A before and after image: the before image shows two billboards, the after image shows the same site with the billboards removed and a mural which reads 'Welcome to North Street'

Better without billboards: celebrating community and nature

It used to display oversized adverts for SUVs, supermarkets and fast fashion, but now a site in south Bristol has been transformed from a corporate advertising space into a celebration of the local high street and our relationship with nature.

Local residents, businesses and councillors had been calling for the removal of two huge billboards at North Street Green in Bedminster for some time. In 2020, along with other members of Adblock Bristol, I spoke to dozens of people who live near the green. The people we spoke to overwhelmingly felt that their neighbourhood would be better without the billboards.

Local traders also voiced their opposition, showing how big brand adverts in public space undermine local businesses. Chris Cierpik from Rare Butchers on North Street said, “What makes North Street so special is the great independent businesses, and we can do without the eyesore of billboards defacing our street.” The local Business Improvement District (BID) also said they wanted to see billboards reduced in Bedminster, as they give a negative impression of the local area and preference large corporations over local businesses.

We made contact with the landowners, Western Power Distribution, to ask whether they would remove the billboards and work with the local community to reimagine this space.

Loving our local green space

In 2021 we invited people to contribute to an online survey on how they feel about their local green, and what they would like to see there. People told us that they value the trees and greenery above all, and that they love North Street Green as an ‘oasis’ of green space in this urban area. Most people said they wanted to see more trees and planting in place of the billboards, and a lot of people said they would like to see a mural or local artwork instead of the corporate ads. Several people suggested the space could be used for music performances, and several people suggested a cafe or coffee van. We shared these responses with the landowner to show the strength of feeling and the opportunity to create a site which would promote wellbeing, community and nature.  

In 2022 we launched a petition for the removal of the billboards which was signed by over 600 people, and we delivered it to the landowner (now known as National Grid).

The two huge billboards were finally removed in 2023 – although National Grid emphasised this was a commercial decision, rather than a result of our campaign. Whatever the reason, we welcomed their decision and were thrilled to see the back of these unwanted corporate ads.

A before and after image, the before image shows a large billboard which advertises itself (says 'We're everywhere! Reach 95% of the UK with Billboards". The after image shows the same site after the billboard has been removed, revealing the trees behind

Transforming ad space

Members of the local community have been working to keep the space tidy since the removal of the billboards, and conversations with National Grid about adding artwork and planters have been ongoing.

Last week as part of Upfest 2024, two sides of the substation were adorned with stunning, colourful artworks from HASS and Tozer Signs. The transformation from advertising space to art space is bringing smiles all round in our community. Artist Tozer commented that this must be their most photographed mural yet! There are still plans for more plants along the front wall of the green, and lots of enthusiasm from local residents to help make that happen.

A large mural on an outside wall shows a peacock alongside a human face
A stunning mural by HASS painted in May 2024 at North Street Green, BS3
An artist painting a mural on an outsiode building between a road and a green space, which reads 'Welcome to North Street'
Artist Tozer paints a mural where a billboard used to be, in May 2024

A huge thanks to everyone who has been involved in the transformation of this space – from neighbouring residents to local businesses, councillors, the BID, Upfest, the artists and National Grid. It looks wonderful and is such an inspiring example of how our public spaces can be a celebration of community, creativity and nature.

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