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Cultures, Communities and Design

Balancing ACT: transgressing boundaries, asserting community
S. Thomson & A. Franklin
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm


The Ardagh – which sits in the centre of Horfield Common, a large public park in North Bristol – was one of 60+ green space sites identified by Bristol City Council (BCC) in 2010 as “under-used” and “providing no value to their local communities” and therefore available for development. Public parks do not receive statutory funding in the UK and BCC proposed the sale of the identified sites as a means to fund those that remained. Horfield Common sits across three council wards and two Westminster Constituencies, while the Ardagh sits within one council ward and one Westminster Constituency. This results in political responsibility for the sites spanning two MPs and seven city councillors, currently from three different political parties and often with markedly different agendas. Just as significantly, city planning decisions are based on these discrete ward maps, so any public asset that exists across these boundaries effectively becomes a ‘detotalised totality’ (Sartre) and any community is rendered illegible. This paper will explore, through discussion of the work of Ardagh Community Trust (ACT), the real-world effects of these arbitrary and shifting political boundaries on the communities they transect. It will outline how these boundaries were implicated in BCC’s selection of sites for disposal and how they both shaped and undermined their community consultation processes. In addition, it will outline how such boundary practices permeate public policy & resources planning, with rhetoric surrounding multi-use, adaptable sites open to all being belied by the siloing of funding for discrete groups (e.g. care leavers, the disabled, etc.) or prescriptive activities (e.g. ‘sport’) by public bodies, charity funders and grant making trusts. Finally, this paper will – again through exploring the work of ACT – illustrate how such practices can be resisted and countered by community-engendered and -centred action.


Sam Thomson is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Ardagh Community Trust. She was named one of NatWest’s WISE100 (Women in Social Enterprise) in 2018 and one of the Euclid Network’s Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise in Europe in 2022. Sam was previously employed in the Higher Education Sector, working from 2000 – 2017 in a range of teaching, research and external engagement roles, latterly as Associate Head of School and Director of Civic & Cultural Engagement in a Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education at a large university in South West England. She has also worked in a range of freelance roles as an artist, researcher, producer and project manager. Sam is passionate about the role of public parks in cities and their importance in supporting mental and physical health.

Alex Franklin was one of the first trustees of Ardagh Community Trust. She is a retired senior lecturer and researcher.