Will the 80-year-old Filwood Community Centre cling on? And what can be done to revive the Broadway?
Photos: Charlie Watts
Filwood Community Centre celebrated its 80th anniversary last week. However, the celebrations came at a time when the centre and the wider community has been hit by Bristol City Council cuts in recent years, raising questions over its future.
The Centre, which opened on 23 April 1938, faces Filwood Broadway, a high street at the heart of Filwood, Knowle West.
Work first began on Filwood Broadway in the 1930s. Since then, the centre has been an important part of the community, while the Broadway is a shadow of what it once was.
A once thriving high street a shadow of its former self
In 1938, a cinema was one of the first buildings to open on the Broadway. Twenty shops once filled the Filwood high street. Then, throughout the 1950s and 60s, a church, library and swimming pool sprung up along the street.
The once thriving Broadway was the focal point of Filwood. Sadly, the same cannot be said today.
The cinema, which later became a bingo hall, has been boarded up for decades. Many of the Broadway shops are now shuttered. The church remains, while the library has been threatened with closure. The swimming pool, meanwhile, closed in 2005 and was then demolished.
Now Filwood residents are, understandably so, worried about the future of their long-standing community centre. For eight decades, the redbrick building has brought together the people of Filwood, where deprivation is rife.
Filwood, the second-most deprived ward in Bristol, is amongst the most-deprived in the country, according to the 2015 index of multiple deprivation.
More than a third of people (35%) in Filwood are income deprived, which is more than double the Bristol average of 17%, while almost half of children (45%) in Filwood live in low-income households, compared to a city average of 24%. The neighbourhood has the highest levels of unemployment in Bristol, with more than a quarter of its working age population (26%) out of work. This is double the city’s average unemployment rate.
A centre at the centre of a community
Community in Partnership Knowle West (CIP), which runs Filwood Community Centre, receives an annual council grant to cover repair/maintenance costs of the building. Of late, however, the grant has been cut.
In 2014/15, CIP, a community group, received a council grant of £64,000 to help repair/maintain the centre. This dropped to £50,000 in 2015/16 and fell again to £45,000 in 2016/17. For 2017/18, the grant was lowered to £30,000. It remains at £30,000 for 2018/19.
Ann Smith, 78, a trustee and former vice chair of CIP, is worried that council funding for the centre will stop altogether. “We have to keep worrying will we get anything next year,” says Ann. “You have to worry because you know of all the people that have lost funding and you think, we’re lucky to be getting some, to be honest. But we would like a lot more. There’s a lot needs doing.
“I hope people are wise enough to keep [the centre] going,” she adds.
“I would love to think it went on for years and hopefully, it will. If we’re doing good with it and making it presentable and possible for people, then I don’t see any reason why it should come down.
“People don’t always see it the same way, they don’t live here – the council people and that. But this is my place. I absolutely love this place.”
Nonetheless, Ann knows that the formerly thriving Broadway is not the same as she remembers.
“I used to go swimming every Friday morning and they took that away,” she says. “I could’ve gone somewhere else but when it was just on my doorstep, it was lovely. The cinema’s gone – it’s still there, but it’s a wreck. It’s such a shame. It’s like, ‘Why is it like this?’ I think, in all honesty, it just happened without anyone realising. It was all there – and then it was gone.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely,” she asks, “to have it back as a thriving community?”
The generational gap
The Deans are a family from Filwood made up of Keith, Collette, and their children, Luke and Megan. Like Ann, they too would like to see the Broadway return to its former glory. “It looks awful around there,” says Collette, 44, a nursing assistant. “It used to be a really busy area. They used to have a mini market there.”
“There used to be a garage next to the cinema,” adds Keith, 55, a warehouse operative. “I loved [the cinema] when I was a kid,” he says. “I used to go there every Saturday.”
But for the next generation, these memories are not theirs. “It seems like by the time we were born, everything was already gone,” says Megan, 14.
“This place,” adds Luke, 18, “has had more and more taken away from it overtime, and is still having things taken away from it.”
There is a sense that there is not enough for young people to do in Filwood, which results in them causing trouble in the streets. The family say that the Broadway is a particular hotspot for anti-social behaviour. “I went to the chip shop two weeks ago,’ says Collette. ‘[The workers] had to lock the door with me and another customer in there because there was a group of 10 kids outside chucking rubbish through the letterbox, swearing.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love this area,” she adds. “But the way [the Broadway] is at the moment puts me off wanting to shop there.”
It is clear from talking to Filwood residents, such as Ann and the Deans, that they want to see the Broadway booming again, giving young people something to do rather than hang around on the streets.
However, for now, the community centre remains the flagship of FIlwood, though cuts to its funding have cast doubts about the council’s commitment to keep it going.
So, what does the council have to say on the matter? A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “The Filwood Community Centre is a valuable asset to Knowle West and Community In Partnership (CIP), which runs the centre, does a great job in supporting the local community. We support this through discretionary grant funding to CIP to assist with costs of repairs and maintenance and are pleased to provide £30,000 to the CIP Knowle West this year.
“The city council has a challenge to meet in ensuring we balance our books whilst protecting vital services. In our current budget, and going forward, we will continue to enable community groups to be autonomous.”
Another challenge the council face is tackling deep-rooted deprivation in Filwood, Knowle West. How cuts to community centres will help this is not clear.
Charlie Watts is from Filwood and a trainee on the Bristol Cable Media Lab.