Sparks Bristol - An Example of How Our Work Helps Transform Vacant Spaces Into Vibrant Community Hubs:
Hammond Associates is the UK’s leading charity property provider using empty commercial premises. Made up of a small team of industry professionals based in Leeds, West Yorkshire and Stirling, Scotland, we have a simple mission: to give back to the community and help others by revitalising empty commercial property and bringing the high-street back to life; all while cultivating mutually beneficial partnerships between landlords and charitable tenants.
Artspace Lifespace is just one of the charities that help to transform the secured properties into thriving creative resources. Serving the Bristol arts community since 2006, it became a registered charity in 2016 and enable artists to have access to space from a range of disciplines so they can freely create their art and provide workshops to teach others.
Its latest venture, Sparks Bristol, emerged as a response to the closure of a much-loved iconic post-war building in the central shopping area of Broadmead.
How Did It All Start?
It began back in May 2022, when Hammond Associates approached Artspace Lifespace with the opportunity to take on the challenge of rejuvenating the former department store. Local media had reported on the blight of empty shop units in Broadmead, and so Artspace Lifespace, with their flagship building ‘The Island’ just minutes away, recognised the potential to turn this vacant space into a thriving community hub.
“As a neighbouring business, we really felt the loss of this landmark store,” said Artspace Lifespace Company Manager Kathryn Chiswell Jones, “and not just because we didn’t know where to get our bras and tasty chocolate ginger biscuits from! In the wake of the buildings closure, the frontage of the building became a hub for street drinkers as neighbouring shops shut and the area felt less safe to walk through”.
How is it Going?
Now, Sparks Bristol is an art and sustainability hub for local artists including artist R&D space, a reuse shop providing recycled goods, repair services, and education projects for schools. With installations, stalls, and workshops to demonstrate how to take easy (and often money-saving) actions on climate, equality and wellbeing, Sparks stands out in Bristol as a vibrant and positive venue where visitors can shop, recycle, and explore what a greener, fairer, more creative future could look like. But what was it like before its transformation?
Over 50 organisations and individuals donated their time to input into the vision of Sparks, making it a unique, community-driven initiative with over 120 ethical local traders, 30 charities, and 11 Community Champions joining forces to occupy the various stalls within.
Their vision for the building is to keep it in use by the community rather than it standing empty and provide an environment in which people can learn imaginative ways to live more sustainably. From fashion and food to nature and energy, each department is designed to support local people and visitors to take easy (and often money-saving!) actions on climate, equality and wellbeing. The ground floor is centred around retail and education while the Department of Imagination on the upper floors is a hub for local artists, offering affordable studios, rehearsal and performance space.
How has Sparks Bristol helped the local community so far?
In 2023, along with many other events, Sparks hosted free children’s workshops and film screenings from Aardman Animations, and a 100 person dance masterclass held by Craig Revel Horwood! This year expects to see more community events at Sparks throughout the building.
Over two thousand children and young people visited Sparks last year to learn about sustainability and repair skills, and over one thousand people received energy advice. This year, Goals Centre plan to expand their educational work including introducing team events for companies to improve their sustainability credentials through a range of workshops focussing on positive solutions to climate and social justice issues and are fundraising to continue providing educational workshops to young people in Bristol.
“It was important for us that Sparks be a space for everyone. In the space of just 8 months we have welcomed over 370,000 visitors to Sparks. We are proud of what we have achieved to date, with minimal funding and look forward to developing it further now that we have been awarded more time to do so and hopefully making back our initial investment.” says Kathryn Chiswell Jones.
“We’ve already seen a strong social return on our investment and I have been inspired by the connections and partnerships developed at Sparks, and the potential for independent organisations to drive the revitalisation of the high street and sustainable redevelopment of Broadmead.”
What future plans do Artspace Lifespace have for Sparks Bristol?
As the lease term has now been extended to December 2025, Sparks is committed to continuous improvement, making it an even more accessible and welcoming oasis in the city centre. The difference some care and attention can do, not only to the individual buildings that get transformed but also to the communities that surround them, is quite literally incredible.
This innovative project is not just a retail space; it is a testament to the power of community-driven revitalization, breathing new life into forgotten urban landscapes and giving back to their immediate communities with the new lease of life their local high-street has been given.
We cannot wait to see where their creativity leads them next!
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