Radical change

The Bearpit has a way of showing you the worst of human nature and, a split second later, the best of human nature. It’s not an easy place to work and survive: it takes relentless perserverence. That’s why telling our story is always tough.

There are many stakeholders involved in the Bearpit, but our organisation was on the frontlines.

We spent about 300 days in the physical space, often from 6.45 in the morning until 11 at night. We saw it all: the good, the bad and the ugly - we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The ‘ugly’ can get really ugly. It’s no surprise that, in 2011, the Bearpit was voted the single worst area in all of Bristol. Three of the four directors of Bearpit Bristol CIC have been physically assaulted in the space, while the majority of our staff have either been threatened or intimidated. Just as we get through a tough quarter and start to pick ourselves up, something like the synthetic drug spice comes along and creates a crisis in the city.

But we’ve also seen just how good the ‘good’ can be. Our combined social enterprise, formed in 2016, set out our aim to establish the Bearpit as a destination in Bristol. We have delivered initiatives through increased trading, community activities, events & markets, building on past interventions. At our Community Action Event this February, hundreds of people from all walks of life turned out to show their support for our project, and for a better future for the space.

Despite all of the challenges, we’ve seen enough good to convince us that there really is potential to transform the Bearpit and bring about real social change that will benefit the lives of everyone currently touched by it, as well as generations to come.

In all of our work, we have stuck to the basic vision and values of the Bearpit Improvement Group, as described by founding Director Henry Shaftoe:

‘These “values” were loosely: that ultimately, the Bearpit should feel welcoming at any time of the day or night; that it should not exclude any sector of the population (as long as they were acting legally!), that it would be diverse in its offers and activities and that it would feel safe for everyone. Later this was articulated in the vision of: “Welcoming, Safe, Diverse and Inclusive”.’

To this day, we try live up to these ideals. In fact, they were the inspiration in creating Bearpit Bristol CIC. We called ourselves Bearpit Bristol CIC because we wanted the Bearpit to feel inclusive and win the hearts of Bristolians; to feel that it belonged to the city and its people, not to the crime and antisocial behaviour statistics. We opened the Bearpit up to the city by working with other organisations on ideas and events, or simply giving them the Bearpit as a platform. To show the power of unity and collaboration, we worked with people who shared our vision of creating a safe and welcoming destination.

With 2017 coming to an end, despite all the things that were out of our control, together as Bearpit Bristol we did achieve more together this year then we had in the previous years.

However, our journey has brought us to a crisis point. We have to face up to some difficult truths, and ask ourselves whether we have made any difference at all.

In the last two years alone, over 600 reports of crime and antisocial behaviour came from the Bearpit. A staggering figure that made our hearts drop, serving us a plate of reality we had to digest. Worse still, the majority of incidents involve violence towards people and risks to public safety.

In January 2014, South West Business published an article declaring,  “Roundabout revamp will make Bristol's Bearpit 'a gateway to the city''. Coming into the fourth year since its completion, it's a bitter pill to swallow accepting that the revamp has not met its expectations.

Even with our activities and those of the other stakeholders, the long history and the continuing current issues of the Bearpit have proven to be impossible to dismantle.

Despite best efforts, there is enough evidence to prove that these interventions only brought short term social change. The complexity of the issues in the Bearpit have never been properly addressed. Two clear examples were the failure of the Public Space Protection Order and the failure to address the antisocial behaviour and crime hotspots when the regeneration took place.

A different approach was needed.

Throughout our time in the Bearpit, we have adopted the Bearpit Improvement Group’s approach of incremental change. As Henry Shaftoe explained:

‘The idea was to overcome (…) “paralysis” about the site and actually start doing something, however modest, to show that somebody cared about the place.’

We honoured this founding principle by opening our businesses right in the Bearpit. At the time, incremental change was the right approach. As people investing time and money into a space with no security (in all the senses), we entwined the same approach to how our businesses grew.

It is now clear to us that, without a single cohesive vision and purpose, no matter what we do, we will not be able to achieve sustainability and realise our vision of a welcoming, safe, diverse and inclusive Bearpit.

For us, 2018 must be the year of radical change: the year to do things differently and think differently. To expand our social impact beyond the Bearpit, to reach all of Bristol and beyond, and create significant change for the long term.

We are ready to make radical change happen. The last few years have taught us resilience, never-ending hope and the will to make a difference against all odds.

Join us.

Miriam Delogu, Managing Director

Bearpit Bristol CIC


Quotes from: http://www.convivialspaces.org/transforming-the-bearpit.htm