What is the People's University of Fishponds?
PUF runs occasional talks and events that are aimed at being accessible, affordable and friendly. We do it because it's fun and interesting - any money we raise is just used to hire the venues and cover expenses.
Since 2016 we've had talks about history, psychology, gardening, orphanages, bats and philosophy. We've built and played unusual musical instruments, recorded a pop song and learnt how to conduct an orchestra. We've heard from young politicians, our own MP, Bristol's poet laureate and perhaps most movingly from refugees and those seeking asylum who live in Fishponds.
All our events are relaxed, there's no surprise audience participation (!), people often come on their own and its not unusual to see people enjoying a cup of tea or glass of wine as they listen.
For most events you will need to book in advance - please check the listing for details.
Our new online booking system is now live!
You can now book for all events at the PUF Ticket Shop by clicking the button below:
We’re now at the Nissen Hut, Eastville Park
This is the new community hub, thanks to Friends of Eastville Park. It is easily accessible from the Park Avenue car park (BS5 6QL). See below for our now MONTHLY talks. Tickets will stay at £5, and sessions will be 7-9pm unless indicated.
We would like to thank the brilliant team at Glenside Museum for being our wonderful hosts in recent times.
A new event added with Historic England
We now have details of our event with Historic England on October 16th. If you're keen on local history and would like to learn more about researching and resources, come and join us then. Full details below.
Helping the Surui People of the Amazon and saving the planet!
Well, doing our bit anyway. Following the fantastic event when we linked via Zoom with the Surui People of Brazil, we have launched our crowdfunding page. Donations will go towards tree planting and creating a Fishponds Forest in the Amazon! It will also help the Surui People with their campaign against illegal logging. To give to this great cause, please click the button below.
Our Chancellor and Marketing Dept have published an article! You can read about Kate and Ben’s trip back in time following in the foot steps of a Victorian guide book to Bristol, in The Regional Historian. You can buy copies (£12) by subscribing to the (very interesting) Regional History Centre (click the button below).
We’re hoping to publish a small book of our own History walks, so again, watch this space!
Summer is here and PUF is looking forward to bringing you an exciting and varied series of events in 2022!
All events can now be booked through our online ticket shop.
Our Special Relationship With Dogs
21st August 2022, 7-9pm
The Nissen Hut, Eastville Park
£5 per person
Pete, our resident Professor of Music takes a break from all things musical to explore the fascinating psychology of dogs and humans. Do we train them or do they train us?! This session will also feature a presentation from Heather Armstrong on Guide Dogs, and how you can help.
The History Of… The Tea Break
25th September 2022, 7-9pm
The Nissen Hut, Eastville Park
£5 per person
Having a Kitkat and a chat by the staff kettle is not necessarily the worker's right: the tea break is something that was fought for by workers and trade unions fighting for fairer working conditions. Come and celebrate their achievements with us (over a biscuit and a cuppa of course) as Martin Upchurch, Emeritus Professor of International Employment Relations at Middlesex University, takes us though a relatively light hearted look at the rise and fall of the tea break and its subsequent reincarnation in the contemporary workplace. Martin worked for many years as a journalist for a major trade union before becoming an academic at the University of the West of England while living in Fishponds. And unlike the PUF staff, he actually IS a proper professor!! There may be a few musical interludes too....
Archive Workshop with Historic England
16th October 2022, 7-9pm
The Nissen Hut, Eastville Park
£5 per person
Are you fascinated by local history and would like to find out more? Michael Gorely from History England will lead a workshop on using their archives to start finding out about the story of your local area.
This will include using sources such as historic maps, aerial photographs, listed buildings, archaeological information, census returns and street directories. He will use ideas and techniques from the Heritage Schools Programme across the SW of England, but focussed on the Eastville area.
The Cry of the Poor
30th October 2022, 7-9pm
The Nissen Hut, Eastville Park
£5 per person
The Cry of the Poor was an ‘open letter’ to Bristol’s Aldermen, published in November 1871, allegedly from ’16 working men’, on behalf of the 10,000 fellow workers of Fishponds, Eastville and their surrounds. In this fascinating document, the workers ask for clean air and a ‘people’s park’- which we now have! Bristol Radical History Group have been researching this document, and will be here to talk about their research.
