Thursday March 16, 2023
By Yvonne Deeney
But there are concerns the "shiny new development" will only benefit newcomers, not the existing community
Volunteers and staff from Bristol Horn Youth Concern after an afternoon in St Jude's with the local community. (Image: Yvonne Deeney)
Tucked away between Cabot Circus and Easton is a community that sometimes gets overlooked. Poor housing conditions and rising food costs are just a few of the problems that people face living in the ageing council housing estates of St Jude's.
While those living in council flats at St Matthias House have optimal views of Cabot Circus and the increasing number of new housing developments surrounding them, the simple task of washing clothes means taking laundry to a separate block and then lugging the clothes up a flight of stairs because the building doesn’t have a lift. And like many living in tower blocks, they only have one hour a week allocated to them to enjoy the privilege of a washing machine.
Residents say issues of damp and mould and overcrowding are not uncommon and while complaints are not always dealt with, sometimes they don’t get reported. Many of the women on the estates in St Jude's come from refugee backgrounds and are too proud to ask for help or just don’t know how, explained Fadumo Galib, a worker at a local CIC, Bristol Horn Youth Concern (BHYC) who runs the only women’s only welcoming space in Bristol.
Like most small grassroots organisations funding is tight for BHYC and they end up having to rent buildings for the youth work they do across Lawrence Hill, Easton and St Pauls. The women’s Welcoming Space in St Jude's is no different - they have to borrow space from The Quakers who have a building in the area.
Fadumo has been running the free community meal project, which comes with food parcels for the women who attend. What struck her the most is just how little the neighbours knew of each other before they began the regular sessions.
“Some of these people are neighbours and they’ve never had a conversation with each other ever, it’s one of the most fascinating things that I’ve seen. There’s a few of them who are four doors apart, some of them are on top of each other and they’ve never conversed,” explained Fadumo, who said the sessions are just as important for tackling social isolation as they are for supporting people with rising bills.
Getting people through the door has sometimes been a challenge, but once the women, who are predominantly Somali, make that first step she said they tend to keep coming back. Fadumo spoke of one woman who had been struggling with bills and the rising cost of food, who felt extremely embarrassed to collect one of the food parcels at first. She had also been struggling with social anxiety and spent most of her time at home with her two autistic children, but she has now become a regular.
“Ultimately it has improved their mental health massively. She’s now speaking to people, but at first she didn’t want to eat or drink, she had social anxiety from being around people she’s never met. A lot of people feel really embarrassed to come here and take a food parcel.”
The staff and volunteers cook a free community meal every Friday morning in the welcoming space which is strictly women only. (Image: Yvonne Deeney)
Shan Nur is a working mum who grew up in Bristol and started attending the sessions and helping out because she knew one of the workers. It has now become part of her weekly routine and has helped her feel connected to people in the community, who she hadn’t previously thought she would ever socialise with.
Shan said: “I had usually stayed at home before, I’ve lost touch with people I grew up with because we’re not in similar circumstances now and usually just socialise with people from work. I don’t really engage with people with the Somali community.
“A lot of the women are older than me but I feel so connected to them, I don’t feel judged for the way I dress or the way I am. It’s also nice to mix with a diverse group of people from different countries, ages and backgrounds.”
Although Shan works, she said she is feeling the pinch of the rising cost of living so coming somewhere you don’t have to pay for anything, in an environment where there is no “shame” in doing so, is also important. But such community provision is insecure and the Welcoming Spaces scheme was only ever temporary.
BHYC may benefit from an additional grant from Feeding Bristol to allow it to continue beyond March, but the constant task of chasing funding means that support for people in deprived communities like St Jude's is never fully guaranteed.BHYC get funding for 30 food parcels a week from the Merchant Venturers but have to offer them on a first come, first serve basis as they regularly get more than 30 people show up a week and soon they may not have any as the funding is due to come to an end. (Image: Yvonne Deeney)
The neighbourhood is predominantly made up of council housing and hostels catering to those living on the margins of society, but huge investment coming into the area is set to change it dramatically over the next 10 to 15 years. The Frome Gateway development sets out a bold vision of 1,000 new homes, “new buildings, public spaces and infrastructure have been designed with sustainability and a changing climate in mind, creating more attractive and comfortable streets and more space for wildlife to thrive".
