I've been working with The Bearpit Improvement Group for 2 years, designing and working on making a garden in this extraordinary space. The Bearpit is a sunken roundabout at the city centre end of the M32, accessed only, until recently, by 4 tunnels although there are now stairs down into the space. Historically, as all such places tend to be, it was lost, forgotten about and had a certain reputation as it attracted people into it who were lost themselves. The tunnels were, and still are, used by people to sleep in, and the space has been used by people in crisis or struggling to cope in our society.
For the last 7 years, since its inception, the Bearpit Improvement group has brought together key organisations and individuals who are looking to turn the space into a vibrant area that is both safe and inclusive, turning that lost and unloved space into one the entire city can be proud of. A destination.
Lots has happened, with new steps down into the space, 2 cafes and a fruit stall opening, vibrant street art livening the space and markets beginning to happen. There have been accusations that the community that uses the space are trying to be moved out, and that this is all about gentrification, but that is far from the reality. What is being designed is a space for all; a space people engage with and can enjoy, where they can buy a coffee and delicious locally made cake, or lunch, and relax, rather than scurrying through, disengaged.
I have designed the garden around various themes. The original idea came from the forest garden concept, but as the garden needs to be accessible and useable as a garden, the concept has morphed over the last 18 months or so, to include beautiful seating that will include pollinator rich planting, as well as a path that will lead people around the garden and through its different planting areas. All the hedging will be made from herbs, willows and fruit bushes, and the planting will be a mixture of herbs, perennial vegetables, pollinator rich plantings and plants that will help cool and calm.
Now for Incredible Edible Bristol turning unused, unloved and forgotten spaces into gardens that are both beautiful and productive, is what our core work is. Across the city we have created and work with 29 gardens that have done just that, creating not just food growing spaces, but also resilient communities around those spaces, who are proud of what they are achieving. But of course not everyone wants to garden and with our motto being "if you eat you're in" everyone can take part in some way, be it baking a cake, coming along to a work party for a chat, helping with organising events around the gardens or any one of a myriad of other ways. So with that in mind, as people ask who the garden in the Bearpit is for, the answer I find myself using over and again is "you".
Many have suggested there will be vandalism and that this garden is a waste of money
To these people I say watch and I hope you'll be surprised . There could be vandalism but who cares? We'll replant, and as we have engaged with ALL the different people who use the space, and discussed what they would like and what the plans are, it's been a community discussion and decision so we hope the community will be proud of the garden, meaning vandalism stays at a minimum.
For many people living in the urban environment means access to nature is often difficult. Parks, although abundant in number, in our most challenging wards are often lacking in resource and so have lost much of their community feel and aren't easy places to feel safe in. Travelling to other areas costs money and often cultural differences mean a lack of comfort once there. I hope that this garden looks to talk of possibilities for and to people. Good urban design should include nature, biodiversity and their importance for people. Plants and planting should be dynamic, exciting and useful, and people should be inspired to take those designs and look at how they can design their areas, neighbourhoods and homes.
And in the meantime, the garden in the Bearpit will continue to grow and inspire......