The History Of… Christmas Songs
27th November 2022, 7-9pm
The Nissen Hut, Eastville Park
£5 per person
What's behind some of our favourite festive tunes? Find out in this surprising and quirky history of popular Christmas songs followed by a little singalong led by our resident Professors of Music, plus a free glass of mulled wine and a mince pie!
All events are £5 per person unless otherwise stated. Drinks and nibbles may be extra unless indicated.
Getting in touch
If you want to reserve a place, please use this form and don't forget to tell us your name and the event you want to attend.
You can also use the form to join our mailing list so that you don't miss out on any future events.
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For anything else you can text or call Kate on:
or email us at:
A Walking History of Eastville Park
Our Chancellor, Kate (with behind the scenes help from Mo & Pam), took us on a fascinating stroll through the ages of Eastville Park, where we discovered makeshift schools, socialist talks, ‘tent cities’, suffraggettes and funfairs. We rounded off with music from the PUFettes and tea & biscuits from Friends of Eastville Park in the Nissen Hut! Lovely afternoon.
With Love From Fishponds
Fishponds linked with an Amazonian tribe to help them save part of the increasingly threatened rainforest in Brazil. We will be supporting the Surui people in Rondonia to fund them whilst they reforest vast swathes of illegally-logged rainforest. In a very exciting event, we spoke via Zoom with Chief Almir Surui in Brazil and, in Paris, to Almir's wife Ivaneide Surui and Thomas Pizer (President of the NGO Aquaverde who support indigenous tribes around the world). They told us about illegal logging, their campaigns against it and their hugely ambitious re-planting programme.
We launched our crowdfunding campaign which will support the Surui in their efforts to maintain the rainforest and ultimately help regulate the world’s climate stability. Chief Almir Surui and his people are keen to see this partnership with Fishponds flourish well into the future and PUF aim to support them in whatever way we can, creating the Fishponds Forest along the way!
The Curious Cabinet
The Curious Cabinet opened the doors to PUF for a Curiouser and Curiouser creativity tour. Sadie, a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach showed us around her beautiful creative retreat to peruse her artworks and objects and find out about what happens behind the doors at the Creative Coaching Practice.
All The Nice Girls…? Not So Troublesome Sailors
When we think of sailors in the past, we might think of them as drunken, promiscuous, violent nuisances, almost a feral breed apart, let loose on the streets and inhabitants of port towns. Joe Davey from Bath Spa University suggested that, as far as Bristol is concerned, there is a more nuanced view of the sailors on its streets during the nineteenth century. Whilst they were no angels. Joe explained that when sailors were situated within working-class societal, familial, residential, employment, religious and deviant contexts, it is possible to regard many Bristol sailors as respectable citizens, ones who were aspiring to be a better class of working man.
The History Of… Hellos
We might have been back to some sort of normal but it’s still not clear whether we should hug or bump elbows nowadays. Mark Neath gave a fascinating and often witty history of greetings, including the story of the word, “hello” (who knew that the original suggestion for answering the telephone was to say, “Ahoy”!?) and advice on the correct way to shake someone’s hand (there is a mathematical formula!). He expanded into Victorian etiquette and we learned how a lady should use her fan to signal such things as, “I am married”, or “follow me”. Our resident band gave a musical interlude with a medley of Hello songs.
All About Bats!
We welcomed Stewart of Avon Bat Group, back by popular demand with some wonderful bat facts! We learned everything from their anatomy, the way they use echo location to their place in history and the media. These furry, fascinating fluttering fellows are very loveable and endlessly amazing. Stewart even brought along a real bat and a samll bat person!
The History Of… Photography: From Lacock To Leith
Most of us know that photography was invented in Lacock. How many are aware that its development continued north of the border in Edinburgh ? Ali Bacon's illustrated talk was a fascinating look at some of the pioneers of photography from the 1840s and about the processes involved. Ali also told us about her most recent novel, 'In the Blink of an Eye' (Linen Press 2018) which was inspired by photographs from the 1840s and the stories behind them.
