Features / Bristol

Bristol: A divided city?

By Louis Emanuel, Friday May 29, 2015

What is it like to live in Filwood? “Shit,” according to Tina Gifford. Sitting in the window of her cousin’s secondhand shop on Filwood Broadway, once a thriving high street of Knowle West, she hasn’t got many kind words to say about her home of almost 50 years.

Outside, the broadway is nearly deserted – not just of people, but of shops too. Over half the units on this street have their shutters down or are boarded up.

“They get it all,” the 49-year-old says, as she compares the area with the centre, Clifton, Redland and “those areas”. “Even Easton gets parks and swimming pools. We get nothing. They got lottery money for arts in some places. Arts? What about the people around here?”

Tina is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most downbeat of the people up and down the broadway on a Thursday afternoon. But her points, perhaps, couldn’t be more pertinent.

Over the next 11 months or so, up until the mayoral election in May 2016 when Labour will be looking to dislodge George Ferguson, we can be expect to be bombarded with the idea that Bristol is a divided city, a tale of two cities. In fact, the rhetoric has already started. It started long ago.

Why do they only put a waterslide on Park Street? Why aren’t there any Shaun the Sheep statues in south Bristol? Why does leafy Redland have clean streets and mowed parks? What use is living in a Green Capital to the people of Hartcliffe? Do these interactive games serve all of Bristol?

The park street waterslide: An event for all of Bristol?

They are questions which help paint a picture of modern Bristol. “That is two cities: one of areas that prospered even before the advent of the Ferguson magic but which continue to be wooed and massaged and the other, the ‘invisible’ city, abandoned to direct and unhindered savaging from the coalition government,” writes Keith Evans on the letters pages of the Bristol Post. (NB: There is a Keith Evans at the Henleaze Labour branch).

Supporters of this opinion often argue modern Bristol and the people who run it only serve the privileged, the liberals, the cycling artists, the creative media types milling around Paintworks – and not the people most in need.

Bristol is continuously named in lists of the best and happiest places to live in the UK. And there is good reason. Out of the core cities, its GVA, the total value of goods and services produced in the area, per person is the highest outside of London. It is a wealthy place which seemingly escaped the recession with a booming property market and an enviable food, drinks, cafe and bar culture.

But there is another side. A more neglected side which barely ever makes it into the news, let alone the national papers’ culture sections. As the council’s own State of the City, Mayoral Priorities, says: “Bristol’s prosperity is not shared by all its citizens”.

And a look at census data shows how some of the country’s most prosperous areas sit side by side with some of the most deprived. In this map, for example, the darker red shows high levels of deprivation, while the darker green shows low levels.

A heat map of deprivation levels in Bristol

 In this map, meanwhile, the darker greens show high levels of professional jobs among residents. The darker reds show low levels of professional jobs.

A heat map of the concentration of residents with professional jobs

Filwood for example sits in a whole swathe – including Hartcliffe, parts of Whitchurch and Hengrove and almost all of Lawrence Hill – which are in the ten per cent most deprived areas in the country.

Meanwhile Clifton, Henleaze, Westbury-on-Trym, Redland, Cotham, Bishopston, Montpelier, Cabot, Kingsdown and even Southville make up a comfortable area – almost equal in size – which suffers the least from deprivation.

The geographical distribution of deprivation also matches the pattern of persistent joblessness, while the highest concentration of professionals in employment can be found  in the same most prosperous areas. You can almost draw a dividing line separating the east and south from the north and west.

Shops on Filwood Broadway

Filwood Broadway is just one small, anecdotal example of the more neglected sides of Bristol which residents and local campaigners say is all too often overlooked.

“This used to be one of the best shopping precincts in Bristol,” says Billy Smith, 23, as he heads into one of the handful of open shops.

“It’s like the land that time forgot up here. It’s like there’s nothing being done at the moment.”

