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Community groups change face of Stokes Croft

April 21, 2009

Community groups in Stokes Croft claim the area is set for massive improvement in 2009.

Stokes Croft for many years had a bad reputation among Bristolians, but two organisations – the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft and Coexist – both have major regeneration plans set to happen later this year.

One of them is the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. Its chairman, Chris Chalkley, has long championed the area and has been responsible for encouraging some of the cutting-edge street art now seen on the area’s shopfronts and street furniture.

He said: “Stokes Croft ahs always been an area full of artistic creativity and has always had an artistic culture going back into the mists of time. The effect of the street art is to demonstrate the strengths of the area.

“It’s a cultural quarter. It’s also a conservation area. It doesn’t have any multinational companies here at all and that gives it the feel of a village in the centre of a large city and that is extremely rare.”

He has already introduced a number of projects to improve the area. They include ‘The Toff’, a tongue-in-cheek newspaper for the area and the ‘Planning Watch’ group which monitors development proposals. This is important for Chris, who says, “For local people to have a direct input into what their area becomnes and how it looks pushes forward the notion of self-determination.”

On Monday, PRSC will hold an exhibition by UWE urban design students showing ideas for regenerating the area. Later this year, it plans to put street chess sets on ‘Turbo Island’ (the knoll at the end of Jamaica St), launch a range of Stokes Croft china and sell it on its own auction website dubbed ‘PRSC-bay’.

Another major project set to boost the area is the redevelopment of Hamilton House. The former Lloyds-Bowmaker building, on the junction of Stokes Croft and Jamaica St, is being turned into workspaces and studios for creative companies, musicians and artists.

Its most striking feature will be a 3,000 sq ft ground floor bar designed in conjunction with Tobacco Factory architect George Ferguson. ‘Canteen’ is due to open by this June.

Jamie Pike from Coexist – the company managing Hamilton House – said: “We have about 40 different tenants: artists, musicians and social enterprises working away. Our philosophy is that we wanted to develop sustainable urban communities in Bristol. We wanted to create something where like-minded people could work alongside each other and benefit from being in the same space.”

Despite the regeneration, anyone walking down Stokes Croft can still see street drinking, beggars, drug addicts, delapidated buildings and brothels. But Jamie believes the grass-roots style of regeneration will help.

He said: “There’s got to be a change of attitude. There’s a shying away from the gritty reality of people in lifelong addiction. You walk down the street and you’d rather avert your eyes than treat them as a human being.

“We’re trying to promote a culture of inclusion so even though they might not be able to overcome their drug or alcohol problems, they can feel part of the community. It’s not going to happen overnight, but the desire to change things might have an effect.”

But with new street art appearing every day, some by renowned international artists, Stokes Croft already feels brighter and safer. The new projects launching this year could make 2009 the year inner-city Bristol really changes.

You can email coexist here and visit the PRSC website.

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