In March of this year, just as we had received funding to continue our work in the Bearpit, (James Barton roundabout) we were asked by the head of green and blue places in the city, to cease working on the garden as they had come up with a plan that was all about creating a pollinator rich garden where the garden we had worked on since 2016 was.
Now, for sure the garden was, at that point, far from perfect. The ravages of 2017 when the space was inaccessible, mixed with a lack of funding for the garden and then Covid on top of that, when all volunteering in public spaces was stopped, rightly, but the Bristol Parks team, meant that there was a lot of work to do in the space, but having procured funding from an outside source, which would have meant a team in the garden for a day a week, we were excited to bring the garden back to a place where food and pollinator rich planting was abundant.
Unfortunately what seems to have happened since is absolutely nothing. The plants are all overgrown, it’s covered in litter and filth, and it feels immensely disrespectful that a space that had been worked on entirely voluntarily, and which over the years had only cost Bristol Council £7,500 in funding in the first year, has been left to rack and ruin.
What also is of concern is that there was no consultation from the council on this decision, whereas before our garden was designed and planted we had spent days engaging with people in the Bearpit and those who used it regularly. Every single person we spoke to wanted to see nature and food as a part of the garden, which is why the garden was designed as a food forest.
We are really both sad and angry that this has happened. We have sat back and said nothing as we expected the council teams to respect the work that had been done and continue it in some way. But instead we see hugely expensive containers and baskets full of flowers that might be bright but which speak nothing to the climate or biodiversity crisis we have acknowledged.
As COP26 is happening we would like to call on the council to recognise the failure of this space, and a need to do better in public spaces, and especially in spaces that they have removed from community organisations with no consultation at all. The city centre ought to be a place of richness and abundance in spaces where planting takes place, and instead off which looks sad and neglected. From the Bearpit to the area around the Cenotaph and the fountains, the planting is unimaginative and where there could be rain gardens, vertical planting and food, there is nothing more interesting than you might see in a supermarket car park. We have acknowledged climate and biodiversity crises, and yet the city is not seeming to respond.
We would like to add that this is nothing against Bristol Parks department who’s support we have always been grateful for.
But this is a call to return the Bearpit to us, and fund us to do the work to recreate a garden that had international acclaim, brought in visitors from far and wide, and added to the culture in the city centre. And as a reminder here is what it looked like in it’s hey day……