Bristol Housing or Monastery 2.0?

Joanna Booth
Mar 13 · 8 min read

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees has been convinced to provide 20 sites in the centre of Bristol for a project called Monastery 2.0, according to a speech by Conservative peer Lord Nat Wei.

In 2019, Wei’s company The Shaftesbury Partnership formally merged with Bristol City Council, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital, and Housing Festival Ltd to form the Bristol Housing Festival (BHF).

£150,000 of public funds were provided to this new entity.

According to the BHF’s website:

“It will act as an incubator to road-test, in a real-world scenario, both existing concepts and innovative solutions designed to accelerate the delivery of quality, affordable housing.”

Who is Lord Nat Wei?

Wei was the youngest person to enter the House of Lords when he was given a peerage at the age of 33 by David Cameron. He still sits as a Conservative. He originally went to work for the Conservative government as policy adviser for Cameron’s flagship Big Society plans to increase ‘active citizenship’.

After reducing his days from three to two when told his position would be voluntary, he then quit after a year.

In an interview on the BBC, when asked whether Austerity had scuppered the Big Society narrative, he replied: “that was a pretty clever narrative by the left” and refused to accept that his work was in fact a pretext for destroying public services.

Reality, however, invariably agrees with ‘the left’. Funding from central government to local councils has been cut by 49% at the same time that increased responsibilities for social care have been devolved to council budgets. In Bristol, the council has lost 60% of funding over the last 10 years.

Wei is now involved in ostensibly helping the housing crisis even as research by charity St Mungo’s highlights a link between austerity cuts and homelessness. BCC are turning to a key player in policies that caused the crisis, for help in fixing it.

In Bristol, there are around 12,000 people on the housing waiting list. This huge number, reflective of the situation nationally, is now being used to justify ‘experimental’ modes of housing, including the Zed Pods built over a car park in St George.

Wei describes these pods as part of the project he is leading, which were approved by BCC in 2019.

In a speech to YWAM (Youths with a Mission), Lord Wei describes himself as being “from a missionary kid family” and a pastor’s kid.

He describes himself as having an interest in social reform, and then starts talking about his plans for Monastery 2.0.

Monastery 2.0 is and attempt to put together the split caused by Henry VIII

He says he wants to put together what Henry VIII split apart in the reformation. The church should be part of the community, and the community part of the church. Monastery 2.0 includes guardians, mixed-generation families, modular homes and cohousing.

Wei says:

“Our mission today is to go out into the marketplace and recover that which was lost. To recover the hospital, the laboratory, the co-working space, the factory, the bakery, all of these things that were in the village, and bring them back both spiritually, and physically, sometimes, in proximity to the chapel;

In December 2018, he explained how Bristol was involved, in the following speech at YWAM.

“With Bristol we just started two months ago what’s called the Bristol Housing Festival.

Bristol owns half the land in the centre of town, many of them are car parks or land that won’t get developed for five or ten years.

And what we’ve convinced the mayor to do — he’s a believer — is to unlock the land in Bristol, twenty sites, some of them huge, and invite the world’s housing innovators to pop up modular housing on those for five years or more and invite teams to look after those little pop-up villages.

We’re gonna need lots of teams to come in and help steward these communities.

Wei refers to Zed Pods:

There’s one design you’ll see at the top [of the presentation] there that is built on car parks. So we’re working with the manufacturer to literally build villages on car parks and you can still use the car park. Solar panels on the roof and they charge electric cars underneath.”

Part of Monastery 2.0 is a scheme that has been discredited by the courts. It is that of ‘property guardians’. This is, in effect, a system of legalised squatting, meaning tenants have no rights and can’t get jobs. They can live in central places like Zone 1 in London for £500 though.

Wei says:

“We’re piloting in London what’s called guardianship. So, guardianship is a way of becoming a security guard in a building, living in a pod, which means you’re not a tenant so you have very little rights, but it means that you can go right into the heart of cities and start looking after the buildings for people.

And there are 40 companies doing this in London. We’re partnering with one of them.

Each of the companies has roughly 500 to 750 people living in London for between 300 and 500 pounds a month in zone one.”

The idea of tenants having no rights under this scheme was one tested in a case involving Bristol City Council who had asked Camelot to manage a property. Camelot were taken to court over the eviction of someone they called a ‘licensee’ but who the court decided was actually a tenant.

Monastery 2.0 is being implemented through Wei’s company Makers Lives. Wei points to job insecurity, Brexit, tuition fees, and lack of rights for workers in places such as Deliveroo and Amazon and Tesco. He uses these examples to suggest if the church had been part of the creation and negotiation of these rights, then none of it would have happened. Now it’s time, however, for the church to step back in and help.

