“This should be the real hub for Filwood, the heart of Filwood. But it feels deserted, it looks abandoned… derelict.”
Filwood Broadway in south Bristol, Filwood’s high street, runs from the community centre to Creswicke Road on the Metrobus route. It has shops, a cafe, a library, a church, a multi-use games area (MUGA) and charities operating on it.
Built in the 1930s, it was once a thriving district centre. Now, it looks neglected, with half the shops shuttered in the middle of the day, the swimming pool long demolished and the boarded-up cinema boarded due for demolition.
Most recently, Filwood Hope, the local debt advice centre, was in danger of closing when it ran out of funds earlier this year, but managed to stay open after an emergency appeal. And crisis charity the Matthew Tree project, which operates at the top of the high street, has paused its services.
I’m in Filwood Community Centre talking to Zoe Goodman, Labour councillor for the ward. Filwood is within the 5% most deprived areas in England. “It’s not easy for a lot of people,” says Goodman. “There are families struggling to make ends meet.”
Filwood doesn’t have a supermarket, pub or any major employment sites, aside from a few on the edge of the area, says Goodman. And despite having five primary schools, there isn’t a secondary school.
“Everybody from 11 years old leaves Filwood to either go to school or go to work or to shop… Everybody goes out,” she says. “Which creates a real desert during the day.”
But a regeneration project for Filwood Broadway that’s been on pause for a decade could finally begin in earnest after a recent council bid for government Levelling Up money. If successful, the council will get £12m to improve the high street, to which they’ve promised to add £1.2m. It will mean that plans for the area, made after consultation with locals back in 2012, will have the funding to finally become reality.
Charlie Watts, communications coordinator for Filwood Community Centre, says: “If you speak to older people they’ll always say it was thriving… They’ve got fond memories of the cinema, bingo hall, swimming pool, a range of shops. They’re not memories I have because I wasn’t born, so it shows how long it’s been neglected.”
“It’d just be nice to see that street regenerated and not to feel like a ghost town,” says Watts. One of the problems is the shuttered shops, which are used as storage for the charities that operate from them. Both Watts and Goodman question the placement of the charities on the area’s only shopping street.
A new masterplan?
The Filwood Broadway Framework, published in 2012, proposed several projects for the area. But a lot has changed since then – both in terms of need and what developments are currently being planned. Watts says too much has changed for the framework to be relevant now. There’s a disconnect between the plan and what’s actually happening on the high street.
Residents, including members of Filwood Broadway Working Group (FBWG), a group of locals working on improving the high street, raised concerns about working to a decade-old plan. They’re calling for a new masterplan, one that takes into account the changed needs for the area and acknowledges the developments currently underway.
“All these sites were earmarked since 2012 so they’ve sat there for 10 years, all these pockets of land,” says Goodman. And in the meantime, various developments have begun the planning process without an overarching plan, meaning there’s no real consideration of how the whole thing will work together, she says.
The framework includes plans for putting a supermarket where the cinema currently stands, turning the swimming pool site into mixed business and housing, moving the library into the community centre and turning that site into housing. But other developments, mostly housing, have reached various stages of the planning process during the 10 years the framework has sat gathering dust.
Projects underway include 29 affordable homes on the old swimming pool site, and 30 council homes on the cinema site with community and commercial space, though locals have campaigned to save the 1930s art deco building.
The housing development on the swimming pool site is paused until a location is found for a MUGA to replace the one that will be demolished – a win for the community after 80 residents complained about plans to demolish the play area without replacing it. There are also several regeneration projects taking place from various pots of money, including pandemic recovery funding, community infrastructure levy funds, money to improve the public realm and up to £300,000 for a new MUGA. “There’s lots of money going around, lots of talk,” says Watts. “Which is great. But I will believe it’s being regenerated once I see it.”
Goodman says the developments need to be planned as “a cohesive whole” that retains community, leisure, commercial and business spaces. She’s concerned that as they stand, the developments are a “piecemeal” approach to developing the area.
In June, she and Michelle Tedder, a member of FBWG, told the cabinet meeting approving the funding bid that council officers hadn’t been consultative enough in their approach.
Goodman says she acknowledges that there’s little time for a new consultation, given projects would need to have started this financial year to secure Levelling Up funding. But: “These are council owned bits of land, they could do it all together, they can give the community more control over what’s happening rather than [them] being done to.”
Tim Jones, chair of FBWG, says residents should be included at the start of the planning process: “While there is opportunity to influence what the architects are saying, rather than leave it to the point when it’s too expensive to change.”
He says the street needs retail and business: “The strong feeling of the local people is that we want a street that draws people here so it’s a street that’s worth coming to.”
Labour’s Tom Renhard, cabinet member for housing, has promised to visit the area and talk to locals about their concerns. He said that while the framework is “somewhat outdated”, current plans are “broadly in line” with it and that all aspirations of the framework are expected to be fulfilled over time.