How can a building make you smile?

Reimagining and redeveloping The Courts

Imagine a place where a young person’s background, race, beliefs, gender, physical ability and economic status had nothing to do with how good they could be, what they could achieve. A space where they could fully explore their creative potential, receive support and mentoring, and find meaningful work.

That place is the Old Bristol Magistrates Courts (The Courts). An enterprise centre to help young people set up their own creative businesses and develop their opportunities. A place where there are no barriers to their future, where the only things that count are their abilities and talents.

Thanks to the The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Bristol City Council we are developing detailed business and architectural plans to reimagine and redevelop this historic city landmark as a place that will complement Bristol’s renowned and growing creative industries sector.   

The Courts is set to open in June 2024. There are a variety of offices available from as little as £26 per sq ft*. Tenants also benefit from reception support, on-site catering and good quality spaces for hire. 

If you're interested in becoming part of The Courts Community, register your interest and tell us more about your requirements below.



To get involved and keep up to date with our progress, you can also sign up to our newsletter.

*rates available mid-March.


The Problem with Creativity

The Creative Surplus 

UK creative industries are a true success story. They are growing at twice the rate of the UK economy, while employment in the sector grows at four times the rate of the national workforce. Creative industries form a key sector of UK industry, generating around £92 billion per annum and contributing more than 5% of the UK economy (DCMS, 2017).

Taken as a whole, the creative industries employ about 15,900 people in the Bristol and Bath area. The region’s creatives are estimated to be 50% more productive than the UK average and productivity in creative businesses across Bristol and Bath has increased by 106% since 1999.

The Creative Deficit

All those positive statistics mask stark reminders about how inequality and other disadvantages are stopping many very able young people from entering the creative industries.

White people hold 88% of the jobs and only 11% are occupied by BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) people.

Men dominate the sector holding 63% of the jobs.

In the gaming industry, a creative field in which the UK excels, 86% of jobs are held by men, 96% by white people.

It is also significantly difficult if a young person comes from state education. Since 2010, there has been a 28% drop in the number of students taking creative GCSEs, with a corresponding drop in the number of specialist arts teachers.

Our Solution 

The Courts will throw open the doors to creativity through an open, enabling and supportive environment for those talented but disadvantaged or marginalised young people seeking to enter the creative industries.

Floor by floor plan

Ground floor

The ground floor currently has four courtrooms, one of which will be restored to its original condition and offered as a film, television and performance location. The remaining rooms will be developed into lettable spaces for multipurpose use. These will include space for Creative Youth Network services, for creative industries, youth participation work, performance, gallery exhibition and a bar/café.
A public entry will ensure everyone, regardless of their physical ability, can use the same entrance.

First, second & third floors

The first, second and third floors will provide 1,115m² of high-quality office space let commercially and accommodating around 110 workers. These tenant organisations will share our organisational values and ethos for the building.
A new lift will connect all four floors, again ensuring full access, while the old staircase will be retained as a heritage feature. We are also considering a green-roof across some of the open spaces covering the rooftop to complement the high-spec insulation, heating and cooling, and energy conservation measures planned to ensure The Courts has the lowest possible environmental impact.

It is envisaged young people looking to develop their own creative businesses, or starting out as young professionals in the sector, will be able to rent various incubator enterprise workshop spaces on a short-term and quick-release basis.

Want to learn more about The Courts?

The History of the Courts

Bringing the life stories of those who helped shape our city back to life.

Our Heritage Public Vote is now closed but you can still read about the stories that we researched and presented as options.

We’ll be using digital technologies to retell some of these historic stories that are still relevant to our community and that relate to continued social justices or injustices of today. 


Before the mid-1800s, children faced the same punishments as adults and were tried in the same courts. Sometimes their age was taken into account, but there wasn’t a separate system of youth justice or custodial institutions just for young people.

From the 1840s, laws were passed so that more young people under 14 (and under 16 from 1850) could be tried at magistrates courts – like ours. This meant their cases were dealt with more quickly and offenders didn’t face the most severe punishments. 

In the 1850s, campaigners like Bristol’s Mary Carpenter, secured state support for Reformatory schools. Young offenders could be sent to a Reformatory instead of prison, but they still had to serve two weeks at a prison before entry to the school (this provision continued until 1893). Reformatories operated somewhere between a prison and a school. They offered training and education to young people, but as we’ve seen from some of the escapees from Red Lodge, the school regimes could be strict and punitive and resisted by the young people! Bristol had some of the first Reformatory schools: Red Lodge for girls founded in 1854, and Kingswood Reformatory for Boys (established in 1852, boys only from 1854) which is now one of CYN’s other sites! We know that young people from our courts were sent to these Reformatories.

Before the Probation of Offenders Act 1907, we know that Bristol Magistrates Court used ‘court missionaries’ as a kind of probation officer to supervise young offenders in the community, and that the court made every attempt to separate children’s cases from adult cases by hearing them first.

Separate juvenile courts were established in 1908.

The Formidable training ship (1869-1906)

Archive research by student Ellie Purdy, with some context by Rose Wallis

The Formidable was an old Navy ship opened as an industrial school specialising in nautical training. Industrial schools were established from the 1850s. Whereas Reformatory Schools (like Kingswood or the Red Lodge) were for convicted juvenile offenders, and required them to spend two weeks in prison before entering the schools, industrial schools were for younger offenders considered less serious but considered in need of intervention to stop them falling to a life of crime. Young people sent to industrial schools by the courts did not have to spend anytime in prison beforehand.

From the 1860s, young people under the age of 14 could be sent to an Industrial school for begging, being found wandering and homeless, for associating with known thieves, or whose parents could not control them. Young people under 12 could also be sent to an Industrial school as an alternative to prison.

Young men were sent to the Formidable from the Bristol Magistrates’ court on charges including ‘wandering’, ‘having no visible means’ of support, truancy. Ellie is conducting more research to find out why boys were sent to the Formidable, what life was like for them, and what they did after their time on the training ship.


(All from the Bristol Mercury)

3 March 1880,

‘Popularity of the Formidable’

Apparently James Dickens was getting himself into trouble to be able to go to the Industrial School (perhaps for the opportunities?) But as a repeat offender he was instead sentenced to 14 days imprisonment and 5 years at Kingswood Reformatory.

4 May 1880, boy sent to Kingswood (his older brother was already on the Formidable)

11 Jan 1895,

‘Child Beggars’

This case shows the intersection of poverty, ‘crime’ (or rather begging) and the courts as both a source of punishment and welfare.

17 Jan 1895,

'Footballers Fined'

Apparently a frequent offence for which young people were fined!

Written by R. Wallis Nov 2021


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