Transition tales #19: Eat, pray, gentrify

Renewal and religion - how Bristol is undergoing a new gentrification model

Where the creatives go, gentrification will follow. In Bristol, things are currently taking a different turn, as gentrification seems to follow the faithful. The LoveBristol church is focused on saving the city’s identity and spirit through vintage shops and creative co-working spaces. It appears that in God we trust, even with our shopping.

As the largest city in the South-West region, Bristol has been deemed one of the best cities to live in England. Taking rankings and numbers aside, part of Bristol’s popularity is the result of a buzzing, vibrant cultural life. Banksy, Tricky, Massive Attack, all these globally renowned artists have something in common, and that is Bristol. Liberal attitudes towards the arts have led to an alternative cultural community in the city, and nowhere is that more visible than in the Stokes Croft neighbourhood.

Carriageworks and Westmoreland House, in Stokes Croft ©Salokin

Located in the heart of Bristol, Stokes Croft is the city’s cultural quarter. Proclaimed a ‘hub of unchecked creativity’, Stokes Croft is undergoing an urban regeneration process which has gentrification written all over it. Bearing the architectural marks of an industrial past from the 19th century, the area rebuilt itself during the 1990s as the ‘place to be’ for a counter-cultural lifestyle. The old factories façades became public canvases for rising street artists, making graffiti the trademark of Stokes Croft. Gradually the neighbourhood transformed into an outdoor gallery, promising freedom of expression and dialogue. Building a sense of community based on tolerance and localism guided Stokes Croft in forming its own identity, one that is clearly resisting the pressure of corporate developers and conventional businesses. Yet this very strong crafting of a local identity, coupled with artisan bars and pubs, signal the start of a gentrification process in the neighbourhood.

Known for its derelict housing, alternative nightlife and public canvas of street-art, Stokes Croft is undergoing a new type of transformation, focusing on speciality coffee bars, local food grocery stores and shared co-working spaces. Places such as 123Space, The LoveBristol Bakery or Happytat opened their shopfronts between street-art patchworks, giving the start to an urban regeneration process. What do these three places have in common, besides urban regeneration? All three are owned by the LoveBristol church. This new type of church is focused on saving Stokes Croft’s identity and spirit though more than just prayers and candlelights.


‘We long to see the city and all its inhabitants reach their fullest potential and believe that we do that when we live as community. It is only through the sharing of lives that transformation can occur. We live to love God and also to love our neighbour as ourselves.’ – LoveBristol

Through LoveBristol, we are witnessing the emergence of a new type of churches, which combine religious practices with city-making. The goal of this religious organisation goes beyond practicing their faith, and more towards finding alternative ways of bringing positive change in the city. LoveBristol meets as a church once a week, on Sundays, and for the rest of the days functions as a city project. So far, their city project has takes the form of five social enterprises, two of which are co-working, creative spaces, one bakery, a second-hand furniture store and a thrift shop.

Elemental Bakery, local goods and local art ©

‘It is a city project, with a leadership team and trustees with a passion for the city of Bristol and our the core values are  – Creativity, Community and Care’ – LoveBristol

According to The Guardian, Stokes Croft seems to be undergoing a form of ‘spiritual gentrification’, as new typologies of churches start gaining popularity in England. Various denominations, which differ from the traditional British religion, and have a preference for brewery start-ups or vintage stores, attract younger congregations. Alternative parishes, such as LoveBristol, appear to make religion cool and attractive to creative, trendier demographics, and their focus on the city brings about new forms of gentrification. Read the full article here.

LoveBristol focuses on praising more than just regeneration of the soul, but also a regeneration of the city, for the Stokes Croft community. This religious organisation offers an example of an alternative lifestyle, set on modern-day miracles as much as modern-day urban transformations.

Sharing economy - sharing furniture ©

‘Is urban regeneration about more than the material? Absolutely … It’s about a piece of heaven on earth’ – Doug Anderson, manager HappyTat (source: The Guardian)

Now, if we take a step back from miracles and Holy Spirits, it becomes evident that Stokes Croft is undergoing a gentrification process. The simple question is, in a city like Bristol, which strives on authenticity, creativity and localism, does gentrification come as a surprise? What LoveBristol shows is just one of the many faces of gentrification, maybe a bit more unexpected or prophetic, while at the same time pointing to the fact that gentrification may be an inescapable phenomena.

LoveBristol is a small organisation, if we are to set it in the wider context of urban transformations and gentrification processes happening all over England. Yet, it offers a valid example of the changes happening in our cities. The rise of modernity, the quest for urban novelty and appraisal of localism make each and everyone of us question and re-think our adaptability to the city-life.

Gentrification has been labeled as one of our cities grater problems, but for the Stokes Croft community it just goes hand-in-hand with the urban regeneration processes of adapting the ‘old’ to the ‘new’, be it religious beliefs or abandoned factories. If gentrification becomes a manifestation of urban modernity, isn’t it then an unavoidable process? Maybe the time has come to go beyond talking about it as an urban tragedy, and re-think our adaptability to urban modernity.

Want to know more about the Stokes Croft community and their vision on urban regeneration processes? Watch the video below.

Transition tales

The stories we present reside at the intersection of planning, culture, politics and economics. We introduce a series of weekly uploads from a number of sources (conferences, interviews, summits), that offer a better image on the way cities are changing and what are the ideas behind this transitioning.

comments on this article
There are comments on this article
in Bristol
comments on this article