Home News Life in Easton: the inner-city neighbourhood with two separate worlds

Life in Easton: the inner-city neighbourhood with two separate worlds

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“There is a tale of two cities in this road,” says Matthew Strange, the manager of Aesop’s on St Marks Road in Easton.

“If you look at one end of the road, you have the bookies and the open sale of drugs and then on the other side you have the Garden of Easton.

“I, myself, am playing the joke of catering these two worlds.

READ MORE: Why Time Out was right about coolest place in the world Easton

“If I can get a £100 out of you, I will – but if someone comes here and said they needed a cup of tea, I would give it to them.”

Mr Strange is a business owner in one of the areas in Bristol that has seen one of the biggest transformations in the past few years – particularly when it comes to its public image.

Easton has gone from having what was branded as Britain’s worst street to being voted one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world.

Stapleton Road in particular received a lot of bad press at the turn of the century after it was named as one of five crime hotspots across the country, and this was then followed by comments by Bristol-raised Sajid Javid that the grew up in “the most dangerous street in Britain”.

However, these days Easton is seen as a prime example of Bristol’s gentrification, with house prices more than doubling over the past decade.

While places like the not-for-profit Saint Marks Community Cafe and long-established business such as Sweet Mart or Pak Butchers remain at the heart of the community, there have been many new additions recently.

‘Ethical’ food stores have opened in the area, together with a restaurant that is like stepping into a stunning garden and a popular bakery selling the best cinnamon swirls in Bristol.

At the same time, an unloved scrap of land that was covered in a mess of graffiti tags along Stapleton Road was transformed with stunning, brightly-coloured street art.

In recent years, the neighbourhood has been the focus of a lot of media attention and this week the inner-city area hit the headlines again after the bodies of two men were found in a house on Wood Street last Sunday, with two men now having been charged with murder.

The news left the community in shock, with some saying they now want to move out of the area, while others described Easton as ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’ and ‘quiet’.

Mr Strange wasn’t so surprised by this latest incident, saying that in the last six months they have had three people coming into the business that had been attacked and been left with life-changing injuries.

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Matthew Strange from Aesop’s

“This is the frontline complex needs in the city,” he said. “The council knows that these issues are here.

“There is an attempt to move people on.

“They just do not want them here.

“But the more you try to move someone on without a plan, the more desperate people become.”

The business owner has lived in Bristol for 13 years, moving between St Pauls, St Judes and Easton.

“I have seen how the entire Bristol has changed in that time,” he continued. “Property prices in Easton have doubled, but everything that was going on 10 years ago is still going on – the heroin and crack use, the violent behaviour.

“We opened here because it is cheap in comparison to other parts of Bristol – we got a good deal here.”



Stapleton Road in Easton was branded Britain’s worst street years ago

A mum-of-two – who didn’t wish to be identified – said that, growing up in St Werburghs, they have been living in Easton for four years and agreed that the area has two separate worlds.

“I think Easton is brilliant, but is suffering a lot from gentrification and how fast these changes are,” said the 35-year-old.

“Because of the rent and property prices, people are being pushed out of the area and that worries me.

“It is changing the community in a quick and brutal way.”

Referring to the two bodies being found last weekend, the mum said that it is horribly sad but that it doesn’t make her feel worried or fearful.

She said that being white and middle class she feels like she is not touched by these crimes, which bothers her, and that at the root of all these problems is inequality.




“I find it very strange how the area has become very desirable to people from outside the city but I try not to blame a particular group of people,” she said.

“I try to look at structural issues as it is a bit too easy to scapegoat and blame people moving here from London.

“I try not to fall into a simple trap like that.”

Arif Khan, of Brunel Associates in nearby Stapleton Road, is one of the business owners who always champions Easton.

Mr Khan said Easton is an area where people get along and help each other and that has no major issues, apart from some anti-social behaviour along Stapleton Road.

He said it had become hard to rent or buy houses in this East Bristol area due to the high demand.

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Arif Khan, of Brunel Associates in nearby Stapleton Road

The community leader- who has been in Easton for 35 years – said the amount and variety of shops and restaurants in Easton were a big factor in the area’s popularity.

Mr Khan, who is also the chair of the Council of Bristol Mosques, said: “People from all walks of life and different faiths live in this area – this is a very vibrant area and with lots of businesses opening up.

Crime is committed everywhere, Easton is not a terrible place to live in.

“It is a safe place where people are very friendly and they help one another and that is what I like about it.

“There is a lovely community around here.”

He said that after the news of the bodies being found came out, other business owners were telling him how they were wondering whether they had made the right decision by moving into Easton.

However, he said that business owners have now relaxed a little after learning that what happened was isolated.

“People love this area which is why house prices have shot up,” he said. “It is a very popular area to live in Bristol so this is particularly shocking.

“I have spent all my life here and it has been a very long time since we have seen anything like this.”

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees himself lives in one area of Easton, Greenbank – a neighbourhood at the heart of Easton’s gentrification and where, for instance, a controversial luxury development is being built at the site of the former Elizabeth Shaw Chocolate Factory.



Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees pictured earlier this year

Mr Rees – who grew up moving between St Pauls, Lawrence Weston and Easton – is someone who regularly talks about housing.

The Mayor has had gentrification in his sight since he was first elected in 2016 and has previously spoken of the “ferocious challenge” that is gentrification.

Speaking about Easton, Mr Rees said his mum bought a house in the area for around £16,500 while some friends of his recently sold a house for around half a million.

“We know there are major challenges in the area as a result of the way the city is developing,” he said, before adding. “Bristol has always been a city of contrasts.

“There is crime all over Bristol.

“Easton, like every part of the city, has its unique characteristics, contradictions and strong communities.

“It has a thriving high street in St Marks Road, a bustling voluntary community sector and a fantastic adventure playground.”

But a man who used to live in Easton up until four years ago wasn’t so positive about the area.

Speaking from St Marks Road, the man – who didn’t wish to be named – said he now lives in Stockwood but that he regularly comes to Easton as his mum lives here.

He said: “Nothing has changed – there is crime all the time here.

“There are too many drugs around here.

“I do not worry about my mum because she has been here for nearly 50 years and everybody knows her.

“These things [a murder] only happen once in a blue moon – people around here are used to these things.”




The resident said Easton has been getting busier in recent years, with new restaurants and other businesses opening up.

Being one of the latest businesses to have opened up on St Marks Road, Mr Strange’s excitement about Aesop’s is obvious when he speaks.

Mr Strange said the space Aesop’s occupies was last known as Cafe Connect, which worked with people with complex needs, and that his aim is to continue with that work, building a business in order to be able to provide the service.

The business owner – who also started the Jam Jar in St Jude’s – said that one of their objectives is to be accessible which is why they only sell alcohol on weekends, for example.

Aesop’s is a heath hub, coffee shop with a community space at the back, with baby groups running in the morning and women’s and men’s circles in the evenings. They also run music events as well as storytelling, for instance.



Aesop’s on St Marks Road

Mr Strange said everything in the store has been made or grown by local people as their aim is to provide a revenue stream for local people, providing a platform for local enterprise so they can compete with bigger businesses.

Taking the lease two years ago, their original plan was to have a fine dining restaurant at the front, but coronavirus changed their plans.

He said: “We have slowly built a successful company.

“Coronavirus provided us with an opportunity – the world slowed down and, for a new business, it was good as it gave us some breathing space.”

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