Since 1911, Barton Hill Settlement – now Wellspring Settlement since merging with Wellspring Healthy Living Centre in 2020 – has operated as a vital community resource centre. It provides a vast range of services, from family and employment support to community inclusion, and its CEO Joanna Holmes was once someone who benefited directly from it. “I moved here with two very young children, didn’t know anybody in the area, and found the family centre,” she says. “Using the services I got very interested in the work that was going on.”
The settlement is a vital community resource. “As well as our services, we have about 14 different tenant organisations who operate from the site,” says Joanna. “That includes great organisations such as Bristol Refugee Rights, Bristol Somalia Resource Centre and the University of Bristol.”
The settlement is an ever-changing organisation that reflects the community’s shifting demographics. “In 20 years we’ve gone from roughly 1% of people coming from BAME communities to well over 60%,” says Joanna. “So we’ve changed the projects we do over time as our local communities change over time. It’s a constant evolution.”
Muna Hassan Hussein is a local resident who has benefited from this focus on community cohesion. “I’m Somali so meeting people from different countries and getting to know more about them and their culture has been brilliant,” she says. “I’ve been going to the settlement for five years. I’m a mum of three so I use the kids groups but soon got involved as a volunteer. I used to be very shy and didn’t want to be involved in anything but as soon as I became a volunteer and started meeting lots of people I felt confident I could do more things. I found out lots of things about me that I never knew. It has changed me a lot.”
Mohammed Elsharif, community development manager at Bristol City Council, works closely with Wellspring Settlement. “They function as one of the key hubs in the city,” he says. “They have that power of community and you can see the area is more vibrant as a result, plus the communities have said that they feel more empowered and that they have more of a voice.”
“We’re absolutely determined to continue working with people to create more opportunities for this area”
They are working with the council as a strategic partner and as the locality hub for the inner city and east Bristol to change how adult social care works by beginning the test and learn phase of setting up a brokerage system for people who need care, to match them with local residents who they will support to set up micro enterprises to support them.
Teaming up with local organisations is a focus. “Everything we do is in partnership with somebody else,” she says. This includes a close-knit relationship with the university and their plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus around the corner. “We’ve spent years working with them to achieve the best we possibly can for this area,” she says.
“It’s happened too often in other places where you get a lovely brand new thing right next to an area which is really struggling and the two don’t connect and we really don’t want that. We’re absolutely determined to continue working with people to create more opportunities for this area through that new development.”
Despite the roadblocks that a pandemic has thrown up, Wellspring Settlement has not just proven to be resilient during trying times but they have flourished. “During Covid we completed the micro settlement,” Joanna says, of the Power to Change-funded ground floor build that provides 12 new spaces for organisations and 11 micro homes.
“Plus, we bought the Swan pub, which will be a multi-purpose space for young people. To do that in the Covid period, as well as everything else like providing emergency services, was just a phenomenal achievement because they are both things that are building for the future of this area.”