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Turbo Island: Bristol’s very own ‘Love Island’

From newly-kindled friendships, to flirtations and fireside fumbles, Cable reporter Priyanka spent Valentine’s Day gathering love stories from Turbo Island.

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A few weeks ago, a newly single friend of mine was miserably swiping through profiles on the dating app Hinge and complaining about the lack of suitable candidates, when a line caught my eye. One man’s profile read, in answer to the prompt, “Together we could… Kiss by the fire on Turbo Island.” 

Edgy answer from eligible Hinge bachelor

It piqued my interest. Love it or hate it, the Turbo Island in Stokes Croft is a local legend. Its recent tarmacking caused despair at those who celebrate the anarchic, social space it provided, while others breathed a sigh of relief at the attempts to quell the increasingly outlandish fires that raged there. 

But, less spoken of is the Island’s importance as a site for love and romance. So I began to investigate. For yesterday’s Valentine’s Day event at nightclub Lakota, a “campfire experience on Turbo Island” was one of the prizes in the gift giveaway. 

I put a callout on social media asking whether people had stories of love from Turbo Island – and the response was astounding. From newly kindled friendships, to flirtations and fireside fumbles – it turns out, mattresses weren’t the only thing on fire on Turbo Island, the flames of love were burning too! 

Local girl Maya Jama need not have gone all the way to Casa Amor to present the reality TV show, for here, in the heart of Stokes Croft, I’ve discovered that we have – our very own Love Island.

Sun, sex and suspicious substances 

Ah Turbo Island. From stories I heard, it seems the heat of the fires and the heady mix of intoxicants really set local loins ablaze. Smouldering stares were exchanged over the smouldering remains of a Tesco trolley. Roses are red, violets are blue, people are getting frisky, will beneath this billboard do? 

When Ella met Calum 

Calum and Ella broke up just over a year ago. “We had a beautiful five year relationship, and now he’s a lovely friend.” On Valentine’s Day, I spoke on the phone with them both, in an impressive display of mutual respect and affection, I’ve rarely seen between ex’s. They hold a special place in each other’s hearts, and in a different way, so does Turbo Island. 

Ella and Calum’s early encounters centred around Stokes Croft and Turbo Island

“Meeting people and partying with people on Turbo Island was where I discovered myself!” Calum tells me. “Some of my best friends are people I met there like eight or nine years ago.” Calum, homeless aged 17, was living in supported living in Patchway, Filton and Kingswood, and loved coming into the city and experiencing the community he found on Turbo Island.  

“I think a lot of us were coming out experiencing trauma. And Turbo Island is like a social pressure cooker – this really intense form of connection.” 

“I first saw him on the Mound – and I was like, ‘Who is that?!’” says Ella, recalling the moment she first met Calum. “And from there, we just kept bumping into each other in town and around Stokes Croft.” 

“One time I was walking through the Bear Pit, and he was standing there with so many pigeons around him! And I just thought he was so amazing because I love animals and I have a soft spot for pigeons – cus people treat them really badly!” she goes on. 

Those early days of getting to know each other were full of spontaneity. One day Calum suggested climbing to the top of a derelict building in the city centre. They sat on the roof and drew the people below. 

Though nothing beyond friendship had happened yet, Ella felt sure that a romance was blossoming, until a few weeks later when she bumped into him on Turbo Island. “Come and meet my woman,” Callum said in conversation. To Ella’s surprise, and dismay, he had a girlfriend. 

“I felt horrible and awkward, but I never imagined at that point that Ella liked me,” Calum says. “Me and my mate used to call her ‘Beautiful Ella’. And I really admired her, but from afar! She was out of my league.” 

Calum later broke up with his then girlfriend, and he and Ella continued their friendship. One day, they bumped into each other at a party at Magpie – the squat on Stokes Croft. Calum and his friends were leaving to go swimming in a quarry lake near Bath, Ella and her friend went with him. 

It was here, after a romantic night swimming in the moonlight, that Calum confessed his feelings: “We went on a walk, I told her I really liked her and wanted to kiss her. But she said no!” 

“I was worried he was still a bit … messy, at this point,” says Ella. So, the pair agree to be friends. 

In a dramatic turn of events, Calum was hit by a car while cycling. And it was Ella he wanted to visit him in hospital. “So I went, and I met his mum, and I was helping him with things because he’d broken his arm,” she says. “And I think it was then that I really started to fall in love with him, when I saw how sensitive and thoughtful and kind he was.” 

And the rest is history. “We were together from our late teens to our mid 20’s. It’s beautiful that we grew up together, and we learnt so much – and we’re such different people now.” 

Passion Projects 

“I don’t know if this counts…” begins a tentative voice note from filmmaker and photographer Owain Astles. 

“A few years ago I was doing a workshop at PRSC (People’s Republic of Stokes Croft) about community photography, and there was another participant there who I got chatting to. At lunch we went to get a falafel wrap from Biblos and sat talking on Turbo Island.”

The woman was Rachael Kiddey, a lecturer at Oxford University. Like Owain, she’d been doing work with homeless communities – and they clicked immediately. 

And as it turns out, their lunch spot was significant: “Rachel said she’d actually done a whole archaeological project with the homelessness community, where they did a dig on Turbo Island to understand its history!”  

They kept in touch and partnered on a project over lockdown, called Made in Migration,  working with refugees and people with stories of migration. 

“Basically in the last four years, we’ve worked on various community and partnership projects, and she’s become a really close colleague and friend over that time,” Owen says.

It does count, I’d replied, love comes in many forms. And they don’t call it “passion projects” for nothing.

A Brief Encounter

Leon messages me on Instagram with not a love story, but a conversation he’d had on Turbo Island, which has stayed with him. 

“I’d left the Canteen and went to Turbo Island to warm myself up. While I was there I got talking to a homeless bloke,” Leon says. “He was Muslim and asked me if I believed in God. I said I didn’t and we went on to have a really intense conversation about the existence of God. 

“At the end I asked: ‘Do you blame God for your situation?’ He replied: ‘God can’t control the folly of humanity’s errors or flaws, at the end of the day, I have my life and my faith and that’s what keeps me going.’

“And I really respected that.”

Turbo Island, I love you 

A Love Letter to Turbo: chalked onto the ground

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than read through all these stories of love in our city. And what moved me most about all the different responses, was peoples varying interpretations of what love meant to them.

The Ancient Greeks said that love came in different varieties – and I think all of them can be found in Turbo Island. From fireside fellatio, to romantic relationships, deep friendships, and finding community.

The ‘Love Island’ that exists on Turbo is a more accurate depiction of reality than the series on TV. It’s the messy, manifold, unmanicured love of the everyday. The Island is not just a locus of love, but an object of it. Many Bristolians were in love with Turbo Island, and after the tarmacking, many are left – well – heartbroken. 

But at least we can keep its love stories alive. 

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