By Heather McKay
Ask most Bristolians their first thought on ‘Stokes Croft’Â and you’d probably get answers ranging around nightlife, graffiti and drugs. An answer you wouldn’t expect is Tesco supermarket.
That could all be set to change with the announcement of the chain’s thirty-first store in Bristol, this time at the former Jesters comedy club on Cheltenham Road. When considered that one in every eight pounds spent on the British high street goes to Tesco, it’s not hard to see how the area’s proudly independent nature could soon be under threat.
This has outraged the lively Stokes Croft collective, who want to protect their community, and will be challenging the recent planning permission rulings.
A hastily-called meeting on Tuesday attracted around 200 seasoned activists, concerned locals and ‘cultural quarter’ regulars to the newly refurbished Hamilton House, in a large room above The Canteen. Local campaigners Rachel, Claire and Chris took to the platform to state the facts so far, voice the reasons for protest and get everyone involved.
It was noted that back in November 2009, planning permission was applied for by an external company to change the use of the venue from entertainment to retail. According to current legislation, it was only necessary to send fifty-five letters to the local community noting the change of use applied for, along with placing one A4 poster on a nearby lamp-post, and one line under the Statutory Notifications at the back of The Evening Post.
“We found out that Tesco have bought the lease, and we think this sort of operation behind closed doors is wrong. If the council receive enough objections, conducted in a coherent and peaceful way, we can make a serious impact and hopefully reverse this decision,” stated Rachel, beginning the meeting with panache.
The softly spoken Claire made a good case against faceless corporations. She highlighted that, “We have to look at the bigger picture. This is about fighting disempowerment — if we can do this here, it will inspire communities around the country to stand up and say no.”
“As well as stating what we don’t want, we are focusing on what we do want. We want to see Bristol City Council in meaningful consultation with the local community. There are so many alternatives that would prosper in this area and on that site, and we have to effectively present those for everybody concerned.”
Community is a running theme throughout the meeting, as Chris testifies when he takes to the platform. He stated: “The property in question has been empty for a long time, and there’s no denying that regeneration will help the area.
“However, proper research needs to be conducted to discover and then acknowledge what the local population really want. It is interesting that nobody, not one person in the council thought [that a national supermarket chain development] would be worth a mention, knowing what they do about Stokes Croft.
“We want to highlight our cause, and have it reach as high as it possibly can. This is a David versus Goliath situation, but by behaving in ways we’re proud of, we can prevent the bullies from winning.”
Following a question and answer session and the arrangement of a second meeting, there was a gritty sense of determination in the air as the group dispersed.
Of course, this group needs to work fast, and doesn’t have time to persuade any undecided fence-sitters.Â Those heading the campaign conducted themselves with dignity and ingenuity, but there were some abrupt put-downs and superior attitudes circling the group.
This passionate, tight-knit community are ready to fight for their cause, but they have to drop the ‘alternative’Â elitism, and acknowledge that they need as many fighters as possible. It takes a particular sort of voice to take the first stand on an issue like this, but it’ll take many different voices to make the council listen.
February 14… Happy what?
Roses —Â red. Violets —Â blue. Yeah, yeah, whatever. If you’re bored of doing the same old thing every Valentine’s, or are looking for a worthy distraction then browse our alternative Valentine’s guide to Bristol…
- Unfortunately the NME Awards Tour is now completely sold out, but one of the main acts, the charming Bombay Bicycle Club, will be hitting the Broadmead HMV store at 1pm to meet fans sign copies of their suitably titled debut album, I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose.
- Girls, and for that matter, boys — if it’s a bit of retail therapy you fancy to take your mind off things, check out the brilliant Gimme Shelter Vintage Fair at The Lanes. Pretty dresses, cool jackets and snazzy shoes from most eras, along with accessories and records will be spilling from the boutique’s usual corner of the bowling alley, a real Aladdin’s cave stocked to the ceiling with retro treasures. Entry is free, get there from 10am for a unique treat!
- A bit different, but if you’re aged between 16-26 and were born or currently live in St Pauls, then celebrated Bristol street photographer Beezer, now based in Tokyo, is returning to The Pierian Centre on Portland Square for a two-part workshop concluding the following Sunday. Photographs produced will go on display at the end of his retrospective in June. Tickets are £10, email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
- Finally, if you want to push the boat out then try the St. Valentines Massaquerade at The Old Fire Station:Â three nights of cabaret-style theatre and spectacle with a hot soundtrack from DJs and live bands. Sound a bit too conventional for an anti-Val’ guide? The dress code is ‘Shotgun Wedding’.
Look at it this way – you’ll make a huge saving on cards, flowers and chocolates, and you might even have some fun!