The Wonder Of Sleep
What do we understand about why we sleep and how it actually happens? Dr Mark Neath explored what we’ve thought about sleep and dreams from ancient times, how artists and authors have drawn on its magical properties, and how modern science tries to explains it all, as we become increasingly aware of its importance for our health, wellbeing and for society as a whole. Once again we had some wonderful musical accompaniment and everyone went home to a good night's sleep!
The Iluminating History Of The Lightbulb
Historian, pyrotechnical wizard and PUF favourite Dave Williams on the amazing and, yes, illuminating history of the lightbulb! We enjoyed fascinating facts about this world-changing invention, found out how it dramatically changed society - and what people thought of this new-fangled electric light at the time!
The evening was once again made more fantastic by appropriate tunes from our in-house singers and as it was nearly Christmas, a free glass of fizz - no jokes about being 'light@ headed!
Fishponds Ghost Walk!
PUF & Friends of Eastville Park, plus local storytellers and musicians, brought a large intrepid crowd a special, spine tingling, supernatural stroll round Fishponds, ending up at the Cross Hands for food and a singalong! It was a fun family alternative to 'trick or treating' with some spooky surprises and local ‘no, it’s true, honestly!’ legends- hopefully, the first of an annual event!
The REAL Black Friday
Bristol Radical History group author, researcher and co-founder Roger Ball took us through the REAL ‘Black Friday’ i.e. not the end of November shopping spree but the strikes and protests of autumn 1892 in Bristol, starting with the ‘Sweet Girls’ dispute at the Redcliff Confectionery works. A brilliant night of forgotten history - a tale of ‘thousands of working class Bristolians’ marching to the Horsefair with lanterns & song.
We were joined on the night by Red Notes Choir and a Rum Do (our own PUF singers) to hear protest songs - including one written about this event not sung in public for over a century!
Pesticide Free Bristol
In August, we moved from Glenside to Eastville park’s iconic Nissen Hut, to host this collaborative event with The Pesticide Safe Bristol Alliance and Friends of Eastville Park.
‘Pesticide Free Fishponds’ is the first in a series of 'whole suburb' public engagement initiatives run by the ‘Pesticide Safe Bristol Alliance’ to end the routine spraying of toxic weed killers in the city's public spaces and gardens. Glyphosate (the world's best selling weed killer, known as ‘Round Up’) is routinely sprayed in parks, school grounds and verges despite links to cancer- it’s even been found in our food and water. It harms pets and wildlife too :(
We heard from a range of gardening experts and speakers such as gardening journalist Dave Lifton, and #greenkingsdown founder and activist Karen Sillence
We also enjoyed lovely snacks from the Park Friends’ pop up café!
Bristol's Nautical Women
An evening of nautical intrigue! Author Rosemary Caldicott told us about her new book in which she investigated the intriguing, often tragic, histories of Bristol's nautical women (some who dressed as men to get to sea). Living in Bristol, we're all quite familiar with images of sailing ships - but the focus is usually on the men who built or worked on them. Rosemary, and our very own Sea Shanty Choir brought to life a forgotten history - women sailors and the women of sailor towns. We also enjoyed a tot of rum.
The Women Who Built Bristol
Jane Duffus talked about her fascinating book in which she tells the tale of women who are the unrecognised 'sheroes' of Bristol's history. Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, says: “Jane Duffus and fellow contributors of The Women Who Built Bristol introduce us to a glorious set of women!
Glenside Museum provided an appropriately historical backdrop to celebrate these amazing women who helped shape our city.
Face To Face - Stories From The Asylum
Our understanding of the Victorian lunatic asylum and mental illness in general, is often fed by myth and fiction. What do we know about the lives of those who entered the asylums? Our guest speaker, Professor Rab Houston told us about the individuals behind the diagnoses and our preconceptions of mental illness through the ages. Fascinating and moving. Rab made a special trip from St Andrews University as part of his talk tour.
