1A Bond is one of Bristol’s most recognisable buildings. Built at the turn of the 20th century, it is the oldest of three tobacco warehouses that now stand defiantly against the skyline as a reminder of the trade that left our city with a legacy of poor health. Might there now be an opportunity to offset some of that legacy by becoming a beacon of sustainable living, owned and run by the local community, for the local community? If you are interested, read on, and you can get involved by filling in your detail via the website below.

Back then…

Of course, in their day, these impressive brick buildings were a symbol of Bristol’s success, their contents offering many local people pre-war jobs. Nowadays, the contents of A Bond are a symbol of the shrinking public sector, filled with miscellaneous junk removed from Council offices that are being closed and sold off across the city.

abond1

On my first trip around A Bond several years ago I particularly remember the cavernous basement; it was surprisingly dry despite being below river level. The basement double height, the space broken only by enormous columns of wrought iron that hold the rest of the building up. The roofs on the next 8 floors are surprisingly low, designed to fit two bales of tobacco perfectly, but the top floor is full of light from a glass roof, an uplifting space after the darkness of the intervening floors, with amazing ‘penthouse’ style views up to the suspension bridge.

abond2

I was accompanying the chief exec of a large development company who had been invited in by the Council to see if a scheme to turn it into ‘grade A’ offices was “viable” (i.e. profitable). To summarise, it was, but only if the process could be handled smoothly, with the building sold off quickly, cheaply and with as few constraints as possible. Only then would the private sector want to take on the risk that would be balanced against potential reward. At the time, the Council decided to keep it, with a plan to co-locate its own offices there instead. Then in 2013, they bought 100 Temple Street instead, and A Bond dropped off the priority list, gradually filling up with boxes and old filing cabinets. It has occasionally been used as a tv and film set too, but the only member of staff is a security guard, glad to chat when we popped by.

Several years ago, I helped produce a report to expand the Create centre in neigbouring B Bond, making use of the empty floors above and turning it into a community owned & operated social enterprise. Our research showed that in the right hands it could not only cover its own costs, it was likely to generate additional revenue that could have been used, for example, to pay for the Council’s sustainability team that shared the floor above. However, I was repeatedly told that no one wanted to use it commercially on the basis that Create is “too far out of the centre”. Depending where you think the centre of Bristol is, i.e. the hippodrome or Cabot Circus, A and B Bond are actually less than two miles from town, easily accessible by bike, foot or ferry. Despite this, the project was shelved for reasons I wont go into here, which is especially disappointing now as many of the aforementioned team have been made redundant under government cuts.

I was left though, with a huge sense of untapped potential, in an area of the city that has long been the poor cousin of the rest of Bristol. Now, the brick facade mocks me every time I cycle past, the dirty windows visible from all angles. I often wonder what the commuters think when they crawl past each morning and evening. I suspect they don’t even notice any more, the fading bricks and graffiti blending into the gloom.

 What now?

A Bond is a superb building, and despite its history, deserves to become a statement for the aspiration of Bristol rather than a sad reminder of the past. It should be recycled and re-used as an amazing live-work community that could epitomise a more sustainable future. It should NOT be sold off to the highest bidder for a quick cash profit. Imagine the Create Centre, but 10 times the size and 100 times the impact. Now that is a vision worth fighting for.

If you are interested in getting involved, please fill in your details here: http://future4abond.weebly.com

Darren Hall