As part of the ongoing planning and construction of Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, Second Chances was a one off tour, produced by Knowle West Media Centre, exploring the past, present and future of Temple Quarter. Our group, Half Dog Ghost, so named after a self explanatory spirit which supposedly haunts John Lysaght’s final building, was led in part by local historian Mike Bone and Richard Headon.
Starting at Temple Gate, we were taken down into the candle lit vaults where ash from locomotives once sprinkled from the ceiling. The intended pop up cinema that would’ve shown the first film failed, and so we promptly moved on to view the Severn Project, a collective of pop up farms growing fruits, vegetables etc. for clientèle a helping of which we were treated to. The stress here is not on simply 5 a day, as one member insisted that 5 a day of supermarket fruit & veg was akin to ‘5 pizzas a day’, rather that it be fresh and thus rich in earthly minerals.
Nearby this was the Bristol Wood Recycling Project, which welcomed our tour group with ice cream and popcorn – quickly championing the former healthier option – to enjoy whilst viewing Sharon Townson’s short Stories From the Wood, a portrait of a freelance stop motion animation worker learning the skills required for carpentry in between work. Laced with a peaceful stillness and eye for geometrical outlines, it could almost function as a deleted chapter of La Quattro Volte.
Our walk continued along the original River Avon route and across a dilapidated 19th century bridge which once held the main London line, when, simultaneously, it would’ve overlooked noxious chemical factories and the still running dog pound built in 1901, one of the earliest in the country. Other factories in the area, part of Bristol’s earliest Industrial Revolution in the 1720s, include more toxic lead paint manufacturers and gin distilleries which, themselves, act as relics charting the journey of gin from Georgian slums to Victorian palaces and, now, in home drinks cabinets.
The SOFA Project (Shifting Old Furniture About) lies past gates with the letters ‘RL’ embedded, and is based in a converted warehouse filled with, all of which giving the impression like some flamboyant millionaire died and left his cluttered possessions behind a la Citizen Kane. Apart from moving second hand furniture, SOFA also produce their own, from children’s forts to map covered coffee tables, using prisoners and youth schemes aimed at providing young people with the skills for a career.
Following all this local history, it’s something of a minor culture shock to step into the modern Glass Wharf where law firm and Enterprise Zone inhabitants Burges Salmon operate. The idea of similar hyaline heights housing other businesses, both small and big, seemed to be the elephant in the room for many in the audience of the film screenings and debate. Joe Magee’s short Each Shining Hour uses stoney faced ‘Citizen A’ (Angus Barr) for a superficial kaleidoscopic showcase of the benumbing effects of bland office labour. Citizen A prefers to drown his lack of sorrows at the local pub, with the ATM his church, as the soundtrack constantly ticks, tocks and clacks. The second short, Scratching the Surface, is a documentary directed by Nathan Hughes (We screened one of Hughes’s films at our Breaking Out event.) Interviewing a number of unfortunately captioned local business owners, workers and councillors, with one of the latter calling for a change in Bristol’s motto from ‘Virtute et industrial’ to ‘Virtue and industry, kind for the world and justice for the people.’
The floor was then handed over to a debate with a panel including Creating Excellence director Dominic Murphy, KWMC director Carolyn Hassan, filmmaker Nathan Hughes and Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Colin Skellett. Topics covered included the failures of previous enterprise zones, purportedly malformed by the Thatcher government making the state ‘a servant of private developers,’ and the failure of Cabot Circus and Barrett Homes redevelopment to bring long term work prospects and reliable public services. Yet there was an optimistic undertone, that the construction of a new 12,000 capacity arena and the 350 businesses already involved in the Enterprise Zone would hail a hopeful future. An aggravated audience reacted to Skellett’s claim that 17,000 jobs will present themselves by questioning the exact nature of these jobs, a provocation time prevented a proper addressing to. One freelance stop motion animator complained about the lack of guaranteed work in the area or support for the creative industries, to which David Sproxton, co-founder of Aardman Animation, responded that his company, now employing upwards of 150 people, started in 1976 with only two artists and one derelict shed, later surviving through the height of Thatcher’s recession.
There was an inherent – arguably justified – scepticism from the public, most certainly brought about by the involvement of big business, which perhaps explains the antagonistic response in the debate. Yet the quite visible corporate hand in the Zone should not automatically qualify such influence as a haughty, self interested action, despite these being typical qualities of the private sector in British society. Maybe these are, in fact, safe hands belonging to those who stood aghast during the Thatcher era, producing an invariable ambition to do things right, given their turn.