by Alison Shaw
23rd June 2021

In April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic gathered pace, I wrote that the immense challenge we faced was to care for all citizens regardless of background. Now with 178 million reported COVID-19 cases worldwide, nearly 4 million deaths and rising long COVID prevalence, this is ever more critical.

As feared, there have been significant global differences in access to vaccines, PPE and health provision with social and economic inequalities widening within and between countries. In the UK we have seen a reduction in GDP of 9.9%, the largest decline in over 300 years with the most deprived hit the hardest.

In the midst of these exceptional times, this year we are marking 25 years of Policy Press and 5 years of Bristol University Press – download our specially commissioned anniversary brochure here. Our reputation has been built on publishing work that challenges inequality and discrimination, and shines a light on social problems. This vital, critical work remains, now more so than ever, and we are focused on building a better future.

Over these past 15 months the Bristol University Press team has continued to focus on producing excellent-quality scholarship and debate from a wide range of perspectives and approaches, including responses to the pandemic. In this time, we have published over 600 journal articles and 265 books, including those in our COVID-19 Collection, with a further 365 books commissioned. As a publisher that addresses global social challenges it has been vital that we both respond quickly to emerging debates while also reflecting on the implications over the long term.

Creating positive social change

Can we use this moment of coming out of crisis as a turning point just as we saw after World War II? The UK Government has found significant resource to underpin the COVID-19 response, having spent £172bn to date and with a commitment of £372bn from February 2020, so what resource can be allocated to creating positive social change? The UK is not alone in shoring up the impact on individuals and businesses but for some nations this is impossible. Will wealthy nations help low-income countries manage the ravages of this disease in the ways suggested here for example by the World Economic Forum?

What impact will the pandemic have on global commitments to the United Nations’ Social Development Goals? As an early signatory to the UN SDG Publisher Compact we will continue to publish across the areas of action, as well as developing sustainable practices and acting as a SDG champion during the Decade of Action (2020–2030). SDG commitments must not be ignored as a result of the pandemic, in the way that climate action commitments were sidelined after the 2008 financial crash.

While the world was otherwise occupied, 2020 saw the highest temperatures since records began, vividly demonstrating the urgent need to address our planet’s climate emergency. As the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the subsequent 2021 Global Conference on Health and Climate Change, we will be watching to see what commitments are made – and, more importantly, kept, given the recent Climate Change Committee report on the UK’s performance – and what we should address in our publishing in this area.

The past 15 months have seen many people reflect on what matters most, and the notion of ‘building back better’ is widely touted. Could we see a move away from the recent intense period of marketisation, globalisation and protectionism? Could negative, populist politics and media and the culture of individualism be challenged and replaced with a new social contract that binds people and communities together? What would it take to move the dial?

With these thoughts in mind, our role as a university press is to enable scholars, professionals and ‘experts by experience’ to share their knowledge and insights as widely as possible and make the difference they wish to see in the world. Our continuing challenge is to reach beyond academia to influence wider cultural and social norms, and developing free digital magazines like Futures of Work and our very successful blog Transforming Society are great ways to achieve this. Transforming Society has published over 360 articles with over 130 exploring issues connected with COVID-19.

Looking forward

The seven strategic policy goals laid out in the UK British Academy reports on the impact of COVID-19 are all core areas for us. We will continue to publish the highest-quality content that supports social, economic, environmental, political and cultural change in order to create positive social change. We are looking at how scholarship and other forms of expertise can help policy, practice and civil society respond to the challenges and opportunities ahead, and what new forms of scholarly communication will aid that.

Major launches

As a first step, two exciting projects will be launched in 2021.

The first is our pioneering Open Access, non-profit Global Social Challenges Journal (GSCJ) which will provide a forum for discussion between academics, policy makers, thought leaders, NGOs, practitioners and the public by providing free access to evidence-based knowledge. Six Editors in Chief from China, India, Australia, the USA and the UK have been appointed alongside 13 topic-expert Associate Editors and 14 Editorial Board members who are committed to helping build a fairer world, across and for the Global South and North.

Open Access (OA) is set to change the scholarly publishing ecosphere and our open books and journal content will continue to grow. Ensuring our work is accessible is important to us, and OA enables readers to use our research, such as work on the pandemic and other public health issues, regardless of the ability to pay for it. Our partnership with Research4Life provides free or low-cost access to our content to low-income countries thereby also increasing access to new ideas and analysis for all regions including the Global South.

The GSCJ will be found on our new content delivery platform, Bristol University Press Digital, which is launching in late 2021. BUP Digital will host all our journal articles and the majority of our books so readers will be able to find research and teaching material grouped by subject/topic, global social challenges and the UN SDGs.

Continuing to publish with a purpose

The Press works to improve social conditions by publishing pioneering research and social commentary. We are creating our next strategic plan and reviewing the role we can play over the next 5 – and even 25 – years as a publisher helping to create that positive social change.

Our team is eager to make a positive difference to people’s lives – particularly those who are disadvantaged and discriminated against – and to help create fairer, more open and more equal societies. Strategies such as our equality, diversity and inclusion plan build on over 25 years of commitment to these principles and ensures we practise what we preach.

As a not-for-profit university press, we are very fortunate to be able to put people and the planet before profits. We are extremely grateful to the University of Bristol for its support in enabling us to do this. Our mutual mission is to make a positive impact locally and globally by addressing society’s greatest challenges. I hope you can join us in this goal.


25 anniversary brochure cover and pages

Download our specially commissioned anniversary brochure.

Find out more about the Bristol University Press/Policy Press anniversary celebrations here.

Bristol University Press/Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount on books– sign up here.

Follow Transforming Society so we can let you know when new articles publish.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Image credit: Adi Goldstein on Unsplash