A young Bristol writer and comedian wants to end the romanticisation of ‘ghetto’ or ‘down and out’ living and has written a book named Voices of Bristol: Gentrification and Us to do just that.
Gentrification has been a conflicting topic of conversation in Bristol for the last couple of years – with the redevelopment of much loved buildings being turned into flats or cafes, which then results in people struggling to find affordable housing.
The term gentrification is used to describe the migration of a higher socioeconomic group into a lower socioeconomic area, therefore making the area often too expensive for locals to live.
This is due to buildings being renovated into new businesses to cater to the new demographic moving into the area. For example, cheap pubs into pricey cocktail bars.
A light bulb went off in the author Henry Palmer’s head when he was partying with friends at well-known pub The Star and Garter in Montpelier, which made an outstanding comeback in June 1, with the likes of Dave Chappelle and Damian Marley making an appearance.
For Henry, The Star and Garter gave him a sense of home and belonging.
He describes it as being surrounded by: “working class cosmopolitan type people – down to earth people”.
But, something made him uncomfortable when he noticed the lack of integration between the “middle class white students” on the dance floor and the locals.
He said: “What I didn’t like was the lack of integration with the locals, so it got me thinking. I began to look into it, so then I stumbled across a term named studentification and I came across this literature and academia on the students being the first to explore new grounds.
“This is also what happened in 60s St Paul’s, claims the book Endless Pressure by theorist Ken Price. It’s the same sort of fascination of students with these more deprived areas.”
Henry also goes into experiences he’s had with new arrivals in Bristol and the fascination they’ve sometimes had with less privileged areas, while he was an Uber driver.
“If I told a Bristolian or someone who grew up here ‘I’m from Easton’, they’ll go ‘Ooh that’s rough’, but if I told someone who was new to Bristol that I was from Easton, they would say ‘Oh, wow, yes. Nice’.
“So, there was this really interesting contrast in response that there is definitely a contrast in understanding here – not vilafying either side.”
(Image: Dan Regan/BristolLive)
Growing up in Whitehall, Easton himself, Henry grew up with a mix bag of people and had been held at gunpoint along with other violent acts against him.
This lead him to observe all the changes that had occurred whilst he was at university and was left shocked on his return to realise that many places he loved in Bristol, he had now lost and new people in the area didn’t understand the baggage that came with growing up in these areas.
“When you start to hear that you and your friends can’t afford to live there anymore because house prices have surged so much and it’s now up and coming, it’s a bit bitter sweet.
“Economically what you see is what people can’t afford, so you have cocktails bars opening up just up the road where I grew up in BS5 in Easton and obviously being a cocktail bar, they charge more money – £6, £7.50 for a cocktail.
“However, it’s totally different to The Whitehall Tavern prices which is an old boozer, but do you condemn them? No. They’re just adhering to a new demographic who lives in the area.”
He believes that this conflict between gentrifiers and locals needs to be brought to a halt because neither of those groups in society are to blame, but the developers are the ones who should be questioned.
Accordingly, businesses in Easton have felt the heat when it comes to the development of new buildings being built in the area.
“Whole Foods in Easton who sell organic food have people running in there and shouting stuff like ‘You’re ruining this area. You don’t understand this area’. But, that’s not helpful and that’s not conducive to people in local areas getting on with each other.
“Actually realign your focus on developers, like Generator for example who are building about 140 homes. They should be called ‘Generators of privilege’,” he said.
Voices of Bristol: Gentrification and Us focuses on Easton BS5, St Paul’s BS2 and Bedminster BS3 and highlights the centrality of these three postcodes, creating the appeal for people to move into those areas.
How central a location is can often create an allure in line with urbanisation and the want to live in the city centre, whilst being close to amenities, bars and a facilities are.
(Image: Dan Regan/BristolLive)
Henry said: “A cultural issue in Whitehall, Easton or St Paul’s would be fewer Caribbeans clubs or venues, for example The Prince of Wales is now a cafe because the landlord decided to convert it into flats and a cafe because it was more lucrative for him.
“The Brunswick Club had fewer members, so there’s now plans to turn that into offices.
“So, culturally speaking one of the issues that people in St Paul’s will have, mainly the Caribbean and mostly Jamaican population because historically that’s the people who have been there since especially 1952.
“As the McCarran–Walter Act disallowed migration of Caribbeans to America and therefore a redirection was necessary and they came to Bristol – that’s a cultural issue.
“You speak to a lot of Jamaicans now in St Paul’s and they’ll tell you there’s less things to do and you see fewer faces.”
With locals feeling like their areas are being ethnically cleansed, Henry hopes his book will diminish the friction between gentrifiers and locals.
The book can be found here.