Stephen Lightbown is a poet, spoken word artist, wheelchair user and disability rights champion.
Stephen’s debut poetry collection, Only Air, is being published by Burning Eye Books on March 1.
Here are Stephen’s top-five Bristol favourites:
The Toast Room
“In a city famed for its array of cafes, restaurants and coffee shops its hard to pick one. But if I had to, I would say The Toast Room on East Street in Bedminster. It might not be the most well-known and not be in a prime location but it is terrific and I adore it. I have a real soft spot for Bedminster; there are so many hidden gems among the painted streets and The Toast Room is right up there. It is such a lovely, warm place to relax and lose an hour or two over breakfast. It does exactly what is says it does – toast. As a coeliac, I’m also delighted to say that gluten-free toast is on the menu and happily ladled with bucket loads of delicious toppings. I’m an old school bacon and eggs kind of guy and that doesn’t disappoint, but there really is a menu that would satisfy everyone and anyone. Like everything that follows on this list, the wheelchair access is great and the small details from the tables to the light fittings are just wonderful.”
The Wardrobe Theatre
“Bristol has a fabulous poetry and spoken word scene and we are incredibly lucky to have regular nights such as Raise the Bar and Milk among many others. There really is something for all tastes, and outside of London there are not many cities with the breadth of poetry being performed in Bristol. One of those nights is the always spectacular BlahBlahBlah which, alongside the Bristol Old Vic, shares a home at the Wardrobe Theatre which is a truly fabulous venue. I have seen so many great acts and artists here – other than just spoken word – and it’s the kind of place where if you have a spare night you can just turn up without knowing what’s on and still have a great time.”
The Arnolfini’s Front Room
“This is where I spend a lot of my time working on poems and generally just feeling inspired. It’s one of the few public spaces in the city that I know of where you can just turn up and work without needing to rent a desk or buy a cup of coffee. The Arnolfini is a fabulous venue where again, some of the city’s great poetry and spoken word nights take place – and that energy radiates through the whole building. There is a really great feel in the Front Room as well and a brilliant mix of people tapping away in their own private bubbles. I also love the way it’s been set out. And if the words aren’t flowing there are hundreds of books set around the room to take off the shelf and lose yourself in.”
“Bristol can be a difficult place to navigate in a wheelchair. The hills, while great free exercise, can make life tough and there are still far too many shops and services that are inaccessible to wheelchair users. Wapping Wharf is an exception. It’s flat, fully accessible and a great addition to the city. Most weeks I’ll find a reason to be down there whether it is for a yoga class, some food, a hot chocolate or to buy a bamboo toothbrush. I could namecheck every shop as I can spend whole days down there; but if I had to pick one, I would say Loop Massage. Loop is my small oasis of calm and my number one recommendation that people should go and visit. I really love it down there.”
The painted face on Bristol Bridge
“On Bristol Bridge, at the end of Victoria Street as you approach Castle Park, there is a painted face mask that always makes me smile. Despite numerous internet searches I don’t know anything about the mask or why it is there. But I know it has the gloriously happy expression I would have if I was covered in paint. Whenever I cross over the bridge I always say hello and am often surprised at the amount of people who don’t notice it or give it a second glance. I like to think he’s smiling the way he is because he gets to look at the yellow Duncan McKellar sculptures that often appear across the road from the bridge. Again, I know these aren’t universally popular but like this mask I can’t help grinning whenever I pass a giant cactus or pineapple. Bristol is recognised for its art in public places and spaces, but I really recommend looking beyond the obvious ones as there are some hidden gems all over the city that are worth searching for. I’ve nicknamed this face Geoff. He’s quite friendly so the next time you cross Bristol Bridge, make sure you say hi to Geoff.”