In 2019 Bristol Cultural Development Partnership is coordinating a programme of projects, events, publications and other activity marking the centenary of council estates in the city.
The 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act (often referred to as The Addison Act or Scheme after Christopher Addison, the minister who was largely responsible for its implementation) saw the start of the post-First World War council-house building programme and the development of the first large-scale council estates. This was not just about building homes; it was about creating communities and changing the social fabric of the country.
Originally promoted as homes for the returning heroes of the war and as fresh starts for those displaced by slum clearance, in recent decades council housing – and the social housing that has partly come to replace it – has attracted an unwarranted stigma. Council house residents have been marginalised for generations and the culturally important heritage that lies within their estates is little-known. Through community-based heritage research, hands-on creative activity and showcase events, the Homes for Heroes 100 programme will celebrate the council estate and its residents, past, present and future.
The programme will address people’s domestic lives, aspirations and the stories they can tell across 100 years; how old long-established working-class communities were lost with slum clearance while new ones were developed over time; the expectations and resonances associated with the word ‘home’; the changing image of the council house tenant and the changing powers of local authorities; the physical surroundings and architecture of the estates; the link between historic and present-day issues of planning policy, politics and economics; social history, personal stories, utopian thinking, architectural history and more.
This heritage is present in the physical fabric of the estates themselves – the houses, the public buildings, the streetscape, the signage; in archives of architectural drawings, photographs, minutes and memorandums, newspaper coverage, promotional material – some relating to buildings that are now lost or which never made it off the drawing-board; in the memories and lived experience of present-day residents – both those who have generations’ of family stories to share and those newly arrived to the city.
The programme will recover a history which is not widely known, instilling pride in communities that are frequently marginalised or portrayed negatively by others and helping present-day residents make previously unrecognised connections to the past, learning about their community roots. It aims to give residents the confidence to provide a much-needed voice in the ongoing housing debate.
With the renewed council house building programme in the city, Homes for Heroes 100 will help create future heritage markers for people to take pride in and preserve. It will help to raise awareness of the mistakes of the past that should not be repeated – including problems of social alienation, lack of essential facilities and limited availability – as well as the many positive outcomes that should be publicly recognised.
Overall as a result of Homes for Heroes 100, local people will have had the opportunity, support and resources to re-tell their own histories in a high-profile public programme with regional, national and international impact, and to take ownership of the strong narratives present in their neighbourhoods.
(image credits: Bristol Archives)
Key elements of the Homes for Heroes 100 programme include:
- The planting of a commemorative tree at a new council housing site in June linked to marking the anniversary of the planting of the Addison Oak in Sea Mills
- Community engagement projects led by Sea Mills 100, Local Learning (in Hillfields), Knowle West Media Centre and The Architecture Centre (including in St Pauls)
- A book of short personal essays in which those who have grown up on council estates in Bristol and across the UK share their experiences
- A book of walks around the council homes of Hillfields, Knowle West, Sea Mills and St Pauls
- The story of council housing in Bristol told in comic-book style
- Guided walking tours of estates, with stories from residents past and present
- Artists working with local communities on creative projects reflecting the history of their estates
- A new poem specially written by the City Poet, Vanessa Kisuule
- Special events across the city in September linked to council housing as part of Bristol Open Doors
- A day of sessions exploring the past, present and future of council housing in October as part of Festival of the Future City
Further activity will be added as the progamme is developed.
Follow the project on Twitter using the hashtag #HomesForHeroes100
Supporters and partners/
Partners include: The Architecture Centre; Bristol Libraries; Bristol Housing Festival; Bristol Museums; Knowle West Media Centre; Local Learning; Sea Mills 100; Travelling Light Theatre Company; University of Bristol; University of the West of England