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For the Love of Stokes Croft

Copyright: Honor Tuttiet

Copyright: Honor Tuttiet

In response to Adibah’s piece ‘We Need To Talk About Stokes Croft‘, resident Honor Tuttiet wanders around her neighbourhood and sees a community, independent, loyal and inspiring.

Living in Stokes Croft is an endless adventure. What is immediately inspiring about the place is the brightness in colours you see; from the graffiti on the walls to the character-filled people, everyone has a vibrancy that lasts right through the winter. Stokes Croft is bursting with a diverse community that keeps it alive and kicking everyday of the week. Characters like Bristol-born graffiti artist HAKA have been spreading brightening messages on the streets here since the age of eleven. HAKA said to me that, ‘Stokes Croft is a crazy place and always has been… I have a lot of admiration for the PRSC… and [after] meeting Chris Chalkly… he has shown us nothing but relentless optimism’. HAKA has always been keen to put that optimistic message on to the walls because ‘what’s a better way of showing you’re alive than showing off that big cheesy grin you own. Keep the faith and keep on smiling Bristol’.

Living in Stokes Croft is an endless adventure.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved here is the amount of independent businesses that have a large impact on the people who live here. It makes for a rare self-governing community spirit that is hard to attain in more recognised and chain-filled areas like Cabot Circus. The volunteer-produced webpage outlining all of Stokes Croft’s special features, ‘Visit Stokes Croft’, declares, ‘[Stokes Croft is…] one of the city’s most neglected areas, it is that very lack of government and corporate intervention that has allowed the community to express itself in unlikely ways, creating a bold environment, ever changing and open to all’.

Being fiercely independent does come with a cost. As you stroll down the main high street, you can’t help but notice the number of unoccupied buildings that sit alongside the bustling bars and cafes. I worry that, given the need for social housing, abandoned buildings are symbolic of the council’s feelings towards this area. On the flipside, I think they can also be seen as a testament to the fierce defence of independent businesses working here.

 Being fiercely independent does come with a cost.

I spoke to some of the people trying to change the view of these unfilled areas and keep them for the public as well as making them helpful… the Social Bearpit project team. They have a vision to uphold the active and community-based nature most residents share here, and are focussing on the underpass that is the heart of three Bristol wards – Stokes Croft, Clifton East and Cabot.

So far the team has created a café and a fruit and veg store out of storage containers. These two not-for-profit businesses are working to support the growing construction of the Bearpit area. Going for one and a half years, self-starters Miriam Delogu and Tina Hart’s ethos is ‘to be inclusive, welcoming, safe and diverse’. Their vision is to incorporate the old Bearpit into new, safer and more community-based changes, using local help and products. At the end of development there will be a place for a mobile community garden that the St Barnabas School kids are helping to create, as well as permanent, naturally-designed garden beds in the middle of the heavy traffic area.

…inclusive, welcoming, safe and diverse…

There is strong neighbourhood pride here. Many of the restaurants buy locally-sourced goods; Poco is a torch holder for sustainability, winning ‘Best Ethical Restaurant’ in the tenth annual Observer Food Monthly Awards. Nestled at the end of Jamaica Street, it is building a loyal following for its ethical mindset. Poco recycles more than 90% of its waste and is working to remove all non-recyclable materials from the restaurant. 90% of the food is locally-sourced, with most of the veg coming from organic community farms in Bristol making for a great tasting tapas feast. The owners, Tom Hunt, Jen Best and Ben Pryor describe Stokes Croft as important to the ethos of Poco because it’s ‘an area as vibrant as our food, this thriving community and hotbed of creativity has welcomed us with open arms and given us the perfect home to lay down our roots’.

No one has more power than another.  

Similar to this is the success of Café Kino, another restaurant built around ethical values. It’s a not-for-profit and cooperative establishment owned and run by its workers. The owners strive to be fair to everyone involved, from the suppliers to the customers, and centre their menu around a vegan diet. I went there as a non-vegan and was surprised at the variety and tastiness of the meals, finding out about their care for the environment and community both within and outside of the café. Their website describes their attitude ‘developing the cafe as an inspiring community space and focus for independent cultural and political activity. We host regular meetings and events and are always open to interesting ideas’. Speaking to the workers/owners they said that their meetings often consist of getting the co-op together and using consensus decision making or voting to implement changes or ideas into the business. No one has more power than another.   

Some of my favourite places for evening entertainment are The Arts House Café and Canteen. Both have a bohemian style and are filled to the brim with content people enjoying the eclectic entertainment, like local-made cinema, jazz or acoustic R&B. The Arts House frequently opens its doors to local musicians, spoken word artists and discussion groups. It’s open for hire and provides an intimate space for local voices and political discussions that are often held here where the world is discussed according to Stokes Croft’s residents. On every night of the week The Canteen hosts free events too, with local and worldwide musicians displaying the rare and eccentric tastes of venues in Stokes Croft.

 ‘We loved Bristol so much we moved here and now live together just off Stokes Croft…’

The lead singer of BOMBS, Charlie Fitzgerald told me, ‘We loved Bristol so much we moved here and now live together just off Stokes Croft’. He continued, ‘I just like that everyone’s there to enjoy themselves with no pretension attached… both artist and audience. The music here is f*****g wicked and I could go on about it for hours’.

Talking to these Stokes Croft regulars, I felt inspired. I could see that support for the community is what’s most important and creates this dominant vibe of acceptance. Whether it’s in food, art, music or community projects… Meander into the Stokes Croft Museum and learn a little more about the voices that make up this offbeat, cultural area, it will be sure to inspire you as it has me.

Do you agree with Honor or Adibah about Stokes Croft? Has it been gentrified or is it the best, most independent and inspiring it’s ever been? Let us know… @rifemag