Features / Food

The unstoppable march of gentrification

By louis emanuel, Wednesday Aug 26, 2015

Gentrification is a dirty word in Easton. “People like to throw it around, but I don’t know how accurate it is,” says Alex Poulter, the bearded owner of East Bristol bakery, standing over his free range eggs and sourdough loaves.

“It’s a hard one, because you have nice streets where houses go for silly money and then you have the gun violence still, like the shooting around the corner the other month.

“I don’t think it’s right to just brand a place with just one word like that, you know,” he adds, turning to serve another customer in the busy St Mark’s Road shop.

Alex Poulter owns East Bristol Bakery

Over the last five years or so the area has seen start-up coffee shops, restaurants and, of course, artisan bakeries, creep in slowly as eager young house-buyers have scrambled to snap up some of the last vaguely affordable homes within walking distance of the city centre.

It is a story which has repeated itself time and time again in almost every neighbourhood around the city centre, with so-called gentrification spreading cafe culture and facial hair from Southville and Stokes Croft to Easton and now maybe even Fishponds.

Yes, Fishponds. With news that trendy burger bar The Burger Joint will join Grounded, Porto Lounge and Coffee #1 on the high street, it seems nowhere is off-bounds.

Granted, Fishponds benefits from the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, a wand of gentrification in its own right. But is a couple of new eateries enough to put the nail in the coffin? And, anyway, what exactly makes gentrification?

If you go by the Oxford English Dictionary definition, to gentrify means “to renovate and improve (a house or district) so that it conforms to middle class taste”.

Porto Lounge, Fishponds Road

To some people that just means a place becoming more “up-market”. People like Michael Beese, a life-long trader running an antiques shop on North Street, Southville, the very pinnacle of gentrification in Bristol.

Having grown up and lived in the area for 71 years, he has a few tales of how it morphed and changed from the tight-knit working class community to what some have called Lower Clifton.

“All those young professionals moving in with money is what’s changed it so fast. They’re the kinds of households with two working parents. They’ve got money and they haven’t got time. And that’s probably why we have so many restaurants and cafes to feed them around here,” he says.

But it’s a double edged sword, he adds, what with rising house prices squeezing some locals out. “That’s what’s wrong with it,” he says. “The area has just lost its character.”

That so-called character change is something visible in Fishponds already, says Vinnie Moylan, 58, who has been watching the high street change from the top of the steps to the Van Dyck Forum, a Wetherspoon’s pub where he’s a regular.

Vinnie Moylan and Gus Gamlin

“The cafes here, well, if that’s what people want, then great, but it’s not what the place necessarily needs. Where are the old butchers, bakers and grocers? The streets got nothing unless you want a coffee.

“When I was a kid, we knew everyone on the street. Now I only know the next-door neighbour.”

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Dan  Bakhradnia, owner of The Burger Joint, is convinced all the changes are a complement to the area.

“I can see the demographic of the place changing,” he says. “It’s an up-and-coming area and it’s a compliment to Fishponds that people are investing here.

“More cafes and restaurants is just recognition that it is changing. We are just reinforcing it,” he adds. “We are also adding value to the area, adding value to houses too.”

Back in Easton, one woman who knows a thing or two about gentrification is Emma Clements, 41, who moved from Brixton, London, to escape the tide there.

Emma Clements moved from London to escape the gentrification

“We wanted somewhere affordable, somewhere with it’s own community,” she says. But, she adds, she sees the same thing happening here. “There is no doubt it’s gentrification. And worst of all it is pushing some local people out of their area. It’s happened in London, large scale, and it’s happening here now.”

However, she is insistent the area retains its independent – and edgy – side. “It has changed here, but I like it still. It is multicultural and it is different still. There is community here.”

One integral part of that multicultural community is the now-nationally renowned Sweet Mart, run by four brothers, inclufing Abdul Ismail.

Abdul Ismail, co-owner of Sweet Mart

Yes, it is gentrifying around here, he says. And it is the best thing to happen to his business since it was formed by his family, refugees who moved from Uganda with nothing.

“The house prices have shot up so business is thriving. But it’s also a thriving area – and a unique one.

“Undoubtedly the area is getting better – the cafes, restaurants and coffee shops just increases the reputation.”

In his lifetime the street has changed enormously, but the changes have been no faster and no more stark than now, he adds.

Back at the East Bristol Bakery, Alex is still not so sure gentrification is the word. “Easton’s always been a changing community. But gentrification is not the word. The word I would use is dynamic,” he says.

“Either way, if you can buy a large white sourdough in Easton, I think it’s a good thing,” adds a customer as he turns and walks out onto St Mark’s Road.

Read our feature asking whether Bristol is a divided city.

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