Beyond the rolling hills and mansion house at Blaise Castle estate is an area considered one of the most deprived in Bristol. Those living in council housing by Crow Lane “get forgotten”, some locals say, due to its proximity to the wealthier areas of Blaise and Charlton Meads.
Even on Crow Lane itself, which has been listed among the most deprived streets of Bristol, you can find a Grade II listed farmhouse, which sold for over £730,000 last year. Wendy Baverstock, who volunteers in the local community centre, said that beyond Aldi, Crow Lane changes and you begin to see the “old Henbury village, where the more affluent residents tend to live”.
With the cost of living crisis, times have got harder and the community centre is one of the few places people can go in the area to get support. Rosemary Carr, 84, comes regularly and volunteered in the community for years after her daughter died.
Her daughter, who had Cerebral Palsy, died aged 39, twenty years ago. Prior to that Rosemary spent her days caring for her daughter.
She said that there isn’t any other community space in the area other than her church where they set up a coffee morning. She thinks the area gets forgotten and often gets missed when it comes to funding.
Rosemary said: “The council took everything away from us. We fought for every bit of money we could get, we’ve always been at the bottom of the list for everything.
“I used to sit on a lot of committees, after my daughter died I had to do something and I used to be out almost every night in meetings, trying to get money.”
Rosemary is concerned about young people who she said are “suffering” now. She added: “We’re older, we’re set in our ways but they are the ones who have to face this and with children as well.
“They’re going out working, they’re paying for everything and they haven’t got money for food.” Earlier this year the Resolution foundation reported that the UK’s wealth gaps have grown to over £1.2 million and after more than ten years of government cutbacks and a shrinking council budget, some residents say the area lacks facilities and services.
Wendy thinks anti-social behaviour in the area has got worse recently and believes the lack of funding over the last 10 or so years is now taking effect. Where a youth centre once stood there is now a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), a school for children who have been excluded from school or are at risk of exclusion.
Research from the YMCA youth charity found in 2020 government cuts over the last 10 years have resulted in at least a 60 per cent reduction in income across all regions in England. Wendy said: “It seems to be ten to 12 years of no money, and cuts, have brought all these issues to a head.
“People seem to put a sticking plaster over things but it doesn’t really do the job.” Although Wendy hopes Henbury and Brentry Community Centre can expand, a lack of core funding makes it difficult.
Local ward councillor Mark Weston, who’s held the seat since 2006, said that anti-social behaviour is one of the issues he gets contacted about the most in the area. Conservative Cllr Weston is in a minority in Bristol, with most wards being held by Labour or Green councillors.
He said the former Henbury youth club closed in 2008 because it wasn’t being used and was not related to Conservative government cuts. Cllr Weston said: “Ideally everyone wants a youth club but the problem with the Henbury youth club at the time was that people weren’t using it and because it wasn’t being used, in the end it closed down. I’d love to have one back but I don’t imagine the council has the scope for one, sadly, and I’m not sure you can run a youth club entirely with volunteers.
“When the Conservatives came in 2010, we had a budget deficit of 160 billion nationally so that did mean cuts to funding but that didn’t lead to a closure of our youth club.” He said that although he supports youth services, there is no longer a place where a youth club could run and that anti-social behaviour is not as bad as it used to be.
Bristol City Council is running at a deficit and outlined in a recent report that lack of funds could pose a “financial risk” to services, including children’s social care services. The lack of funding means that places like the Henbury and Brentry community centre rely mostly on the good will of volunteers.
The community centre holds a weekly play session for young children, which also gives parents a chance to access support services. The ward has almost twice as many children known to social care than the Bristol average, making it one of the Bristol areas with the highest number of children who are considered vulnerable.
The playgroup began four years ago after local parents could no longer afford to go to the local children’s centre, when prices increased to £5 per session. A local parent, Sahar Lawrence, set up the group and runs sessions as a volunteer.
Sahar said: “We have one children’s centre left in the area but the classes they have are expensive. We had to set up the group here because the children’s centre started charging us more and we couldn’t afford it.
“So I came and talked to Wendy and I said, ‘we are a group of mums, all living locally and we just want somewhere to sit down and chat while our kids play’.
“She understood us, she has kids herself and she bought some [play equipment] for our group. The other toys are donations.
“We don’t have any set price, we just asked them to buy something from the café but if they can’t that’s fine, they can still come here.”
Sahar, who lives just off Crow Lane, said that although both her and her partner are working, they have to increasingly rely on credit cards and can’t afford any luxuries “Because this area is working class, we all go to Aldi and you see the prices are not the prices we had before. We can’t afford a car and the buses are rubbish.
“So basically everything has gone up but services have gone down. For us, we have a fixed income without any pay rises but everything has gone up so obviously you have a big gap at the end of every month.
“Now I just borrow. We stopped sending our daughter to clubs or swimming classes, but we don’t have that social pressure because nobody goes really.
“I come to the community centre because it’s affordable, you don’t need to pay £3.80 for Costa Coffee.” Sahar tries to support the other mums in the group but will no longer be able to run the sessions when both her kids are at school.
Sahar, who is originally from Iran, understands how the area can sometimes be challenging for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. She said that some of the other mums she has spoken to find the area “too white” and don’t always feel welcome or have the confidence to come to the group, especially when English is an additional language.
“My focus is just to bring more diversity to the group. Coming from a BME background myself I try to encourage them and help them integrate into the group and chat to them.
“I see many new mums from different countries in this area. I work with health visitors in the area and they tell mums about our group.
“I was talking to one mum who told me she was sent from Easton to Henbury. The first impression for them is that they don’t belong to this area, they feel isolated.
“I am trying to get Halal food in the café. We need to be welcoming to everyone, it’s an area that we need to work on,” added Sahar.
The city council was contacted for comment in response to residents’ concerns about a lack of funding invested in the area, but is yet to respond. The authority announced in September that it needed to find an extra £31million next year to balance the books as a result of soaring costs and inflation and demand for services.
In his State of the City Address this week, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees criticised a government funding model that he said prioritises ‘national agendas’, but he spoke of the importance of addressing inequalities in the city with the resources the council has. He said: “We have a £15 billion economy, two world class universities, thriving business sectors and the highest graduate retention rate outside of London.
“This lives alongside entrenched inequalities – 70,000 people living in the 10 per cent most deprived areas in England, including 19,000 children and 8,000 older people. We have among the lowest rates of people going to university in the country.
“We must tackle all this by building homes and generating good jobs. It’s a challenge made all the more complex by the need to invest and live within the limits set by the climate and ecological emergencies.”