is clear the economic system does not work for all, and that an economy that is addicted to growth and profit maximisation should surely not be the driving force of economy ‘recovery’ when the very state of it is creating additional anxiety and stress for those who have lost or are at risk of losing their income and livelihoods 

What are your priorities moving forward?

Prioritise moving forward are learning from the redesign and repurpose model we ran as a response to the lockdown we experienced in late March for several months. Learning form this model again places emphasis on the need for us to refocus our work as an organisation to fit holistically around people recognising them as multifaceted as opposed to labelling issues and syphoning them into silo’s, for example parents access the family services, those with debt and employment issues access BOOST etc. We are exploring a Community First response that builds on an assetbased community model that looks to the community for the solutions through our Network project, with project expertise where necessary, but not as a defining point. This is broadening the BOOST Finance model out to incooperate our approach organisationally, as opposed to project, wide. We are envisaging BOOST Finance being in high demand going forwards, there are funding implications around being able to meet this need as are adapting the model to be delivered in a ‘socially distanced’ way. 

As we move into a second stage response the BOOST Finance model has now set up a Food Club in Lawrence Hill, in partnership with Family Action. In the first 6weeks of operations we have had 27 members joining, whose membership has benefitted an additional 20+ adults and 46+ children. Many members are working but finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, others are struggling either on benefits or in the process of managing changes to their financial situation.