As part of the South West Anarchy Research Project, we are investigating modern forms of resistance and future heritage preservation in Bristol. In relation to this, we have been working with the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft who recently held a mural painting event which was attended by some of our UoB Student Volunteer Team! Here is an account from one of our lovely students.
‘On Sunday 29th October I partook in the painting of a large mural in St. Werburgh’s, on the side of the M32 going into Bristol. When I arrived, I noticed the warm atmosphere, as volunteers greeted and helped one another, working together to promote the cause of the Bristol Fair Renting Campaign. Their kindness and egalitarian approach stand in stark contrast to what they fight against: the merciless rental system. I enjoyed my time on this clear skied day, the work was physically demanding but felt meditative, soothing, and important.
As I painted, I noticed there were clusters of snails that had congregated in the cracks and crevices of the mural wall. Nestled into these humble territories they were out of way of human beings… or so they thought. This was clearly a hot destination for the snails, and it appeared they had been there for a while. Furthermore, there were at least 10 in each corner, a clear occupation. Yet, I picked them off and relocated them to a less hospitable spot on the ground. Some I left in position and painted around, but my action had still altered their communities irreversibly.
As I continued to paint, I became preoccupied by these snails; by the power I held over them and the consideration of whether to paint around them, and sacrifice the quality of my painting, or to displace them from their homes. Snails are constantly being stomped on by human beings. They are repeatedly being chucked off their homes, having their natural habitats destroyed, and having their last means of refuge: their shells, broken by us. To snails, these recurrent waves of destruction must be an unavoidable feature of their lives in the Anthropocene. Lightning strikes from the powers above them. I thought that this was an apt analogy for how it feels to be a private renter.
The Bristol Fair Renting Campaign manifesto shares different accounts of the experiences of renters in Bristol. What permeates all these accounts is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness in the face of landlords and renting agencies. Since 2011, rent prices in Bristol have increased by 52% (Bristol Fair Renting Campaign, 2021). Most young people in Bristol know how dire the situation is. We all know people who have been treated in shocking and illegal ways. We all live in unsatisfactory conditions with poorly maintained houses and persistent damp and mould. We all pay far too much to live in these conditions. This alone constitutes shocking mistreatment of people. However, the inability to change these circumstances is what renders renting in Bristol truly bleak. When rooms are falling apart, when essential appliances break, when conditions pose health risks for occupants, there is no assurance that the problems will be fixed. In many cases, emails are ignored for months and in most cases, problems are never addressed. In my rental, we can see where the patches of mould on the walls were previously painted over. The landlord refuses to fix the root cause, only superficially fixing the problem. Nonetheless, ours and many other property’s rents will go up in price next year as we are forced to pay increasingly steep prices for terrible housing.
Thinking back to the snails, if we were to consider the drastic influence our actions have on their lives, then perhaps we would alter our behavior to be kinder and more considerate. Bristol Fair Renting campaign are calling for this change in attitude; for landlords and agencies to stop stomping on private renters. They demand stricter regulations on landlords and a rent cap to secure safe and affordable housing for private renters in Bristol. Their striking mural is visible from the M32 as you enter Bristol, sending a clear message that the people of Bristol are coming together to resist cruel rental system in the city.’ – Matilda Wright, University of Bristol.