A strong start from which to move forward
I work at the University of Bristol; an organisation where each employee is entitled to one paid day off per year to volunteer for a charitable organisation. In 2017, I volunteered a couple of hours per half term to mentor students at Merchant’s Academy through Envision, and in 2018 I pulled on my warmest clothes and hiking boots to spend a sunny but brisk day on Waterfront Square welcoming visitors to the Bristol Housing Festival’s first expo. I met Bristolians born and bred, relative newcomers, tourists, students from City of Bristol College, and other volunteers, some local, some not. I had the opportunity to look around the various homes, learnt about the Caravan Sites Act 1968, about solutions for children who have been living in care and are moving towards independent living, about housing that can be built over level parking to allow more homes to be built centrally, and I learnt about houses made of straw! I built my own city using Lego and then donned a VR head set (for the first time!) to explore it. I looked round a “tiny home” that is probably nicer than my own house - and I love my own home! Oh, and I swept leaves. Lots of leaves.
I had a great day and went home raving about lots of things but in particular I really liked the ZEDpods – homes built over level parking, which can even provide charging stations for electric cars. All the modular housing solutions I saw were fab and I could have lived in any one of them at various stages of my life, but it was the ZEDpods that I really loved, because they identified that location is key, and found a remarkably innovative solution to the lack of useable city centre space available for new homes today. Isolating at-risk people from their support network by providing them with homes relatively far away from their community doesn’t work. ZEDpods could provide a solution for that. They could also provide accommodation close to hospitals and services for key workers, nurses and other medical staff. They can make a space that has felt unsafe at night into an inhabited space, that no longer makes pedestrians feel vulnerable. What about colleges? Student accommodation is increasingly unaffordable and makes higher education attainable only for the wealthy, but ZEDpods could provide a low-cost solution by exploiting air-rights over car parks and unwanted, difficult to develop or spare land. All of the homes that were featured at the expo were innovative, but it was their solution to the space issue that made me most interested in ZEDpods.
So, I was pretty excited when I found out that the Bristol Housing Festival were involved in the first ZEDpod development, not just in Bristol, but a stone’s throw from my own home in St George – seriously, it’s less than 300m! I’ve lived in St George for four years. It is two miles from the city centre, and has seven bus routes in, running 24 hours a day. That’s a fifteen-minute bike ride, and there’s access to the Bristol to Bath cycle path. There is a wonderful park, with a play area, a skate park for young children, tennis courts, a bowling green, and there are plans to open new toilets and a kiosk this year. It is walking distance to Aldi and Lidl, but also an organic shop with a wholefoods section, where you can buy supplies plastic free. There are decent pubs, independent pet stores, a bakery, and charity shops. You can get a great fry-up, stone baked pizza and the best Thai takeaway I’ve ever had. There is a thriving Facebook community to share knowledge, help each other and reduce our footprint on the Earth by selling or giving away things we no longer need. It is a place that I didn’t know existed when I put an offer on my house in 2015 (my partner viewed it, we didn’t have time for a second opinion, that was the housing market then), and a place I absolutely love, so I am so thrilled that it has been picked to showcase ZEDpods.
During the time that I’ve owned my house, we have had two single parent families live in the privately rented house next door to us, who have had to move out and find a new place to live. Once for the owner to move in, the other for the owner to sell. In both cases it was all managed fairly and with plenty of notice, but both times the resident was left trying to find an equally affordable home to rent, in the same area, to ensure that their kids could continue at the same school. In both cases this wasn’t possible; they eventually had to move to a house with a higher rental cost. That £50 per month extra, is £600 a year! That’s a lot when you work part time and have two children. There is such a strain on the housing market that this is happening all over our city, with DINKies like me (Double Income No Kids) increasingly moving to BS5 to afford a home. As prices elsewhere in the city rise even higher, where does that leave those with one or two incomes, two kids? The current housing situation is not sustainable for many.
As a resident of this city, I have been heartbroken on an almost daily basis this winter as I walk or cycle past people sleeping in doorways or making their homes in tents in parks. I don’t have “spare” money, a lot of us don’t, and I don’t believe that handing out my change is a solution anyway. Some of these people may have been offered housing further out of the city but feel isolated from their support network so they’d rather stay centrally in temporary housing, or with friends, and when that falls through, they end up on the streets. An opportunity to live in a mixed community like the one planned for the St George ZEDpods could mean young people have the opportunity to avoid that, and I’m really pleased to see that Bristol City Council are working with innovators to find new solutions to these increasingly prevalent problems.
I knew that the public consultation at The Beehive Centre would be well attended and that people would be supportive, wary, concerned, excited, responsive and engaged. Now, I’m just waiting to hear that the development will go ahead. As with all new ideas, it will be a learning process, and I think the St George and Redfield communities are a very real spectrum of people with varied values, opinions, challenges and concerns. Bristol has a reputation for being very cool, forward thinking, green and hippie, but the reality is that lots of people who live here don’t fit into that stereotype, and their voices need to be heard too. I think that residents of Redfield and St George represent a wide range of people who will give ZEDpods, and the Bristol Housing Festival a valuable experience and a strong start from which to move forward and continue to innovate. I for one, am very excited to see what happens next; my 2019 day of volunteering is ready for the next opportunity!
Sophie Patrick, St George resident and BHF volunteer