SCT’s consultation with a wide cross section of Bristol’s public, voluntary, arts and business sectors led to the founding of a Speakers’ Corner Founding Committee in September which met again in October to discuss plans for a project model adapted to reflect the city’s distinctive characteristics and meet its particular needs.It was agreed to begin the process of shortlisting potential Speakers Corner sites and designing a launch in the new year.
When the Committee met in January, half a dozen potential sites were discussed and it was agreed to work with the Bristol Old Vic on an imaginative proposal to test-drive aeach location. The idea is for actors and perhaps representatives of voluntary groups to perform at each site to see how they work in terms of gathering and holding audiences and how they relate to the other uses around them.
Bristol’s People’s Hustings
On 4 May, just two days before the general election, the Speakers’ Corner Committee organised a People’s Hustings at College Green, one of the sites under consideration for the city’s permanent Speakers’ Corner. The event was kicked off by professional actors recruited by the Bristol Old Vic who performed great speeches of the past by Oliver Cromwell (Robin McLoughlin), Emmeline Pankhurst (Kirsty Cox) and Winston Churchill (Paul Humpoletz) each of which, in their contrasting ways, not only marked a key moment in Britain’s political history but also powerfully illustrated the power of words to convey the ideas and convictions which have shaped the country’s democracy.
Representatives of a range of local voluntary and community groups – some of whom had earlier benefited from a free coaching session from John Dawson of Speaking-Infront – then set out in eloquent terms their agenda for the next government, covering issues as diverse as the rights of ethnic minorities, the burden of tuition fees on young people, the needs of families in poverty, the powerlessness of communities to influence decision-taking, barriers to employment and the need for a more integrated approach to community sustainability.
Five of Bristol West’s seven Parliamentary candidates (for the Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative, Green Parties and the Independent) then did their best to respond to what they had heard. No doubt encouraged by glorious sunshine, an event scheduled for ninety minutes was still going strong when it was brought to a close after two hours with many of those who had joined the crowd at the beginning still there at the end.
Later the actors performed at two other locations which the Committee has identified as potential Speakers’ Corner sites, Colston Avenue and Corn Street. The ‘roadtesting’ of the sites, using the mobile Speakers’ Corner designed by Ade Armstrong and built by the Old Vic, was intended to assess each in terms of its acoustics and sightlines as well as footfall, space and relationship with other local activities. At each location, the performances enouraged passers-by to stop and listen and to applaud what they heard.