With two universities and a massive student population, Bristol has been named one of the coolest cities in the country. People like Banksy have made Bristol’s street art infamous (did anyone manage miss the unfeasibly massive queue outside the museum during his exhibition?) and areas like Stokes Croft have worked tirelessly to drag themselves from rough and run down to become ‘Bristol’s cultural quarter’.
Like any other large city, Bristol has a ‘drug problem’. What’s arguably different here is that many of Bristol’s inhabitants don’t consider it a ‘problem’. The people who enjoy the cities seedy affair with drug use are as varied in their habits as the range of drugs on offer.
The selection is huge – and available in most areas of Bristol (although you need to head to places like St. Pauls to get crack or heroin apparently). This may well be the case in many cities. However, the thing that sets Bristol apart is the commonality of drug use.
So, is the scene is simply part of Bristol’s character? Drugs usually link with music, fashion, art and culture – so which came first, the street art and the music, or the drug use? I spoke to a few people involved in the scene (whose names, for obvious reasons I have changed here) about Bristol’s habit.
After becoming homeless aged 12, Mark began stealing drugs to sell on, and has been a dealer ever since.
He explained ‘I’d break into houses and take drugs and money. I wouldn’t take goods because you can get into trouble with the police. You can’t phone up the police and say, oh sorry officer, but someone has taken my drugs, so it was just safer’.
He hasn’t taken drugs himself for around 5 years.
‘I’ve got lawyers that come in three times a day, and still hold down a job. I don’t know what it is about Bristol, but everyone is just so laid back about it. People look down on the crack and smack, but weed, coke and pills, everyone is doing it. It’s just looked at like drinking in the pub really. And I personally don’t see there’s much difference’.
He also used to deal in London and believes dealing in Bristol isn’t so rough. ‘I lived in London for a couple of years and people are much more likely to beat you up to score…I know less people here that don’t take drugs than do, but that might just be because of the work I’m in!’
Joe, a dealer from Sheffield,comes to Bristol for nights out – ‘there’s a lot more drugs here, and they’re easier to get hold of. In Sheffield, if you don’t know those sorts of people, you’ll struggle. Down here you can ask anybody on a night out and chances are you can get what you want. There seem to be a lot more young people and students into drugs in Bristol. The Sheffield scene is more isolated…in Bristol it’s everywhere’.
Rightly or wrongly, it seems Bristol has a more tolerant attitude to drug use, or at least to some drug use, than other cities, despite the problems it brings.
Mark also said ‘People kick off on coke, and skag and crack bring no end of problems. Regeneration of places like St. Pauls and Stokes Croft will just spread the problem further. And it’s not like drug use is only confined to deprived areas anyway, it’s just what drug people take that differs. St Pauls for example is a place where you’d sell more crack or heroin, but I sell there because people need to buy the coke so they can turn it into crack, and that’ll mix now that the richer people are coming’.
So maybe the drug scene here is constantly changing, as is the music, art and culture. What drugs different people take and why is also obviously inextricably linked to affluence and area, and effected by social problems and forces. But for the time being at least, Bristol still seems set on getting high and enjoying the ride.