New container village is a springboard for homeless

November 22 2019
New container village is a springboard for homeless

A homeless charity, which has provided much-needed accommodation and support to many of Bristol’s rough sleepers, is now back up and running after opening the doors to its new ‘container village’ in Bedminster earlier this month.

Help Bristol’s Homeless had to move from its original spot in Malago Road earlier this year and the project has spent the summer months busily preparing the site and transporting its iconic, double decker bus and brightly coloured storage containers – using cranes – to Spring Street. 

It’s clear to see that project founder, Jasper Thompson, is proud of the charity’s new home, which has seen hundreds of people volunteer their time and expertise to make the space a real community hub.

The land, which has been gifted to the charity by Bristol City Council for five years, accommodates up to 27 people at a time.

There are 14 dwellings – one of which sleeps two – offering three to 12 months accommodation, as well as a double decker bus, which offers emergency, short-term stay for 12 people.

Each individual micro flat is fully kitted-out with mod-cons and has its own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living space, plus heating and air conditioning.

Inside one of the shipping containers
Inside one of the shipping containers

It is hard to believe that an old shipping container could be so spacious and cosy.   

Decking has been laid throughout the site with balconies for residents to sit out on, as well as hanging flower baskets and planters to add to the vibrancy of the place.

People can only stay in Spring Street if they have been referred to the project by a professional service. It is a dry site and strict rules apply with no drugs or alcohol allowed. 

“No matter what, we want people to feel safe,” says army veteran Jasper.

The container village also offers facilities such as a canteen, restaurant, laundrette, plus a toilet and shower block, which are available to the wider homeless community – not just residents of the site.

Jasper says the communal space gives the Help Bristol’s Homeless team – which have an office on site – an opportunity to check-in with residents and to “build a community spirit” among guests.

Jasper founded Help Bristol’s Homeless in 2017.

Speaking to the South Bristol Voice, he said: “One day, on a cold winter morning, as I was running down through Ashton Court, it dawned on me, how do homeless people survive in this weather?”

Jasper, who owned a restaurant in North Street at the time, was compelled to do something so he started outreach work across the city, delivering essentials to rough sleepers with his wife.

But he always felt like he wanted to do more. “I just felt like I wanted to help, that’s all.” 

So, in April 2017, Jasper adopted a 38ft caravan and plot of land in Malago Road – thanks to the generosity of friends – and started offering shelter to the city’s homeless.

His project quickly developed, and the charity was soon being donated storage containers to accommodate and support more homeless people.

“We’ve had a lot of people move on from there. One lady has gone on to become a personal assistant, others have gone into full-time work, and some are now living in rented flats. We know it’s a system that works.”

But Jasper says that while Malago Road “served its purpose”, it always felt like “just a site”. The new place feels more like a “home”.

Almost finished ... the site just weeks before it opened
Almost finished ... the site just weeks before it opened

Through developing a sense of community among guests, Jasper hopes that it will in turn help them integrate back into society when they leave the project. He said: “Some people just aren’t ready to move into community life – they need help getting there. We help them find jobs, keep them on track with any treatment they’re receiving.

 “We’re here to help as many as we can, getting them back into community living.”

He added: “Everyone on the project helps each other out, as well as themselves. People have their own strengths and they pass on their knowledge to others.”

Jasper says that he would like to see more spaces, like the one created by Help Bristol’s Homeless, established across Bristol. He said: “Homelessness isn’t going anywhere, if anything it’s got progressively worse. We need more projects like this across the city.”

Help Bristol’s Homeless is always on the look-out for volunteers to support the project. If interested, get in touch through the project’s website, helpbristolshomeless.org or its Facebook page Help Bristol's Homeless.

Start a conversation with a homeless person

Help Bristol’s Homeless has created a ‘conversation starter can’ which can be purchased from the charity in Spring Street for £2.50. These are small containers that could be filled with socks, gloves, a toothbrush, tissues – anything you think would be helpful. The cans also include information on how to find Help Bristol's Homeless and how the charity can help.