Brick me – a poem

Today marks an important milestone in the creation of the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus as demolition begins on the old sorting office next to Bristol Temple Meads Station.

As we say goodbye to the eyesore that has stood derelict for over 20 years, Bristol City Poet and artist-in-resident Vanessa Kisuule has written a poem to mark the occasion. We’ve worked with Vanessa to create a film that captures memories of the past as we look forward to new beginnings.

 

Facing the future together: City and University

A blog post from Professor Guy Orpen Deputy Vice-Chancellor, New Campus Development. 

The tides of history seem particularly turbulent at present. As Brexit swirls, cities, their people, businesses and organisations wonder about the way forward, our country faces very uncertain times. It feels more important than ever that we work together to support each other. We need to ensure we offer our young people opportunities to thrive whilst protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

A University like Bristol has much to offer in such times. Most obviously we offer employment (to 7,000 staff) and education (to our 24,000 students) as well as world-leading research.

Our students are more hard-pressed than previous generations; spending upwards of £10,000 a year in local businesses and services as well as high tuition fees. They are facing working lives that are longer and more uncertain than ever before. Despite these pressures, they enliven our city – in its cultural and sporting scene, by volunteering across its communities and bringing their vitality to its heart. And for many they make Bristol their home after they graduate, adding to the vibrant feel of one of the UK’s fastest growing cities – a regional hub for innovation and opportunity.

Our researchers seek understanding of our world today, invent ideas for its future and work with the NHS, industry, and society to understand how best to bring them to action. They launch new enterprises – like Ziylo this year’s $800m start-up company – and attract others to join in the endeavour with us. Often our graduates join these employers to provide them with the skills they need as doctors, engineers, managers, civil servants, teachers and scientists.

Our city needs many such jobs to be created, filled and sustained if we are flourish in a time when cities globally are vying for just these jobs. The scale and pace of competition is frightening – from Barcelona, Bangalore, Boston and Beijing to name just some of the Bs! Competition comes in many areas – aerospace, manufacturing, creative and business to name a few.

We face it too – competition in all we do and from all round the world. Our challenge is to attract and empower the most talented students and staff; to secure the resources to allow them and our educational, civic and research mission to succeed; and to bring value to our city and its people. We cannot do this alone. We need to work ever more closely with our city, its people, businesses and communities.

So, I’d argue that we need to be clear about what’s at play – all our futures. These are times of opportunity as well as challenge, and our city and University have just begun the journey to a closer partnership. There is much more we can do together – to change the face of the city east of Temple Meads and provide better futures for all in our wonderful, diverse, edgy but unequal city.

We will need to be honest with each other about the tensions as we face the future but pulling together we can put Bristol on the world stage, a place that tests futures and finds the best of them.

This post was originally published by the Bristol Post on 17 January 2019.

Artist-in-residence – Vanessa Kisuule

 

Vanessa Kisuule

Vanessa Kisuule is one of three Artists-in-Residence working with local communities on projects to celebrate the regeneration of the Temple Quarter area and document its heritage.

Vanessa is an award winning spoken word artist, recently appointed as Bristol’s city poet. She’ll be sharing her reflections and writing poems which explore the stories of the local area and its inhabitants, collecting memories from the past and hopes for the future. 

 

Click here to share your stories with Vanessa or call 0117 428 2322.

The Sorting Office Site: A Halfway House of Ghost Stories  

It takes a considerable leap of the imagination to walk through the cavity of the former Royal Mail sorting office and envisage a gleaming new university campus in its place. Despite its crumbling frame, there is something irrevocably sturdy about the structure. I can’t quite imagine it giving up without a fight. Even the way it will be demolished speaks of architectural stubbornness: rather than blowing up the structure in one cathartic motion, the contractors must ‘nibble’ away at the site with an extractor that will reduce the building to rubble over several weeks. Though initially disappointed that the building wouldn’t meet its end with a literal bang, I now appreciate the subtle poignancy in this death by slow mastication. It’s fitting that parts be taken away gradually, much in the way the building has decayed of its own accord in the twenty-two years since the sorting office was shut down. It’s the perpetual affliction of a poet to see metaphor in the most arbitrary of happenstance, but I like to hope this idea is striking for others to contemplate as well. 

The archival responsibilities we have to a space, even when we are radically changing it, are fascinating to ponder. As we were escorted around the site, stories of varying plausibility were relayed to us. Some were mostly true with the inevitable garnish of hyperbole, others seemed to be mere urban myths. But don’t the myths we make up become a part of our historical truth in their own way?

As I walked along the pitted floors scattered with pigeon feathers, desiccated carpet squares and endless mountains of debris, I couldn’t help but marvel at the playfulness of the space and how much of an inadvertent playground it has become. To speak of its ‘aesthetic’ would be suggestive of a deliberate curation that is not at play, but there does seem to be an incidental beauty here. I found myself charmed by the asymmetric chunks of tiles making scrambled mosaics on the floor, the walls that boasted meticulous murals and graffiti tags that would not look out of place in parts of Stokes Croft. It’s the sort of environment that media agencies spend thousands artificially creating for edgy networking events and pop up vintage stalls. If the university hadn’t bought this site, I wouldn’t have been surprised if a young tattooed micro-brewer specialising in niche IPAs had instead.  

But this space is not the all too common facsimile of counter culture we’re so used to seeing these days. There is a genuine spikiness here, an authentic deviance that is both bleak and thrilling. One of the old safes is reimagined as the locked entrance to a gay bar, an ominous political commentary if ever I saw one. The tags ‘Le Peng’ and ‘SHN’ recur frequently, the monikers of artists who have flaunted their stealth in getting into the building undetected. I fell a little bit in love with the swaggering aggression of this towering, majestic eyesore, the simultaneous fragility and belligerence of this not-quite-place. As an artist and as a human, I have learnt how to feel at home in the belly of a contradiction, so it stands to reason that this site speaks to me on a guttural level. It’s hard to imagine a time when it was an orderly place of work where things were filed and organised into neat piles and people dutifully clocked in and out. I am interested in these stories of the postal workers, how their regimented schedules may compare and contrast with the street artists who, decades later, scrambled into the husk of this once functioning business to reappropriate it in their own names.  

These stories may not be the remarkable kind that traditional history is so enamoured with. They are not the narratives on which instrumental change hinges. But they are the stories that have character and spunk, that perhaps relate to the communities we are trying so hard to retain as our cities become increasingly modern. The only hope for the survival of these stories is to ask probing questions and seek out those who may have answers, however partial. 

There will be a lot of conflicting opinions about this campus and what it means for the landscape of Bristol. Pertinent and uncomfortable discussions must be had as to who benefits from these changes and who potentially suffers or gets left behind. Whilst emphasising the exciting potential of developments like the Temple Quarter, we must also give space for uncertainty, for fear, for lament and respectful commemoration of what has been.  

I don’t want to be a vessel for glib evangelising for the campus, as brilliant as I think it has the potential to be. This residency, for me, is a chance to think deeply about the stories we tell ourselves about the cities we hope to inhabit. It’s nigh on impossible to disentangle truth from myth, hope from delusion, blue sky thinking from bottom line economics. With the help of my fellow Bristol citizens, I hope to make work that holds this dissonance with humour and care, that understands the trauma that comes with change and also the hopeful progression. Rather than forcing neat conclusions, I hope to make work as messy, provocative, angry, complex, beautiful and compelling as the site itself.