Inspiration - 5 min read

The Bristol Wing – our first Community Champion

By Chris Elmes

We went to see the central-Bristol hostel using the hotel trade to make a difference to some of the city’s most vulnerable young people. It was a natural choice as our first Community Champion.


“When we showed her into her room for the first time, she just went, “ahhhh””. We’re talking to Nikky, a chaplain at hostel The Bristol Wing, which provides accommodation for vulnerable young people using the income from paying guests in other rooms. She stands up to demonstrate how the tension visibly drained out of a young woman that finally had a place to call her own. “It’s a safe space for them, but also something more,” Nikky continues, “it’s a connection, a chance to rebuild, a sense of family that goes beyond just providing shelter.”

“Beyond providing shelter” is something of an understatement. The building, a restored police headquarters in the heart of Bristol, is as much a cool hotel as it is a refuge. The former funds the latter and the two overlap in an inspiring example of how a mainstay of the travel industry can be reinvented to directly benefit its area. That perfect combination of style and substance are what made The Bristol Wing the obvious choice to be the first of our Sawday’s Community Champions, not-for-profit special places that receive subsidised membership to support the great work they do for their communities.

As we take a brief tour, Nikky explains more about how it all comes together. “There are 88 beds for paying guests, in doubles, dorms and bigger family rooms.” The guest rooms look more like a fancy hostel than a city-centre hotel, as the focus of the business is firmly on the purpose, but the rates are incredible for the location and the atmosphere itself is a feature. Having the lounge, kitchen and reception all in the same open-plan space creates a sense of instant comfort and homeliness. Guests pick up local tips from the staff as easily as the young people get advice on navigating bureaucratic mazes. Everyone is welcome to use the kitchen or slump on the deep sofas, and everyone is welcome at The Feast.       

(It is) an inspiring example of how a mainstay of the travel industry can be reinvented to directly benefit its area

 

The Feast is on Thursdays at 6pm, every week without fail. Staff at The Bristol Wing receive a delivery from food redistribution charity Fareshare in the late afternoon and, along with a rotating cast of volunteers, prepare a meal from whatever they’ve been given. “People who are sitting on their laptops in the lounge get drawn over and it really gets people talking.” Nikky tells us, before pointing out that as well as being a sociable occasion, it also serves a more subtle, serious purpose. The young people referred to The Bristol Wing only stay for a few months and The Feast provides a touchpoint for residents both past and present, a sense of regularity in lives that are often still chaotic. It’s what makes the place so special, that as much thought has been given to providing emotional and psychological support as it has to crucial functional assistance like having a postal address. 

We see the building’s history commemorated in murals on the landings – “blues and twos” for the police station era, “roll up roll up” for the period when it was home to the legendary Invisible Circus. It spent years unused, making the restoration a painstaking process that involved Ben Silvey of the YMCA finding an incredible amount of funding, determination and energy. Nikky remembers nodding with polite scepticism as he outlined his vision for a beautiful, self-sustaining, charitable hotel from a desk surrounded by rubble and graffiti. Even now that the place is a thriving, colourful success, the walls of one floor have been left largely unchanged, as a reminder not only of where it all began, but also the reality of the side of the city that many of the young people have come from. 

The place is a thriving, colourful success

We finished our brief tour back in the lobby, suitably inspired by both the work being done and the place itself. Through Nikky we’ve had a glimpse of how much the staff’s support and care must mean to the young people who are lucky enough to stay here, and just soaking up the bright and friendly atmosphere has made us want to visit as guests. We were at once proud and sad to live in Bristol. Proud because such a brilliant project is flourishing here and sad because we don’t get to stay. 

We’re always on the lookout for more Sawday’s Community Champions, not-for-profit places that are special as much for what they do as how they look. If you know of any that you think we should consider, get in touch on hello@sawdays.co.uk.

View the Bristol Wing >

 

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