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.   

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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

Have you spotted Lady Justice perched above the entrance to the courts on Bridewell Street?

The sword in her right hand symbolises the power of judgment, and the scales in her left, the careful weighing of evidence. Her statue is supported by the city’s coat of arms, and carved details of a torch representing the light of truth, and the sword and scales of justice.

These decorative features were intended to communicate a particular image of Bristol’s authority as well as the authority of the law. When these courts were opened in 1880, they replaced the old justices’ room at the Council House on Corn Street, described by one local newspaper as a “suffocating cock pit.” By contrast, the new courts represented modern Victorian Bristol: in their “elegance and general convenience”, “not surpassed by any in the kingdom.”

Lady Justice, as she is represented here, is an image that has been used for centuries. It was influenced by depictions of the Roman goddess Justitia, the Greek Titan Themis, and the Egyptian goddess Maat – the personification of truth, justice and order. It has become one of the most enduring icons of Western law. This image has also been modified, subverted and even rejected.

How might we reimagine Justice now? What would it look like?

Graham Ibbeson, ‘Scales of Justice’, Middlesbrough Combined Court Centre

Graham Ibbeson, ‘Scales of Justice’, Middlesbrough Combined Court Centre. Photo © Oliver Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Banksy Justice

Banksy, ‘Trust No-One’, Clerkenwell Green 2004. Photo Michael Pickard (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While critical of corruption in the justice system, the use of women's sex work to represent this is also problematic.

Logo of the South African Constitutional Court. The tree represents the protection of the Constitution and the people beneath, both protected and nurturing the tree. The court ‘did not want…cliched images of the scales of justice.’ https://www.concourt.org.za/index.php/about-us/the-logo

 

Written by R. Wallis Jan 2022

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