He does not mention that his party’s priorities — Conservative, right-wing policies — have led to the destruction of these rights in much the same way as Naomi Klein writes in The Shock Doctrine, about how extreme situations lead to profiteering and a bonfire of protections.

But it’s not just about housing. The next stage is about what happens within the new modular housing pop-up villages.

The plan is to “liberat[e] people from the unhealthier unwritten rules that dictate their lives consciously or unconsciously” [link pdf].

Wei says:

As a consequence of it, what if we hope to introduce rhythm into people’s lives so they could combat the unhealthy rhythms that digital life and urban life tempt us into?

Wei suggests an app called the Gym of Rest [further outlined in his white paper] be used for these new communities. Activities include:

  • “Logging tasks completed for the common good which vary by location and subscription level”,
  • “A means of promoting selfgovernance” and
  • “Provision of a way to journal commitments made to help love life to the full”.

There is a financial implication to this app and subscription purchases available.

The new pop-up villages would have ‘stewards’ who would be “the main core practitioners”, “act as concierges” and benefit through “lower costs, a worshipping community, and global nomadic flexibility”.

How did Bristol get involved with Monastery 2.0?

The Bristol Housing Festival began to take shape a few years ago in 2016.

Jez Sweetland, the director of the Housing Festival said to an audience at Hope Chapel in Hotwells, that the project began because he “wanted to work for Marvin, because I was like ‘this is an amazing man of God and I want to just serve this man’. But how do I work with him?”

After talking with the mayor and realising housing was a big need for the city, Sweetland started to come up with solutions.

Marvin was just up for anybody doing anything: ‘Please, People, the church, come forward’.

At the time, Rees’ faith adviser was Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry graduate Rachel Molano, who now works with Wei.

Lord Nat Wei and Rachel Molano, who is wearing a Bristol City Council name badge, at a meeting in Philadelphia in 2019 where they are described as “Lord Wei and Rachel Molano, Former Advisor to Bristol City Council, were the distinguished guests”

Sweetland continues to explain to the audience at Hope Chapel how he began working at the Bristol Housing Festival:

Scale forward a few years, Rachel Molano, who’s here [in the audience at Hope Chapel] she introduced me to a guy called Nat Wei, who is the Lord Wei of Shoreditch , an amazing prophetic visionary guy, and I started sharing with him a little bit about the ideas that we had about popping up some container houses and some small-scale projects. And this guy Nat Wei just looked at me, lovingly, I think, and said:

“What are you doing?”
“Trying to help?”
And he said: “No, no, but you’re, you have no expertise in housing. Your job is to curate something with the values of God to enable the city to function,”

and I was like “that sounds more fun”.

So we started to move with this idea of something called the Bristol Housing Festival. And this was a silly idea but it felt like God was saying ‘step out of faith, step out of faith’.

In partnership with Bristol City Council, we’re to trying to curate an opportunity for Bristol to prototype housing solutions for other cities to follow. It’s a grand big dream and I make no apology for that.”

In 2018, according to Sweetland, the council already had one-and-a-half people working on the project for them.

It seems the plan was for Wei’s company to be running the Housing Festival initially. The Shaftesbury Partnership’s director, Patrick Charles Nugent Shine, incorporated the Bristol Housing Festival Ltd on April 9, 2018.

Jez Sweetland then incorporated Housing Festival Ltd in August 2019, to which the grant money was paid, and the original Bristol Housing Festival Ltd applied to be struck off as a company.

It has already started on the following projects.:

  • The Zed Pods — modular housing about a car park in St George (due to start construction in spring 2020),
  • Launchpad at the bottom of Alexandra Park in Fishponds
  • The Gap house by BDP, which consists of “cost effective eco-home designed to fit onto urban garage plots”
  • Boklok plans for 200 homes in Bristol
  • The Greenway Centre on Doncaster Rd
  • Trinity College Design competition to redevelop an Anglican theological college in Stoke Bishop
  • 180 new modular homes in Lockleaze on Bonnington Walk

The questions we must ask of our politicians now are:

  • Is the Bristol Housing Festival part of Monastery 2.0?
  • Which sites has the Bristol Mayor promised to unlock for Wei’s vision?
  • How much does he know of Wei’s social engineering?
  • Is the creation of Monastery 2.0 something Bristol should be involved in with the use of public funds?

I have contacted Bristol City Council and the opposition political party leaders for comment.

Joanna Booth

Written by

Freelance journalist and book editor.

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