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

These courts have played an important part in the lives of young people in the past as well as the present.

Before the mid-1800s, children faced the same punishments as adults and were tried in the same courts. Sometimes a judge might take the age of a young defendant into account, but there wasn’t a separate system of youth justice, or separate prisons. 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 faster and offenders didn’t face the most severe punishments.

Many of the young people who appeared here were sent to Reformatories, institutions that provided an alternative to prison through education and training. The Reformatory movement was pioneered in Bristol by people like Mary Carpenter, and some of the first institutions were opened here. In our courts, young people were sentenced to serve 2-5 years at Red Lodge Reformatory on Park Street – the first for girls opened in 1854 – and Kingswood Reformatory, opened in 1852, taking only boys after 1854. In a strange twist of fate, the site at Kingswood is now the centre of operations for Creative Youth Network!

While there is continuity in the education of young people at these sites, that is perhaps where the similarity ends. Until 1893, young people still had to serve two weeks in prison before entering the reformatory. The training provided was not intended to raise aspirations too high: girls and boys were destined for work considered appropriate for their gender and social status – young men as tailors, carpenters or farm labourers, and young women as domestic servants, laundresses and seamstresses. The regimes at the reformatories were strict and misbehaviour was quickly punished – offenders could even find themselves back in our magistrates courts for breaking the rules! The records of numerous escapes, like Jane Williams in 1900, indicate that some young people resisted the constraints at these institutions.

It is exciting to think that these places that had an impact on young lives in the past, will continue to in the future, but this time, by breaking down barriers and fostering creativity.

Kingswood Reformatory, now centre of operations for Creative Youth Network.

‘Escaping from a Reformatory’, The Bristol Mercury 13 January 1900

 

 

R. Wallis and L. Sharp Jan 2022.

 

Find out more about The Courts 

 

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