Mandela Immortalised in Mural

In a city as synonymous with sub-genre as Bristol; it’s no great surprise to discover that it’s as renowned for its graffiti, as its landmarks. Perhaps the best place for viewing these inked up edifices is on the Gloucester Road. Nursing a coffee outside the Canteen will currently see you sat next to a thirty foot high, break-dancing Jesus. On lampposts, behind bins and exclaiming its message from the rooftops, graffiti is as much a part of Gloucester Road as the many writers, artists and bohemians wandering its streets.

Stretching the North of the city, from the smorgasbord of urban culture at the Bearpit to the sparse and blustery Horfield Common; Gloucester Road is one of a kind.

Evolution

To shake off the hangover of a city that still bears the stain of its slave trade past, Gloucester Road artists choose to present a different version of Bristol. For example, the main shopping centre within the city is named Cabot Circus. So-called after a dynasty of slaving was introduced by the explorer John Cabot. This is juxtaposed by graffiti of Paddington. The Peruvian bear who stole our hearts in the 80s proclaims “migration is not a crime” on a Gloucester Road wall. This evolution, using the past to inform a better future, is characteristic of Gloucester Road’s persona.

Caring and loyal

When a Tesco was posited for development, residents of Stoke’s Croft famously resisted. They protested in graffiti too, with a call for residents to Think Local: Boycott Tesco. Portrayed by the media as aggressive, this movement was based on love and respect. In Gloucester Road, everyone is taken care of.  Boasting an ever diversifying band of residents, the longest shopping street in Europe still has, in majority, independent retailers. Commitment to localism and the love of environment were both cited as reasons for opposing supermarket giants. This exemplifies caring loyalty to the traditions of Gloucester Road and its community.

As you slope up the living-comic-book road and peer into one of the many cafes lining it, at any one time you might see squatters joking with businessmen. Or a student buying a pasty for the homeless. A recovering addict sparing some time for an elderly war veteran. A security guard buying a portrait. This interesting mix of people in its community is what makes the area so vibrant.

Ethical

Catering to its multiplicity, there are eateries from the many cultures represented in this community on the parade of mostly independent businesses. From the exclusive Caribbean restaurant at the Cheltenham Road end, to Bristanbul Turkish bakery and all others in between, the two-mile long road wears its diversity with pride.

Most of the varied shops and eateries on Gloucester Road are ethical; committed to the environment or to society. Often both. From sustainable food shops to wellbeing centres, there is a commendable sense of community care.  Organisations who provide community services, such as mental health institutions and homeless shelters or ethical food shops, providing the necessary nutrients to nurse service users back to health: Gloucester Road houses them all. Organic stores abound, and cooperative restaurants, serving only seasonal, locally sourced produce, provisions are in place for a healthy living opportunity for all. It’s partly the focus on fresh on Gloucester Road, which makes it so unique.

Nelson al fresco

Who better to be currently representing this ethnic diversity and hub of evolutionary development than the late Nelson Mandela? Recently, a stunning Mandela mural has appeared at the bottom of Gloucester Road: in Stoke’s Croft. A space commandeered by art collectives and community groups seems a fitting tribute to the man who faced the death penalty in a struggle for equality.

Mandela, who sadly died recently at the grand age of 95, had been ailing for some time. He had been hospitalised with a recurrent lung problem repeatedly in recent years. It’s likely this stemmed from tuberculosis, contracted during his 27-year imprisonment at Robben Island; the anti-apartheid penitentiary. South Africa’s first black president famously led the deeply divided nation into an era of reconciliation and fought to give citizens of all races an equal voice.

In a unique part of a glorious city, his legacy will continue to represent equality and diversity in a language accessible to all: ink. This is one of the many reasons Gloucester Road is such an honour to be a part of. Long may its traditions live.