Children draw the South Bristol environment they'd like to see

June 22 2017
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HOW would our neighbourhood look if planning were steered through the eyes of children? The answer looks ambitious – with ideas for the future of south Bristol being revealed after school kids worked with environmental experts to rethink the outdoors. By Alex Morss

HOW would our neighbourhood look if planning were steered through the eyes of children? The answer looks ambitious – with ideas for the future of south Bristol being revealed after school kids worked with environmental experts to rethink the outdoors. 

Our children want a future with more green roofs, underground wildlife adventure tunnels, flood-safe water parks on stilts, sculptures created from river rubbish, bushcraft training centres, a rain-fed outdoor pool and a tranquil, south Bristol bluebell wood – and more.

You can see their work at a public exhibition this summer. It is part of the River Visions project led by Water City Bristol, an arts-based community research project backed by local universities. 

Spokesperson, Luci Gorell Barnes, said they began by asking children at Ashton Gate and St Mary Redcliffe primary schools to map places that were important to them – near the Malago, Clarke Street area of Bedminster, Colliters Brook and hidden waterways such as below Greville Smyth Park.

Next, their ideas and maps were considered by Windmill Hill City Farm Older People’s Group, Memories of Bedminster group on West Street, and Making Time older people’s group at Acta on North Street. The final shortlist was presented to a panel of environmental experts, planners, retired people, parents and politicians.

Ms Gorell Barnes said the project looked at people’s relationships with local rivers: “They thought about a number of issues including wildlife, flood risk, pedestrian and cycle access, leisure, culture and social inclusion, and produced planning maps that addressed these themes. There was general approval and the feeling that their thoughts and opinions should be heard, although there was concern that the developers would ‘win in the end’!”

She added: “Children’s opinions often go unheard. In this project, we listened to children’s perspectives of their neighbourhood, with the intention of placing their concerns at the centre of the conversation. The young people were supported to represent how they experience their environment and how it might be improved.” 

* The Rivers Visions exhibition runs from July 4th until Sept 12th at Windmill Hill City Farm. Showcasing the children’s work, it will also give daylight to hidden rivers, tell watery stories and young people’s dreams for South Bristol.



 What planning ideas are children asking for in South Bristol? Here is a selection:

* A youth centre for young people to learn new skills and make friends.

* More picnic play areas with toilets close by, more litter bins, a new water fountain, and more bike paths.

* A new eco centre for people to see and learn about wildlife habitat creation.

* A new bushcraft centre “to encourage people to spend time outdoors and use natural materials.”

* A green roof installed on as many buildings as possible “to help soak up rainfall”.

* Using junk, cleared from the rivers, as raw materials for sculpture competitions with local artists. Winners to be installed on the riverbanks, illuminated by solar powered lights.

* More sports facilities for all ages - especially football and crazy golf.

* An underground glass tunnel so people can view bugs, worms and creatures of the soil.

* More nest boxes for bats and birds.

* More ponds as habitat for water creatures such as frogs and dragonflies.

* A bluebell wood to provide wildlife habitat, and as a “calming and beautiful environment for people.”

* A swimming pool fed with rainwater, filtered through a frog sculpture.

* An adventure playground with a moat, designated as a flood park, with structure on stilts: “so that when it floods it is still useable - even more fund!”

* Restoring the hidden river to flow above ground in Greville Smyth Park.

* Adding waterfalls, bridges, fountains, pools and a diving platform.

* More wildlife banks planted for wildlife.



 What are the experts’ verdicts?

 Richard Clarke, Urbis Living developer said: “Good to see the future residents of Bedminster/Windmill Hill thinking about the type of place they want for them and future generations. Their ideas are very interesting. They demonstrated the complex issues that planning/development need to consider (complementing and competing) in this area.”

  • * Nick Townsend of WHaM neighbourhood planning group said: “I was struck by how important green spaces and wildlife are to them.”
    * One parent said: “This highlights their longing for nature connection and builds eco awareness.”
    * Steve Sayers CEO of Windmill Hill City Farm said: “Very impressed with the breadth of knowledge and the range of ideas that the children have come up with.”
    * Alison Bromilow, Bristol Neighbourhood Planning Network, said: “Some really good ideas, especially about how the water in the area can be used and enjoyed – and dealt with if it floods!”
    * “The audience was impressed by how hard the students had worked, the imaginative, thought provoking nature of their ideas and how well they had tackled issues around wildlife and flood risk,” said environmental educator, Helen Adshead.