Knowle West Media Centre's straw-bale HQ building

If you haven’t heard of Knowle West Media Centre, or KWMC, congratulations: you’re about to learn some stuff about one of the most prolific and innovative community organisations in Bristol. Comprised of districts including Filwood, parts of Knowle, and a bit of Hengrove, depending on who you ask, Knowle West is an unofficial ward which spans an area of the south of the city that’s been chronically deprived for the last several decades. Unemployment rates are high and the average life expectancy is about eight years shorter than in affluent areas of Bristol such as Clifton.

Carolyn Hassan, founder and director of KWMC, first came to Knowle West 23 years ago. Coming from a background of film and photography, she doesn’t see the area through the lens of census statistics. She recognised the beauty and potential in its communities and young people and that’s what KWMC is for: giving opportunities to those on the losing end of the statistical register; groups who are less likely to have access to materials and technologies that enable them to create.

Laser-cut wood designs

It’s a broad remit, and this scope is reflected in the sheer volume and variety of work they do and services they provide. In a general sense, their focus is on teaching and enabling community members to create positive change in their lives and communities by using technology, data, art and media, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as we learned.

Last week, myself and a few other Delib staff were lucky enough to be taken on a tour of their impressive facilities and work spaces. They have a main building (Knowle West Media Centre on Leinster Avenue), built out of straw bales and which houses a fully-equipped recording studio and computer lab and in which they hold a myriad of activities and workshops for local kids. Then there’s KWMC: the Factory (!) housed in two units at Filwood Business Park. This digital manufacturing space boasts a laser cutter, 3D printer and CNC machine, all of which are used by local makers. They’ve hosted workshops on using digital as an art medium; that is, designing digitally and using these machines to create new types of art and fabrication.

We also visited Filwood Community Centre, run by Community In Partnership Knowle West, with stunning gardens in the courtyard and hexagonal planters that were made by community members at KWMC: The Factory. KWMC and Filwood Community Centre are currently collaborating on the Filwood Fantastic programme, which will work with residents to transform spaces in and around Filwood Community Centre and support people to develop their own creative projects.

Filwood Community Centre
Filwood Community Centre

As well as being a ridiculously cool organisation, their world and ours overlap a fair bit. As well as their focus on the importance of technology, a huge part of their activity involves engaging with the community.

One area where we’re really working in the same sphere is in terms of planning: KWMC’s housing initiative, ‘We Can Make Homes', aims to shape the direction of planning in the area. Whether it’s having a say on what gets built and where, actually doing the developing themselves, or empowering locals to make changes to their own homes (planning permission is far less likely to be granted in the area for things like home extensions than it is in Clifton), We Can Make engages the community more directly in the planning process. The initiative, a collaboration with Knowle West residents and White Design, is working with the planning department at Bristol City Council and hopes to support residents to develop housing solutions in Knowle West that they both want and can afford. Part of this process involves regular discussion, meetings and events with the community. The initiative has even built a prototype home.

The prototype home

This collaborative approach was brought up again and again at Centre for London’s planning event last month as the gold standard for increasing trust in the development process. Community groups that spoke said that an approach like this - one in which they're involved from the outset - would increase trust and would make for better, more needed developments, so it would be worth developers, planners and councils studying the work that's being done here.

Our thanks to Carolyn for the very informative tour - it was great to be shown the workings of an organisation whose values align with ours. Bristol is known for its enterprising and creative spirit and Knowle West Media Centre is a great reflection of this.

Follow KWMC on Twitter