Bristol Music Trust is 10
In May 2021 Bristol Music Trust turns 10 – and what a decade it’s been for us!
Over the last ten years, we have sold nearly 2 million tickets to over 3,000 events. We’ve engaged with 30,000 young people every year through our music education programme and delivered 3.6 million hours of tuition. We’ve raised £10m of revenue funding for our programme of music education and events, as well as £42m capital funding for the ambitious transformation of our venue.
So how did it all start?
Well, the Trust was set up by Bristol City Council in 2011, as part of the condition of the capital funding from Arts Council England for the £20m foyer development of Bristol Beacon in 2009.
But the real ambition behind the move was that the establishment of an independent charitable trust to run the council-owned venue and artistic programme would provide a tangible, long-term commitment from the city council to the musical health of the city. Bristol Music Trust was given a 30-year lease on the building and set up to operate as a business, with the ability to be more agile than the local authority in responding to artistic opportunities and securing funding.
There have been so many milestones in the last ten years. Becoming an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation in partnership with St George’s Bristol, integrating the music education hub, and getting the ambitious and long-overdue transformation of the venue underway.
Changing our name
In 2017, we announced our intention to change the name of the venue from Colston Hall and distance it from the perceived association with the slave trader, Edward Colston – who had nothing to do with the founding of the venue. Staff and trustees were entirely united in this decision, and the name issue had been the subject of heated discussion in Bristol for decades. With hindsight, we underestimated the strength of feeling this announcement would generate – it was a challenging time personally, having to deal with something that divided opinion so strongly and receiving criticism from some unexpected places.
We’ve learnt a lot since then, consulting broadly and deeply across the city about the new name and future vision of the organisation. The announcement to reveal our new name in September 2020, in the middle of the pandemic and following a summer of Black Lives Matter protests, was a true moment of joy and real highlight for me. It also showed clearly the role and example our organisation could play in the city, not being afraid to stand up and be accountable.
Bristol Beacon seems to have been easily adopted by Bristolians, as if it was always part of the city. Within minutes of the announcement, we had a nickname – The Beaks – and people calling for us to serve ‘Beacon Baps’ in our café. The name fits perfectly with how we see ourselves and our venue – a hub of light and warmth, a place where everyone is welcome.
As a new organisation, we have successfully built a credible reputation and established ourselves locally and nationally. We’ve worked hard to build a good relationship with our key partners, Bristol City Council, learning to navigate their operating environment in order to maintain their support.
One of the things I am most proud of is our team and the culture that we have. Genuinely supportive and united in our shared values and goals, with a creative spirit and determination to bring inclusive musical experiences and enjoyment to as many people and communities as we can. Many of our team have been with the Trust since day one, which to me is testament to the positive environment. Our strong culture has really come into its own during the pandemic. It’s been tough but we’ve supported each other through what we quickly came to call ‘wobble days’ and have come out stronger.
Celebrating live music
Bristol Beacon presents the widest range of music anywhere I know – there’s a chance to learn something new every week. A memory that stands out for me was an unexpected spine-tingling moment, which came as part of the Britten centenary celebrations, when I heard Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Music Director Kirill Karabits enthral an audience of school children by playing ‘Friday Afternoons’, music written by Britten for his schoolteacher brother, and explaining what the music had meant to him as a child growing up in soviet Ukraine.
My favourite concerts would have to be Musik Fabrik at Bristol New Music in 2014, the Monteverdi trilogy we staged with Sir John Eliot Gardiner in 2017 and the beautiful light installation by Limbic Cinema when we closed the venue to commence the transformation project in 2018.
Looking to the future
We are focused on the completion of the transformation in 2023. In spite of the enormous and unexpected challenges the 150-year-old building has thrown at us, we haven’t compromised on the ambition. Now that the demolition phase is complete, we are beginning to understand what the completed venue will look like, which is incredibly exciting. We are building something quite remarkable for the city. We will begin sharing our route to reopening with the public later this year, to hopefully lift people’s spirits and enable them to look to the city’s future with hope as we put the pandemic behind us, hopefully once and for all.
A key thing I’ve learnt from leading the Trust through this last decade is the need to always explain what you’re doing and be really clear. We are a complex organisation doing a lot of different things, so it’s important to package it up clearly and not just assume that people will get it.
I hope my legacy will be to leave a focused, energetic and happy organisation with a building that future generations of Bristolians can enjoy and feel part of.
If I was asked to sum up the last ten years, I will quote the words of one of our box office staff:
“It’s the best gig of your life every week.”
Chief Executive, Bristol Music Trust