We Can Make…

by Caitlin



Today I spent my first day in Knowle West. In the morning I met with Melissa Mean, Head of Arts and Knowle West Media Centre, who I am working closely with on the current community housing project We Can Make.

Over the next three months I will be spending a week a month living in the community, and interviewing residents about their relationship with their home and housing, and exploring what home means to them. This will contribute new content for my audio documentary work, and form the basis of future installations I plan to situate in three Bristol locations, as part of my PhD practice. I will also be assisting in data collection, by conducting surveys with a range of residents for We Can Make.


We Can Make…Homes,  brings together a team of local people, artists, designers, architects and policy experts to explore new approaches to housing that will support communities to live better together. It is currently in it’s pilot stage, and I’m really excited to be working on such a practical venture into rethinking housing.

Knowle West is a neighbourhood situated on a low plateau in the south of Bristol, England, about 2 miles (3 km) from the centre of the city. Historically in Somerset, most of the area is coterminous with the Filwood ward of Bristol City Council, although a small part of the estate lies within Knowle ward to the east. To the west are Bishopsworth and Hartcliffe. To the north are Bedminster and Windmill Hill and to the south Whitchurch Park and Hengrove. The population as of 2008 was estimated as 11,787. The area is approximately 1.26 square miles (3.3 km2) in extent.


Knowle West remained a rural area until the 1930s, when a council housing estate was developed to provide homes for people displaced by slum clearance in the centre of the city. It now consists of roughly half owner occupancy and half social housing tenants. Famous former residents include the musician Tricky, the boxer Dixie Brown and late 1950s rock and roll band the Eagles.


The area has high levels of deprivation. Six out of eight areas in Knowle West are ranked as being economically deprived.The closure of the Imperial Tobacco factory at nearby Hartcliffe in 1990 meant the loss of 5,000 jobs and an estimated further 20,000 jobs in service and supporting industries throughout South Bristol. A House of Commons report noted that this had a seriously negative effect on the area as many people in Knowle West and neighbouring areas lost the opportunity for “manual and semi-skilled employment”. The Independent in 1995 noted high drug use and associated crime and reported on the establishment of Knowle West Against Drugs, led by local parents concerned about these problems.


Today I walked around and noticed some things. The houses are very similar. Doubles of semi detached 2 – 3 bedroom Red brick houses. There are centres such as the Health Centre and the Park that house multiple services such as physiotherapy, dialysis, GP surgery, cafe’s, chemists, sure start service, disability support, local history groups and another cafe.


On the street, the most notable thing are the houses. There are clusters of small shops, food discount shops, kebab shops and Spar and a Best One food shop. Overall there is a run down feel to the area. Some houses are very well presented, but many have an abundance of rubbish sprawling in the front yard, and there is a surprising number of horse trailers and horse boxes in the front drives. I have heard rumours that people keep their horses up here. The people I saw were young people drinking energy drinks and dressed in comfy casual clothes, young mothers pushing their prams towards the health centre, middle aged men who looked ill and tired, and a couple who were dressed in night clothes and looked high. A woman was shouting at them from her front door to buy her some paracetamol. I also saw two men working on an engine of a car outside their house, talking about specific engine parts.


Later, I met the other project artist Charlotte Biszewski and we went to the Park, which is a community hub in an old school that “offers opportunities to all the Community from 0-100+.” Here we met head of operations Emma Hinton, and two older men who ran the local history group. It was a vibrant place with lots of people working on different local community projects; from disability support groups, to youth support work to sure start offices. I would quite like to do some work there, but have yet to figure out exactly where I will find my research participants. This evening I have been reading The Comfort of Things (2009) by Daniely Miller who interviewed 30 people living on a single street in London. I am thinking this would be a good parameter to set myself, working on this project. Ideas firing, and no need to hem them in just yet.