Fishponds Fascinating Facts - Walking Tour
In collaboration with Bristol's Walk Fest we stopped off at about 10 destinations hearing fascinating facts at each one. There was a bit of cinematic history, industrial past, war time, football connections, refreshments in an old asylum (yes, that's right) we finished at the pub and even unveiled a 'blue plaque' with a connection to one of the world's most famous musicians.
Bristol's Pauper Children
Impoverished children were a common sight in Victorian Bristol. The lucky ones were fed, clothed, educated and taught skills by church and charitable organisations, workhouses, reformatories and industrial schools.
However, these institutions struggled to cope with sheer numbers and emigration to Canada, for an apparent healthier and more wholesome life, was seen as a solution for some. Bristol children were first sent to Canada in 1870 and after years of painstaking research, Shirley Hodgson has identified 1,500 of them.
Glenside Museum & Talk
An exclusive event for PUF as we were granted access to a private tour of the fascinating museum based in the old Psychiatric Hospital at Glenside, Stapleton. We saw some fascinating exhibits and enjoyed a short informative talk from the museum’s curator, artist Stella Man. Thought provoking and moving.
Zoe Thompson: Strong Woman
No. 2 UK's Strongest Woman, Zoe Thompson has been on quite a journey and triumphed to become as she says, 'something stronger and more powerful'. Times of adversity can build an inner strength and that's certainly what Strongwoman competitor Zoe did. Zoe talked through her journey, from the catalyst for change and how she faced adversity and challenges - inspiring, encouraging and honest.
All About Bees
Local Bee expert Alyson Hurst shared with us some fun facts about our furry friends, the bees. Along with the fun we also learnt how important bees our to our future and what we can do to help our gardens be more friendly.
The Art of Animation
Emma Windsor is an animator, filmmaker and artist. Her independent films have been shown at international film festivals including: Bristol Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival, Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film and the Glastonbury Music Festival. In this talk, Emma told us about her influences - from Disney's pink elephant scene in Dumbo, through to darker and even more surreal films - all featuring the creative use of animation to make us question what's real and what's possible. She can be found at the Puppet Place.
Professor Rowley's Miscellany Of Musical Madness
Our esteemed Head of Music, 'Professor' Pete Rowley took us on an amazing journey through the world of some of the most curious and eccentric musical instruments ever invented. We saw music making from a completely different perspective, from the wacky to the surreal, the strange to the bizarre, from the middle ages to the future. Pete brought along several instruments for us to try - including a clarinet made from a carrot, a trumpet made from a bit of plastic pipe, a musical pencil and, for those of you who remember the classic Star Trek music - a theremin.
The City Gardener
Horticultural journalist and gardening expert Tim Barton (‘The City Gardener’/ ‘Aimless Gardening’) talked to PUF about growing vegetables for a year round harvest. He covered successional sowing, creating environments that will extend growing seasons, what to grow and how and then how to store stuff so that you can eat when there's little growing. A talk full of top tips and hints - with lots of us inspired by how much can be achieved with a little bit of imagination and DIY.
The Road to Muller's Orphanage
PUF founder, Kate Brooks presented a mesmerising tale about six orphaned children who were heading for the workhouse, the youngest only a matter of weeks old, but were taken instead to George Muller's Orphanage, Bristol. We heard original letters from neighbours concerned for the children and from George Muller himself. The packed audience learnt about life in the Orphanage, and found out what personal connection the six children had to Fishponds and to Kate.
What can we do about food poverty in our city?
Speakers : Andy Street, CEO Fareshare/ Feeding Bristol; Darren Gillett, Fit & Fed; Sara Venn, Incredible Edible; Alison Findlay, Poverty is Pants; Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education, Bristol; Richard Pollard, Fishponds Foodbank & MP Kerry McCarthy.
Our first event of 2018 and it was great to find out what's happening & how we can get involved.
How To ... Conduct an Orchestra!
In the third of our 'How to...' series, we welcomed back Choral Master Tom (History of Singing) Watkins. He showed us the basics of conducting an orchestra so we could all impress our friends and family at Christmas! It turns out, of course, that conducting an orchestra isn't as easy as it looks - just try 'drawing' the shape of a square with one hand whilst drawing the shape of a triangle in the other - and you'll soon appreciate some of the coordination required.
