Community-Led Housing in Barton Hill

Ruth Pickersgil (Left) and Abdullahi Farah (Right) from Bristol Somali Resource Centre are pictured in front of the former Tenants’ Hall building.
Today’s guest blog is from Ruth Pickersgill (left) and Abdullahi Farah (right), from Bristol Somali Resource Centre

The former Tenants’ Hall in Avonvale Road has stood empty for years. It is unsafe, covered in ivy and surrounded by rubbish (but a perfect home for a few bats who will be provided with alternative accommodation before the demolition takes place). This historic building has a proud history of being the Barton Hill Tenants Association Social Club, providing a place of safety and solidarity for the local community.

After the club closed, the site was taken back by the Council. It subsequently became clear that the building was in such a poor state of repair with collapsed floors etc., that it had to be demolished. This will happen in the next few months once planning permission has been secured. However, soon the site will be brought back to life by the community, for the community.

The Mayor’s Visit

Mayor Marvin Rees and Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Lead for Housing, were invited to the former Tenants’ Hall site on Friday by the Bristol Somali Resource Centre (BSRC) staff and trustees, to hear about their exciting vision for its future. BSRC has campaigned for many years for more community space in Barton Hill, led by the enthusiasm of trustee Samira Musse, (who also runs the Barton Hill Activity Club) and is constantly looking for places for their children to meet in the holidays). The proposed development of the site will include a multi-use community space for local groups on the ground floor, (probably with a café and outdoor space), with social housing flats above (local homes for local people on the Housing Register).

A photo of Tenants Hall building, in Barton Hill.

Key Partnerships will make it happen

This is only becoming a reality due to a unique set of partnerships, and the commitment and vision of local people. Nothing would have happened without the proactive support and facilitation of the administration and Council officers, who secured a grant from the Brownfield Land Release Fund to bring a number of difficult sites around the city back into use for housing, and to meet the costs of the demolition of the building. They then embarked on a competitive process which has led to BSRC being the ‘preferred bidder’ for a long- term lease on the land. Initial design work was funded through a grant that the Council secured through the Local Government Association Housing Advisers Programme, which allowed us to ‘match make’ architects to community led housing projects.

While BSRC have a proven track record in advice and community work, we are just starting out in housing development so have needed dependable partners who understand our vision. We have been so lucky to be supported by Bristol Community Land Trust at every stage, advising and levering in the funding and expertise we need. We are also partnering with one50studio architects to develop the designs, ensuring sustainability and local needs will be central.

Community-Led Housing model is leading the way

Everyone knows we have a housing crisis in the city. As well as building new homes, including social and affordable housing, it’s important that we also think about the needs of communities. This is where community-led housing initiatives should be leading the way. Not only can this model deliver what local people want and need, but, as in this case, it can ensure the land is owned by the community in the long term, and so its future is secure.  

A group picture with Mayor Marvin Rees (third from the right) and Councillor Tom Renhard (fourth from the left) outside the former Tenants’ Hall building.

Developing the Vision into Reality

What is exciting about this development is that it is really is ‘community-led’. Supported by the Black South West Network and our other partners, BSRC have organised a number of consultation events and surveys to find out what local people want, and there is now a steering group to move us into the more detailed stage of the design process. It is really important we recognise the history of the former Tenants’ Hall. The Barton Hill History Group will be  preserving key artefacts  and we aim for the new build to be in keeping with the character of the local area.

The next stage will be to create the funding strategy and business plan and to identify a Housing Association to work with us to deliver the homes we desperately need in the area- so watch this space as our vision becomes a reality.