Recording the Streets - Oldbury Court Housing Estate

Local Journeys was commissioned by the English Heritage Schools Initiative to work with children at Frome Vale Academy in March 2013 on a photo-investigation of a post-war housing estate. The photographers were aged 7-9 years old, many of whom are residents. This project was very much about 'knowing your place'.

This is an environment shaped by its past but also matured by time to the way it appears now. The historic Oldbury Court Estate, that until its demolition in the early 20thC contained a handsome Tudor mansion, is fairly well known in Bristol, often referred to as Vassals Park.

However, its more recent neighbour, the Oldbury Court Housing Estate, is an overlooked corner at the north-eastern boundary of the City, tucked between Downend, the Frome valley and Fishponds. The enthusiastic staff at the newly formed Academy were keen to gain recognition for this forgotten zone and had been working with English Heritage to find ways to achieve this.

Local Journeys was invited to explore the nearby Housing Estate with the students who had been studying the area with the Know Your Place historical maps as well as looking at the impact of WW2 on Bristol. The estate was built to alleviate housing shortages caused by destruction in the war but also to replace sub-standard housing in the inner city.

1,000 years ago had been part of the royal hunting forest of Kingswood, later becoming farmland within the Oldbury Court Estate, and then market gardens before building for the housing estate began in the 1950s. Some of these buildings from half a century ago still display very distinctive stylistic elements, the flats on Gill Avenue in particular.

After a classroom session with the children to look at both modern and historic maps of the area from the Know Your Place website we took them in groups to the housing estate with cameras and a set of themes to look out for in the streets and open spaces.

Many of the students lived here but were surprised at what they discovered and noticed for the first time as they walked through the familiar landscape. The children clearly engaged with their tasks and produced a detailed record of the areas they'd visited with some excellent photographs - you can see a many of their themed images on the Local Journeys' flickr page.

The following week the children identified the places where they'd taken the photos, located these on a large map and added thumbnail-sized prints of some of the photographs they'd taken. They also created some montage images using the themes they'd been given.

A small selection of their photographs from each of the areas we visited were assembled into montages that have now been added to the community layer of the Know Your Place Map, so Oldbury Court Housing Estate has finally been acknowledged and 60 + children have become more finely tuned observers of their familiar surroundings with a sense of the long story behind their neighbourhood.

Quotes from the teachers about the impact of the project

"It just opened up their eyes to their everyday environment around them and it enabled them to see it through a different ‘lens’ and in a different way. They noticed different aspects of the buildings and the environment that they hadn’t previously been aware of – it’s been a background wallpaper and all of a sudden they’re noticing different features.

[This] just helps them have a greater appreciation of the environment around them…it helps them in that they might home in on the finer details in life rather than as a big canvas… that’s a positive….it’s something simple you can do with cameras but looking through the lens made them see it in a different way …wherever they go now they might look at things in more detail …'

"some of them have said they’d like to show other people things that they saw. The maps worked really well – the maps on the walk and the map back in the classroom – it was becoming a more abstract exercise than they were used to."

"If you can open people’s eyes on a small scale to where they are, then the longer term goal is to help them broaden their horizons and their aspirations and to appreciate what’s around them in other contexts as well."