If developers had got their way, Ashley Vale would be just another faceless estate. Sanjida O'Connell meets the Bristol residents who joined forces to create a unique, eco-friendly community.
As you travel by train through Bristol there is one area that stands out from all the city's terraces, graffitied walls and gritty flyovers. It nestles in a green bowl – a patchwork of allotments, a mini nature reserve, a city farm and, at the bottom, a collection of surreal-looking houses made of copper, wood and glass in strange shapes, glinting with solar panels. This oasis of calm is Ashley Vale, a collection of 26 eco-houses that were designed and hand-built by local residents in response to a developer attempting to take over a brownfield site in the St Werburgh's district.
The project began in 2000 when a developer proposed turning a scaffolding yard into a housing estate. Local residents banded together and formed AVAG, the Ashley Vale Action Group, to oppose the development and put forward their own, alternative, vision. They won their case – and the right to build a sustainable, mixed-use community on the yard – but had to work quickly to buy the land.