Lawrence Weston in north-west Bristol has experienced diminishing local services over many years.
The closure of its post-16 college in 2012 proved to be a turning point for the area. Galvanised by the loss, 80 residents came together to form a community-led development trust, Ambition Lawrence Weston (ALW), and within a year it had already been awarded a £1m Big Lottery Fund grant.
Determined to regenerate the area, ALW has achieved significant success over the past ten years, including saving the youth centre from closing, reviving the community carnival and instigating a local, affordable supermarket. In 2015, ALW implemented a neighbourhood development plan that set out its objectives across housing, green spaces, employability, wellbeing and community facilities – a plan that has since become a template replicated across the UK.
Engaging with the community is at the heart of ALW’s work. Consultations take place every three years and influence what services it offers, such as childcare and parenting courses, debt advice, adult reading classes and a free veterinary clinic.
The local community centre is not only the hub from which the support services are coordinated, it’s also a versatile venue for a range of locally-led events and groups, including children’s parties, keep-fit classes such as kickboxing and ‘Men in Sheds’, a DIY-based social inclusion initiative for residents to meet others, teach and learn.
ALW’s development manager is Mark Pepper, a former youth worker who grew up in the area. “We’re a determined team,” he says. “We’re always thinking, ‘what are we missing in Lawrence Weston?’ and that’s what drives us.”
When Mark first took the reins of ALW, one of the things he recognised was a lack of community awareness about renewable energy, not only to combat climate change but also as a tool to establish financial sustainability.
Fast forward to 2022 and ALW has launched Ambition Community Energy, a community interest company, or CIC, raising £4m to build its own wind turbine. Once complete, it will be the largest onshore turbine in England. Mark describes the project as “more than just a wind turbine, it could be a gamechanger for Lawrence Weston”. The turbine, due to be completed in Spring 2023, will generate power the equivalent of all the homes in Lawrence Weston and it will provide an annual income of at least £100,000 for the community funds.
Now with 280 dedicated members, ALW continues to look to the future and is working with property developers to improve the choice of housing available for both new and existing residents. A new community centre is also on the cards. Ambition House will replace the current centre which is approaching the end of its lease with Bristol City Council. With £1.5m in funding already secured, the purpose-built facility will be the new heart of the community, as well as adding significant value to the area. “Not only will Ambition House increase footfall for the services we already offer,” says Mark, “it will open up huge potential in terms of what we could offer in the future.”