We visit Southmead and find a friendly, resilient community fighting against the odds

Locals and shopkeepers talk to us on a visit to the central parade on a sunny autumn day
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“I wouldn’t live anywhere else, even if I won a fortune,” smiles Southmead resident Joan Bennett. “I moved here in 1955 and still live in the same house - there’s still a good sense of community here.”

We’re talking on the corner of Greystoke Avenue, next to the impressive new stone benches inscribed with ‘May the Mead be with you’ - a reference to Southmead’s very own David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in Star Wars and who was known to millions in the 1970s as the Green Cross Code Man.

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“We all knew Dave Prowse,” says Joan. “He used to run the Saturday night dances at the church hall. It used to shut at 10pm and there was no alcohol and no trouble either.”

On a sunny autumn day, next to the newly planted trees and flower beds, the shopping area on Arnside Road is buzzing with locals.

Colourful banners with the words ‘Making Southmead a great place to live and grow in - care, hope, kindness, diversity, belonging’ flutter in the warm breeze.

Southmead resident Joan Bennett has lived in the area since 1955Southmead resident Joan Bennett has lived in the area since 1955
Southmead resident Joan Bennett has lived in the area since 1955

In the 67 years Joan has lived in the area, she has seen plenty of changes when it comes to local amenities in the heart of this interwar council estate.

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“Where Iceland is now, that was Woolworths,” she tells me. “We had a butchers shop on each side of the road and a greengrocers.

“There was a Keith Pople shop for school uniforms, a shoe shop, a hardware store, bakery and a very good ladies clothes shop called Lawrences.

“There was a pub called The Standard of England where Tesco Express is and Co-Op was on the site where Aldi is now - but we love our Aldi though!”

Although many of the shops around Arnside Road and Greystoke Avenue are the usual national chains such as McColl’s, Greggs and Pizza Hut Delivery, there are still independent businesses.

Yasamin Soodesaeidi of Ombre beauty salon in SouthmeadYasamin Soodesaeidi of Ombre beauty salon in Southmead
Yasamin Soodesaeidi of Ombre beauty salon in Southmead
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Next to the busy Lloyds Pharmacy is Ombré, a stylish hair and beauty salon run by Yasamin Soodesaeidi, who opened the business in 2018.

With a massive hike in her energy bills recently, and a drop in customers, she says she’s worried about the next few months.

“It has been a very quiet week and it is a lot quieter generally but then my business isn’t seen as ‘essential’ by people, it’s more of a luxury.”

Yasamin says there is a noticeable dip in regular clients as people are forced to spend their money on rising food and energy bills.

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People who used to come here three times a year are now coming twice or even once. I can see my regular clients booking less often - maybe every six months rather than every two or three months.

“It’s very worrying because my energy bill has just tripled. I was on a fixed contract but I was away when it ran out and they put me on a variable rate automatically and that’s it.

“I haven’t worked out what I’m going to do this winter. I’m just lucky it’s only me here and I haven’t got to pay staff.”

Arnside Road in Southmead has new flower beds and benchesArnside Road in Southmead has new flower beds and benches
Arnside Road in Southmead has new flower beds and benches

On the corner of Arnside Road is a branch of ReGenerate, which buys and sells new and used products as well as cashing cheques.

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Store manager Sarah Jones says business is good and people are still buying gaming consoles, mobile phones, laptops and TVs, although there is a noticeable increase in people selling items to generate some much needed cash.

“We’ve seen a big increase in people coming in to sell their items, either to upgrade to newer models or to get the cash.

“Before this energy crisis, people just used to throw their old stuff away and chuck hi-fi systems on the tip but people think again now.

“Even if it means getting a few quid for an item they no longer want, it’s cash to them and also people less fortunate than them can benefit from the item too.”

Solomon Wilson outside his restaurant and takeaway in SouthmeadSolomon Wilson outside his restaurant and takeaway in Southmead
Solomon Wilson outside his restaurant and takeaway in Southmead
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Solomon Wilson launched his Caribbean restaurant and takeaway Smooth & Fire just under three years ago and despite the challenges of the pandemic and energy crisis, he’s still open.

“I opened right in the middle of the pandemic and we have good and bad days like any other business but delivery side is doing well.

“This is a white dominated area so I’m trying to get them to know the food. We’ve had some positive feedback about the dishes, especially the curry goat and jerk chicken.”

With 120 new homes planned for nearby Glencoyne Square, a short walk from his restaurant, Solomon is also hopeful about the future.

“There’s a positive feeling locally,” he says. “The new houses being built in the square will mean more people so I might benefit from that, and so will the other local businesses.”

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