Resilience Spotlight – Teresa Coles

The Resilience Spotlight is an initiative of the Bristol Resilience Network (formally the Resilience Action Group), which is part of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. Every month in 2015, we have invited nominations for someone in the city who demonstrates how we can work at a local level to develop Bristol’s capacity to respond to shocks and stresses.

This month’s theme was community resilience and we were looking for someone who develops and supports community and social cohesion, improves relationships and integration or tackles marginalisation and discrimination.

In her day job, Teresa Coles is Citizen Services Team Manager at Bristol City Council. It is her voluntary work, however, as a rest centre manager that saw her nominated for this month’s Resilience Spotlight exploring community resilience.

Teresa ColesOn call day and night, Teresa responds to incidents that have forced citizens out of their homes – from fires and gas leaks to police operations. She is often the first non-emergency services person on site and provides support, reassurance and information to these people.

The immediate concern is, of course, to get them to a safe place, but people are also often evacuated without their medication, contact lenses or shoes so there are other issues to tackle too! This does, however, enable Teresa to have conversations with them about things they can do to improve their resilience for the future.

Teresa notes that each incident is different and that she has to be able to respond to the unique needs of that community. For example, she needs to identify how best to use the space that they are given as a rest centre. Sometimes a prayer room will be necessary, other times they will need to find a room for children to run off steam without disturbing those who need some peace and quiet.

The overwhelming message Teresa shares is that, in the midst of the disruption and difficulties that these people face, an incredible community spirit emerges. She says: “I always leave these incidents feeling humbled and with my faith in humanity restored.”

“Neighbours who may have only waved to each other once or twice come together and support one another. And once they are back at home, we find these new relationships continue.”

This is positive news to Teresa, as she has seen that the development of local relationships is key to community resilience. She advises people not to isolate themselves, to look out for their neighbours and get involved in local community initiatives.

She also speaks about communication as a significant tool for resilience. From her own experience, she knows that people need clear, easy-to-understand information that is specifically relevant to them and their situation. When we discuss what could develop the city’s resilience, she suggests a fun and inspiring handbook of ideas that people can implement – similar to the Red Nose Day Pack. Teresa’s role has given her more than a few ideas of what this could contain; from simple things like leaving a pair of shoes and bag filled with essentials by the door in case of an emergency evacuation to more long-term initiatives such as local skills-sharing.

Teresa warns, however, that when looking to develop resilience within a community, it needs to be created from within. “People from outside a neighbourhood may think they have identified the concerns and needs of the local people but they can be surprised. Any engagement needs to be community-led to ensure that the right issues are being tackled.”

She also implores people to think about how they can use their own resilience to help others. This is something which Teresa herself exemplifies and saw her nominated by Jim Gillman, Deputy Civil Protection Manager at Bristol City Council and member of the Bristol Resilience Network. He says: “Teresa provides communities, and particularly the most vulnerable within them, with the immediate support they need to overcome incidents.  Being prepared to respond to the unexpected in this way is a key pillar of resilient communities.  Teresa has inspired many of her colleagues down the years to volunteer in emergencies and is one of the ‘unsung heroes’ that make our communities resilient.”