Storytelling Festival Event
Bristol's Story Cafe came to the People's University of Fishponds!
On a cold winter’s night, we enjoyed local folk tales, magical realism and entertaining stories from local professional Storytellers Paula Brown (founder of Bristol Storytelling Festival) and Martin Jefferd, who shared their favourite tales along with a fascinating insight into the history of storytelling, what stories do to our brains, and the enduring power of the spoken word. Thought provoking, funny, moving - this was a lovely event helped by the candlelight and the mulled cider!
Bat experts (i.e. chiropterologists - who knew!) Kiri and Stew from Fishponds' very own bat hospital Avon Bat Care brought their passion and knowledge - together with some very special patients - to PUF. We heard some fascinating facts about our night-time neighbours! These interesting & surprising creatures are much misunderstood and need our help to survive. The audience, young and old, particularly enjoyed meeting one of the bats - called Dave!
Journey To Justice Month
A collaboration with Journey to Justice and Borderlands, celebrating human rights and Bristol's rich cultural diversity.
A packed audience heard excerpts from the Borderlands anthology of writing & art, read by Bristol refugee authors. Supporting them were: Dr Madge Dresser, Dr Edson Burton, performer, historian and storyteller, ‘Bristol’s Poet Laureate’ Miles Chambers from Ujima radio and the Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Bristol, Councillor Lesley Alexander.
In collaboration with Bristol Libraries, the People’s University of Fishponds hosted an Open Mic ‘short talks’ night, where anyone with an urge to share their ideas, passions, hobbies and interests was invited to do a 10 minute talk to a friendly audience of curious neighbours keen to listen, learn and laugh!
Lightbulbs, pin-hole cameras and the joy of beans all featured!
How To ... Record A Pop Song!
Pete Rowley, who runs one of Bristol’s longest established recording studios - and who wowed us last term with Fishponds’ connections to famous pop musicians and writers- came back by request to demonstrate how to record a pop song.
In his entertaining and hands on style, he talked us through the history of technology in recording over the last 40 years or so, giving an insight into some of the techniques. Then, with the help of our willing audience members, he wrote and recorded a simple pop song on the evening, all about Fishponds of course! You can hear the song on our Facebook page.
This is what a politician looks like: personal tales of political action
Deputy Mayor, Estella Tincknell, spoke with us about how she became active politically and why she believes politics should engage and empower us all. It was an interesting, insightful and very personal account of what it means to be Deputy Mayor.
We also were lucky enough to have Fishponds teenager Hannah Hier. Hannah is East Bristol’s representative on the Bristol City Youth Council: she also talked about how she got involved, what she stands for and what she hopes to achieve. Young women like Hannah mean there’s a lot to be hopeful about!
How To ... Manage Change
Launching our new "how to' series - Dr Mark Neath explored one of the most useful life skills of all - how to manage the impact of change. Life is all about change of course and many changes will be for the best - at the same time we also know that change can generate strong emotions and unusual behaviours.
In this talk Mark shared the classic psychological idea of a 'change curve' much beloved by consultants such as himself but often not appreciated as a practical way to manage change - whether that be a new boss, new house, new career, parenthood or as Mark has recently experienced - the family decision to get a dog!
How Fishponds Taught The World To Sing!
In perfect harmony... Stuart Sole and Pete Rowley (now 'Professors of Music' at PUF) gave us a real musical treat in this fabulous tribute to local songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. Not everybody knew their names but we all knew their songs. Plus, who knew that Elton John spent the night at Parnall Road! One of the highlights of the term.
This Is Exile
A very special event in collaboration with Save The Children and the Bristol Radical Film Festival. This was a free screening of the award winning 'extraordinary...intimate...beautiful' short documentary This is Exile.
The film, currently touring Bristol, tells refugee children’s stories in their own words, a moving, uncompromising and thought provoking experience.