The development area is land either side of the River Frome in St Jude's. Community consultations on the development have been ongoing for more than three years, and although providing more community facilities for locals is part of the “inclusive” vision for the area, not all locals are convinced that the project will deliver for the existing community.
Jen Smith, a mother who lives in a building on Wade Court, owned by a housing association, has seen the area become more “trendy” over the last eight years, with nighttime venues popping up. She said the noise from people getting into taxis at 3am at the weekend often keeps her up at night and like the new clubs in St Jude's, she doesn’t see Frome Gateway as something that will benefit people and feels a sense of “fatigue” with consultations.
Jen said: “It’s just not family orientated housing that’s being built. My building was built in 2016 and we’re overcrowded in a two bed flat, I can’t even fit a bed in it or a sofa. They’ll probably build more accommodation that’s not suitable for families and that’s what we so desperately need.
Residents at St Mattias House get a panoramic view of a newer student accommodation that has been built in the area. (Image: Yvonne Deeney)
“It’s probably aimed at bringing more people into Bristol, which is great for young people who might have the opportunity to have more housing, but we’re stuck here, we’re completely trapped and it’s an absolute misery.
“I think they need to consider people who already live in these communities before they start adding to them. I think it’s quite a sensitive area, it’s predominantly a Somali area and then you’ve got hostels for people with addiction needs and those kinds of issues, it kind of rubs along together not too badly but there’s just no community, there’s no facilities. It feels a bit lawless at times and like nobody cares about St Jude's but they’re just going to put a shiny new development down which will benefit those people but not the people who are already here.”
In response to the idea of there being more facilities for locals, Jen’s response was one of disbelief. She said overcrowded housing is something experienced by many families in the area.
St Matthias House does not have a lift and residents currently have to bring their laundry to a neighbouring block to wash their clothes. Typically those in council housing blocks are allocated at hour a week to wash clothes. (Image: Yvonne Deeney)
For Fadumo, who speaks with many families in the area in council housing that needs repairs, part of her advocacy work is supporting families in reporting their issues.
Fadumo said: “A lot of them have massive issues with their properties and a lot are overcrowded, there are some who have five children in a two bedroom flat and their partner as well, there is a massive housing crisis but it’s all over, it’s not just Bristol. I think everyone is struggling in different ways across the country.”
While new housing is planned for the area, the developer is only required by policy to make 20 per cent of that affordable - if this was applied to the current Frome Gateway proposals, that could potentially mean 200 new homes designated as 'affordable'. Some may be shared ownership or just not big enough in size to meet the needs of families who make up the majority of those currently on the housing waiting list.
The website dedicated to the development speaks of sustainability and improving the neighbourhood, and Bristol City Council is working to engage the community and businesses in the planning process. However, despite a new vision being laid out last week, many say the plans for the Frome Gateway development are still very vague.
For now the community continues to rely on the support they have from local organisations like BHYC, who can help to report to the council on their behalf on issues such as disrepair in their properties, or refer them to agencies who can provide financial support. Khalil Abdi, founder and director of BHYC, added: “It’s a great place for different cultures to come together, they talk and share skills with each other.”
'Aspirations for new neighbourhood'
A spokesperson from Bristol City Council said: “The Regeneration Project in Frome Gateway began in 2019. Since then we’ve had hundreds of conversations with people living and working in the area about what is important to them for the future. We used this feedback to generate ‘Community Place Principles’ that set out clear aspirations for the new neighbourhood at Frome Gateway. The project team are incorporating these aspiration into the plans for the regeneration.
“Comments from residents, businesses, and landowners have also been used to create a vision for Frome Gateway. We are refining our design and development concept through a series of community engagement events.
"At every stage of the project we have provided multiple opportunities for a wide variety of groups to hear about the plans from us, ask questions, and tell us whether we need to update or address any specific issues. A new survey gathering initial responses to the early design ideas is available on our website and we are actively encouraging members of the community to use it.”