Embedding creative reuse in local government

Bristol Cycle Festival outdoor cinemaGiven a choice between either spending her first year getting the Capacity Bristol project embedded within Council's strategic framework or 'making stuff happen', Ruth Essex made a conscious choice to invest her time in the creative activity.

"I've thought quite a lot about my choices because I've been on the ground getting projects happening but I feel I haven't done enough in implementing a 'temporary use policy' in the local plan for Bristol," she says.

"But, on the other hand, to work on that would have taken all my time and there would not have been this current level of creative activity and the impact. So now is probably a better time to start working on more strategic goals."

The proof is in the pudding. In 2011, when Bristol Council undertook a community mapping project where local people were asked what made Bristol special, Artspace Lifespace in Bridewell Island received more positive comments than the leading, high-profile, better funded cultural organisations in the city centre.

"What that research showed was that people felt passionately about what has been achieved through a more informal arts venue," says Ruth Essex. "A huge public response to a temporary cultural use project signifies the importance of these spaces."

If she controlled the future, Ruth Essex would like to see an ongoing position dedicated to brokering art in empty spaces at Bristol City Council. Someone who administers the spaces as well as carrying out strategic work establishing a cross-departmental temporary use team within the council that includes people from planning, properties and health and safety departments as well as the cultural team to help lower the barriers to and enable temporary use.

Capacity Bristol is now involved in interesting land based projects, putting temporary structures - pop up farms, railway carriages, containertecture structures and a big top - onto derelict land awaiting permanant development.

The lesson here is to understand people and their capacity then stretch your ideas on what's possible - think and act big!

Image Caption: As part of Bristol Cycle Festival in September 2010, Capacity Bristol helped secure the use of an ex police shooting range in a quarry in Leigh Woods to use as an outdoor cinema.