Dr Steve Presence, Research Fellow at UWE and co-founder of the Bristol Radical Film Festival, talked about the power of film to shape cultural and political change, and chaired an informal discussion after the film.
100 Fishponds Road: Life & Death In A Victorian Workhouse
In 2012 some radical historians poring over old maps came across a disused burial ground at Rosemary Green close to the site of Eastville Workhouse at 100 Fishponds Rd. Their research revealed that more than 4,000 men, women and children, inmates of Eastville Workhouse, were interred in unmarked graves in Rosemary Green from 1851-1895.
In a packed Kingfisher Cafe we learnt what life was like in the workhouse like, who the inmates were, how they were treated and what happened to them after they passed away. If you missed this sell-out event you can buy copies of the booklet here.
Why Do People Sing?
Professional singer, choral conductor and organist Tom Watkins took our minds off the lashing February rain with a joyful and stimulating talk about the history and function of singing. It was great to see lots of new faces in the audience - and even better that you were so prepared to ask questions and join in with Tom's songs and exercises. We learnt about the many benefits of singing, the role of choirs in forging community identities and explored some of the evolutionary reasons why human beings have always sung. Many of the audience went home to enjoy a Gin & Tonic - for reasons that only they will appreciate!
Beginners Guide To Philosophy
Dr Alex Malpass once again made us think things we'd never thought before. His aim was to make us feel Philosophical Vertigo - an uneasy feeling brought on by by realising that the things we 'know' to be 'true' might not be as straightforward as we thought. We questioned the idea of love, whether objects exist, what makes something a person and what the differences are between truths, lies and bullshit. How very topical.
Your Amazing Brain!
Dr Mark Neath took us on a whirlwind tour of the amazing human brain. After an introduction to the major parts of the brain we heard about how it uses shortcuts to make sense of the world; the continual struggle between logic and emotions; the similarities between male and female brains and the incredible network of connections and networks that makes teenagers and adults who we are.
The Maltreated And The Miscontents
We typically associate cotton mills with the North of England, but in this talk, historian and author Mike Richardson told us about the Barton Hill Cotton Works here in Bristol. Working in dangerous conditions and suffering ill-health and unrelenting management, the women and children who worked here deserve to be remembered. We heard about their acts of protest and sabotage and how they came together to make a stand.
Slaughter No Remedy: The Life And Times Of Walter Ayles
Colin Thomas, three times BAFTA winner told the fascinating tale of Walter Ayles. Walter spoke up against WW1 and was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. After the war he was re-elected as a North Bristol Labour councillor.
An evening of speakers, supper and songs - all in aid of the Bristol Refugee Centre and Fishponds Foodbank. Live gypsy swing music from the Sweet Spokes. We hear so much about refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers in the media but this evening gave a voice to people now living in Bristol whose lives started far away. We learnt about their histories and the people they've left behind - but also about the practical reality of claiming asylum and the resilience you develop living with an uncertain status.
Bristol And The Icelandic Slave Trade
We thought we knew about Bristol’s slave trading history and its connections with sugar, Africa and the Caribbean Islands... but Bristol’s trading goes back to the 1000s, and includes some surprising places. Professor Peter Fleming told us about Bristol’s little-known history of forced labour and kidnap in the 1400s and how Bristol Merchants, around the time of John Cabot’s travels, were involved in the kidnapping and forced slavery of children and youths from Iceland and beyond...
What Is Philosophy?
Philosophy is about questioning things. What is knowledge? How should we live? What is reality? What is the self? Is love real? Is there any meaning to life? Is it time for a beer? In this introduction to the subject, Dr Alex Malpass took us on a tour of a subject that has everything as its subject matter. Inevitably, we left with more questions than answers - but that was the point!
Women And The City
In this event, UWE Professor Madge Dresser told us all about the women who've shaped our city over the past 600 years. Many of the caring values which underpin contemporary community action in Fishponds today are the same values which over hundreds of years have propelled Bristol women to venture into public life – women who, for centuries, have fought to make this city a better place. If you missed the event but want to know more you can read her new book: Women and the City: Bristol 1373 - 2000.
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