Billy Smith, left, and Bill Jones, right, differ in their view of their neighbourhood

He points to the wasteland where there used to be a garage, the listed old cinema sealed shut with a spiked fence and the site where the old swimming pool used to be with its diving boards and domed glass ceiling (now demolished) and says: “I grew up seeing it all go and it has never returned. There isn’t even a youth centre round here anymore, there’s nothing.”

He doesn’t agree Bristol is a divided city. And he was also excited to see the waterslide come to Bristol, even if it was just in Park Street. But he adds: “Over there they got what they need but we got nothing. That’s what it feels like. Sometimes we just need a bit more here.”

“It might even help keep the crime down to a minimum,” adds Pam Jones, 50, who stands in the doorway of her family shop.

One man who doesn’t share the view that Filwood is being left to crumble is Bill Jones, 79, a retired long haul driver leaving the bookies across the road. “Yes, it has changed massively since I was growing up here,” he says. “But they have done their best. It’s neglected to a point, but there have been improvements. It has always been the accusation that Clifton and Redland and places like that get all the money. Some of the reason is that they are just better and more articulate at complaining.

“But there is money being spent here if you look. There are a lot of shops and organisations to help people out and a lot going on,” he says, gesturing to the string of charitable businesses and outreach programmes which dot the street.


A man who stands squarely behind Bill is the leader of Bristol’s Conservative city councillors, Mark Weston. “I don’t buy it,” he says. “Bristol does have divisions, yes. But I don’t buy that some areas are rich and some are poor. There are rich and poor in all areas.”

He says talk of a divided city only serves to create divisions, when we should be working to bring the city together.

“There is never going to be enough money to go around everywhere,” he admits. “But a lot of money does go in to our deprived communities to strengthen them and support those most in need. They could always do with more support, of course.”

In reference to complaints about the Park Street Waterslide, he adds: “Just because it doesn’t have a slip and slide, it doesn’t mean it is ignored.”

Chris Jackson, Filwood ward councillor, says lack of business development, housing and “horrendous” transport links makes people in the area feel isolated from the other, more wealthy, side of Bristol. “We sometimes feel that we are stuck out in the corner, out of the way. Like a lot of Bristol, we feel we don’t get what we deserve.”

He says despite campaigning, the area is still well behind in terms of infrastructure and even simple things like quality or road surfaces.

“There’s not the commitment. Each year it feels like we ask the same questions and nothing happens,” he says.


The boarded-up cinema on Filwood Broadway

From the middle of Filwood Broadway, between the boarded-up listed cinema and the busy pharmacy where methadone scripts are routinely dispensed, you can just see the wooden cladding of the brand spanking new £12 million Filwood Green Business Park, where the city’s leaders and businessmen have just presided over a grand opening.

There were circus performers and a rather cringe-worthy display from breakdancers with backing music in front of a crowd of suits, as council photographers and PR managers snapped and milled about to get the perfect press release for later.

Performers towered above on stilts and the crowd was entertained by Bristol Green Capital 2015’s resident poet. Mayor George was there, having arrived on his electric bike to open the long-planned business park which he declares is the start of a “renaissance” for the area.

In a speech in the foyer he said: “We will make quite sure that we will never forget south Bristol whenever we are talking about regeneration, about jobs, about education and about all the things that make a better place. Because there are pockets of deprivation all around Bristol.”


George Ferguson opening Filwood Green Business Park


Filwood Green Business Park


There was a big round of applause for George and the very worthy cause of the new business park in an area which desperately needs an injection of activity and jobs. But it won’t be a speech that satisfies those painting the picture of a divided city ruled by a swanky, metropolitan, liberal-green elite.

Back on Filwood Broadway it must be said that there isn’t a particularly negative view of the mayor or those at the council. Some are even supportive of the “action man compared to what’s come before”. But that’s not to say everyone is pleased. 

“They’re all just as bad as each other. They all fuck it up in the end,” says Tina from her chair, gazing out of her window onto the deserted Filwood streets.

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