We knew we needed to go there, meet some of the homeless on the street, be where people who had arrived from in Barnstaple at 'Survival Bags- Home and Away' had been, see if we could find a youngster who we know is in a hostel in Bristol but have lost touch with and most importantly find 'Tent City' to find out about their legal battle for the right to keep their camp as home.
We set off not knowing where exactly we were going to go, with no expectations, bags of sandwiches, fruit & chocolate, a jacket to keep us warm and comfortable shoes..... with no anxiety in our souls, but to the sheer panic of some of our friends who thought two women wandering round the streets of Bristol on a Saturday night (one old gal with a walking stick and the other a beauty sure to attract attention!) was insane! LOL !!!!!
Louise and I had such a fun journey there. We have only known each other a few months but had clicked immediately and enjoyed finding out more about each other and laughing at some of the more 'unusual' incidents that had occurred in our lives (well, to be fair, mine really - ask me about the fireman's visit to the mental health ward if you want to hear a cracker, anytime!!!).
We arrived in Bristol to find that the place we thought might be open 'The Wild Goose', in fact wasn't, but no problem, gave a meal parcel out to a nice elderly homeless guy who had also thought it might be open, and on our way we went.
We drove around a while and I saw the sign for St Paul's, so mentioned to Louise to look out for a church there ... St Paul's Cathedral!!!! (joke....) but she said 'I cant see any sign of a Cathedral?', to which we collapsed laughing when she realised I was teasing! On we went and found a little park with a few tents in the middle. This must be Tent City we thought. Brilliant! Out of the car we get, and by now starting to get dark, wandered into the park straight up to a couple of shocked middle aged men sitting on a park bench who looked at us very suspiciously! (Well, who wouldn't!). We asked if the few tents there were 'Tent City' and with a 'look' to each other told us it wasn't, told us kind of the direction we needed to know, we apologised for bothering them and went on our way, wondering if they might have thought tent city was a camping superstore and if we may have messed up a drug deal or something!
A police car round every corner, we set off to find 'Tent City', apparently near Staples. Well, we found Staples alright (first time in rather too many times that evening) but no sign of tents, so drove back round to the area we had first arrived in. Whilst driving we couldn't help but hear some banging music and were pulled to continue in that direction! It was great! A party in the back of some parking lot..... many people far too young to want me around, but we had a little dance in the car and stopped to talk to a woman hanging about nearby in her 40's. She eyed us suspiciously as we asked if she knew where 'Tent City' was and asked if we were police! I cracked up....(didn't mean to sound rude laughing at what she said but couldn't help myself), opened the car door and maneuvered my large frame out of the car and stood up with my walking stick.... 'now do you think I am a police woman' I said laughing and she giggled. 'It was the blacked out windows in the back of the car' she said. We had a good little chat with her and her boyfriend, sleeping rough in Clifton, gave them some food and happily went on our way...with instructions again to.... Staples!!! Off we go again, slowing up to talk to a couple of guys walking along with sleeping bags rolled up under their arms, only to find it was the guys from the park bench who had suspiciously thought we were barking mad earlier. This time we smiled and laughed about seeing them again, said we still hadn't found 'Tent City' and when we offered them some food they happily took it and thanked us.
We decided to track back to a couple of hostels we had passed, police seeming to be turning up at every corner we turned, after once more exploring the back of Staples and giving up again. We passed a Salvation Army Hostel but knew we wouldn't get near anyone to talk to as fenced off, so carried on to another large hostel we had seen and decided it safest to stop right outside. Needing to turn the car around we headed up a side road and I (homeless on the street spotter) pointed out some people sleeping under sleeping bags at the side of the hostel. Lets see if they would like some food' says I. Louise (young and fit) jumps out of the car and goes the few steps towards them saying 'excuse me, would you like some....ha ha ha '! I looked at her as she walked back towards the car laughing, and she told me it was the SAME two park bench guys again and yes, they enjoyed the food so much they would love some more!!!! We parked up properly and then chatted to a lady working at the hostel and a couple of guys outside. Our friend Aiden wasn't there, but, as we chatted to the guys who had secured beds at the hostel, one asked where we had come from and when we told him Devon, said he had been at 'The Amber Project' and found he knew one of my friends who had worked there at the time! Small world. We had such a great chat, left some food with the guys and once again, with more instructions, knowing that if we didn't find it this time, we were not meant to, set off for Staples again!
This time, going down a different road behind Staples, not having a clue where we had been already, circling round roads we found we had already been down and roads we hadn't, looking extremely suspicious (and giggling all the way), we got to a dead end ... at from of some parkland. 'YEH! This must be it' we thought! Problem was, it was in a totally unlit place with no other cars and a dark walk into the park....mmmmm. Luckily a gentleman walked past and although he too looked at us suspiciously, told us we could get round the other side of the park and at least park a little nearer. We were not convinced that once we actually moved the car and set off we would ever find the park again...but we tried. Amazingly we did get to the other side of the park and by now at about 11pm it was pitch black and not many people around in the back streets.
We got out of the car and wandered into the dark park. 'I can smell a bonfire' I said. 'That's a good sign!'. We rounded a corner and there it was, not 'Tent City' but a little 'Tent Village' (their preferred description) of about 8 tents. The man who had directed us to this side of the park lived there it turned out. Again we were viewed suspiciously until we mentioned we had tried to go to 'The Wild Goose' first as suggested by a homeless friend who had recently come to Barnstaple, and realised the man we were looking to meet up with there, was in fact here? Strange but true! Once we told them where we were from, what we did and who we knew that they did, we all settled down and talked.
Peace, my gypsy roots, spiritual people who 'get it', respectful and interesting conversation and about four hours sitting round their camp fire, putting the world to right, the education system back into place, teenagers and the children of the future into political power, taking borders down around the world, discussing the refugee crisis and peoples 'religious' beliefs, listening to their 'pet' rats sharing their food in the tents, hearing about the fox that visits and plays with their dog, their pigeon who lives in a water pipe nearby, finding out about their fight for the legal right to stay on the land they are on (which if it stands up in court could set up a brilliant precedent for more legal homeless camps), enjoying coffee and stories with these guys living together, one from Poland, one from the Middle East, an ex forces British guy and a couple of Sudonese men, has put my world right again.
Both Louise and I felt honoured to have been able to spend time with these guys. Huge respect to them for living the life they want to and fighting for their right to do so. Next time we go we will be taking new socks( on the request of a couple of the guys who said their friend REALLY needed them!!! Ha ha ....) and no doubt other supplies too. We promised we would follow their story and do whatever we can to support them. I hope one day Ali comes over to see us on his bike and we will afford him the lovely hospitality they afforded us.
These pictures are in the park we first visited where we met the two park bench men we were destined to meet twice more that night! http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/8203-bristol-s-homeless-campers-tents-confiscated/story-28590621-detail/story.html
This is the fundraiser helping the guys at Tent City to have the right to stay at their home x PLEASE SUPPORT THEM! https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/bristol-housing-action-movement