Bristol's Pauper Children

Oct 2018

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.

Few of the younger children were adopted into Canadian families and most were sent to farms to work as agricultural labourers or to homes to work as domestic servants. Often deprived of education and the comforts of family life, many of these children suff ered loneliness and despair.

Shirley talked about her book and opened a window into the past for the estimated 60,000 Canadians descended from Bristol’s Pauper Children.

Glenside Museum & Talk

October 2018

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

September 2018

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

July 2018

Alyson 'the Bee Lady' Hurst is a beekeeper, who makes a variety of homemade products (‘Hives & Herbals') using beeswax, herbs and plants. Alyson has been keeping bees for several years and shared her passion for bees, the art of beekeeping, honey, health and herbal medicines.

The Art of Animation

June 2018

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

May 2018

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

April 2018

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

Feb 2018

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.

Feeding Bristol

Jan 2018

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!

Dec 2017

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

Nov 2017

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!


Oct 2017

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

Oct 2017

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. 

Fun Palace!

Oct 2017

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!

Fun Palaces is an ongoing campaign for culture at the heart of every community, and an annual weekend of action – arts, science, craft, tech, digital and sports events and activities – run by and for local communities. Fun Palaces weekend is the first weekend of October every year. 

FFI see

How to ... record a pop song!

Sep 2017

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

June 2017

“If everyone who says politics is not for them doesn’t run, it becomes stagnant, and more people become alienated. We need people who say it’s not for them to get elected; that makes politics dynamic and diverse.” Marvin Rees, Bristol Mayor, in The Guardian, Oct  2016.

It’s quite a challenge these days to think of ‘politics’ in a positive and hopeful light - too many of us are turned off or switch off when faced with what can seem scary, impenetrable, boring or irrelevant. So at PUF we offered the chance for you to come and meet two inspiring Bristol women:


Marvin Rees’ 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

May 2017

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!

April 2017

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

March 2017

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

March 2017

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?

February 2017

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

February 2017

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!

January 2017

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

November 2016

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.

November 2016

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. 

Stranger Stories

October 2016

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

July 2016

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?

June 2016

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

May 2016

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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