An Open Letter to Bristol

Dear Bristol City Council, Since 2009, Residence, a Community Interest Company supporting performing artists in Bristol, has made its home in 11 St Nicholas Street. Residence holds the license to the building under Bristol City Council’s Capacity scheme, a pioneering arrangement which recognised the potential for cultural regeneration that artists bring, allowing artists to make use of buildings in the city that had lain vacant for years. The far reaching impact of this now defunct scheme is well known within Bristol, with many documented examples such as the regeneration of Stokes Croft, as well as the explosion of national and international arts festivals running throughout each year. Bristol City Council has recently made the decision to put 11 St Nicholas Street on the open rental market. Residence would like to stay in its home and take on the lease at £8,000 per annum – the full amount that Bristol City Council is advertising the property for, offering good value for money for taxpayers. We, the undersigned, ask the council to make Residence the first choice for the lease, taking into account Residence’s contribution to the cultural offer of Bristol, as well as their proven ability as current licence holders to manage and maintain 11 St Nicholas Street as an artistic hub. As the current licence holders, over the past six years, Residence has:

  • Supported the cultural development of Bristol by inviting other groups, organisations, and individual artists into the building for peer support, mentoring and workshops.
  • Been cited internationally as an example of innovative, artist-led community, through hosting visits in conjunction with the British Council for delegations from Korea and Japan.
  • Led national advocacy for other artist-led spaces including helping to start other groups in Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth, and Glasgow, as well as giving talks about Bristol City Council’s Capacity scheme in Edinburgh, Vancouver, San Francisco and Austin and citing it as an example of best practice.
  • Hosted a series of national and international artists for weekend residencies.
  • Supported numerous artists with office, rehearsal and performance space, enabling them to make work that has been shown in Bristol and throughout the UK as well as to Shanghai, New York, Bangkok, Brisbane, Vancouver, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, San Francisco, Rio De Janeiro, Kuppio, Lisbon, Yokohama, Tokyo, Almaty to name just a few.

We believe the loss of this city centre arts hub will impact negatively on the cultural life of the city. However Bristol City Council can choose to make their decision on both financial value and by valuing the cultural activity Bristol City Council outlines in its Vision For A Vibrant Bristol. When Bristol was voted ‘Best City To Live In’ in 2014 by the Sunday Times heavy reference was made to the nightlife, arts scene and creative atmosphere. As the examples above show, Residence is a hugely influential group contributing directly to this atmosphere, as indeed cited by Guardian Arts Critic Lyn Gardner: ‘I suspect the current explosion of work in Bristol has been a lot to do with the mutually supportive environment of Residence’. Without the continued existence of groups like Residence the city would not be able to boast such an enviable cultural reputation. The mayoral vision for Bristol as ‘A creative city that does things differently’, with ‘streets alive with activity’ surely chimes with the activities of Residence, and with the model that Residence has been able to create from their base at 11 St Nicholas Street. Residence prides itself on championing innovative structures and new ways of working, and as highlighted in a recent article in The Guardian on 6th December 2014 their model is one that is truly making a difference and contributing to the country’s vibrancy; artistically, culturally, and of course, economically. They do so through sustaining small businesses and encouraging a collaborative, interdependent model for self-employment. This, in turn is inspiring others to keep on creating the structures that make creativity possible within a very austere context. To aid Bristol’s ambition to be “a place where the streets are alive with activity, and where every citizen and community participates in the cultural life of our city,” as part of its Vision For Prosperity, we the undersigned urge the council to continue to support the existence of successful independent arts organisations within the city, and make Residence the first choice for the lease on 11 St Nicholas Street.


Ali Robertson (Director, Tobacco Factory Theatre) Katie Keeler (Executive Producer, Theatre Bristol) Lyn Gardner (Theatre Critic, Guardian) Tom Morris (Artistic Director, Bristol Old Vic) Emma Stenning (Executive Director, Bristol Old Vic) Emma Bettridge (Bristol Ferment, Bristol Old Vic) Judith Knight MBE (Director of Arts Admin) Sarah J Murray (Deputy Head, National Theatre Studio) Matthew Poxon (Studio Projects Producer, National Theatre) Stella Duffy (founder and director of Fun Palaces) Lynn Goh (Senior Producer, In Between Time) Helen Davies (Head of Programme, Arnolfini) Lois Keidan (Director, Live Art Development Agency) Helen Legg (Director, Spike Island) Andy Field (Co-Director, Forest Fringe) Fiona Baxter (Deputy Director, Farnham Maltings & Caravan) Seth Honour (Director, Kaleider) Dr. Ben Francombe (Head of Theatre, Chichester University) Cheryl Pierce (Creative Producer for Theatre & Dance, ICIA) Dr Rosemary Klich (Head of Drama and Theatre, University of Kent) Melissa Mean (Producer, Knowle West Media Center) Chris Collier, Matthew Whittle and Jesse Meadows (Co-artistic Directors, The Wardrobe Theatre) Lina B Frank (Director, Ausform) Interval Artist Collective Leo Burtin (Producer, Lancaster Arts City) Simon Coates (Creative Associate, National Theatre Wales) Dr Paul Clarke (Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol) Matthew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff (Co-artistic Directors, MAYK) Kris Nelson (Director, Tiger Dublin Fringe) Maddy Costa (Journalist and Director of Dialogue Project) All at Coney ltd Claire Doherty (Director, Situations) The Yard Bristol Alison Sterling (Director, Ignition Films) Simon Jones (Head of Theatre, University of Bristol) Dr Neil Harrison (Lib Dem Councillor for Cotham Ward) Kerry McCarthy (Labour MP for Bristol East) Helen Holland (Labour group leader and councillor for Whitchurch Park) Estella Tinknell (labour deputy group leader and councillor for Lockleaze) Olly Mead (Labour Party Councillor for Horfield) Mark Brain (labour councillor for Hartcliffe) Naomi Rylatt (labour councillor for Hartcliffe) Sue Milestone (labour councillor St George West) Bill Payne (labour councillor for Frome Vale) Gill Kirk (labour councillor for Lockleaze) Mhairi Threlfall (labour councillor for Eastville) Steve Pearce (labour councillor for St George East) Fabian Breckels (labour councillor for St George East) Rhian Greaes (labour councillor for Brislington West) Barry Clark (labour councillor for Hengrove) Mike Langley (labour councillor for Brislington East) Chris Jackson (labour councillor for Filwood) Gus Hoyt (Green Party Councillor for Ashley) Charlie Bolton (Green Party Councillor for Southville) Ani Stafford-Townsend (Green Party Candidate for Cabot) Members of Residence: Action Hero (Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse), Astrid Breel, Alice Human, Bella Fortune, Ed Rapley, Ella Good & Nicki Kent, Folake Shoga, Jasmine Loveys, Jo Bannon, Ophelia Bitz, Sara Zaltash, Sylvia Rimat, Ria Hartley, Tom Marshman, Zoe Heron.   If you represent an organisation who would like to add their name to this letter, please email us – or tweet us @residence1 You can also sign our petition here.