Development Officer Sally Reay shares some great insights into the collaborative work done in Barton Hill to engage the local community in creative projects, even during the Covid-19 lockdown.


Barton Hill is an area of Bristol, just to the east of the city centre and Bristol Temple Meads railway station. It includes a residential area that is made up of eight highrise tower blocks and older Victorian terraces, retail and industrial premises and is crossed by major roads, railway tracks and the feeder canal leading to Bristol Harbour.

In October 2020 Barton Hill was recognised as one of the most deprived areas in Bristol according to the Government’s ‘Indices of deprivation’ map that was produced by the House of Commons Library. In February 2022 the Bristol Post reported that “Barton Hill has slipped back to being one of the most deprived areas as resources have been cut.” in an article about the Government’s new 'Levelling Up' plan.

COVID Arts Kits Project

In the midst of the first COVID Pandemic lockdown in England in April 2020, I started to support Studio Meraki, a not-for-profit arts organisation based at In Bristol Studios in the heart of Barton Hill. They had been awarded project funding by Arts Council England (ACE) for an artist in schools project that they couldn’t continue to deliver because of the lockdown, but with ACE’s permission they quickly switched emphasis working with the same artists to create weekly Arts Kits for children living in the area who would normally receive free school meals. 

Studio Meraki worked in partnership with the team at In Bristol Studio and with local service providers including St Luke’s Lunch Club, Up Our Street, Hannah Moore Primary School, Quartet Community Foundation, Learning Partnership West, Barton Hill Activity Club and Unseen, with support from Creative Lives. 

Kerry Russell from Studio Meraki explains more:

“We sent a new art kit out to 200 families every week for 20 weeks. Focusing on simple activities, the kits were designed by local artists to inspire creativity, develop skills and provide a welcome distraction.

“By reaching out and developing existing relationships with local service providers we were able to quickly get the Art Kits project off the ground.  Once the lockdowns began to ease we discussed the benefits of this way of working with Sally Reay, the Creative Lives South West Development Officer who supported us with the Arts Kits project.  From this discussion we decided to work together to see if there was any interest in setting up a sustainable local service provider network.”

Barton Hill Service Provider Network (BHSPN)

In Bristol Studio offered us a free meeting room and Kerry and I invited the organisations that collaborated on the Art Kits project along to our first hour-long network meeting, which took place back in October 2021 with people from eight local organisations present. We spent most of the first meeting with introductions, but we also discussed challenges and what activities, events and opportunities were coming up locally.

At the first meeting the group agreed a name and some basic terms of reference: 

The Barton Hill Service Provider Network (BHSPN) is a loose collective of local organisations working in Barton Hill. It is a friendly, informal network of people who work or volunteer for organisations or groups that deliver services in and around Barton Hill. Our aim is to share information, celebrate success and discuss challenges, and to explore ways to collaborate and to work together to provide activities and opportunities in our community. We meet on the second Monday of the month at 2pm for an hour.

People who attended the first meeting invited other organisations and individuals to attend and new members are still joining, so the network is constantly growing. 

After the first two meetings it became apparent that some community centres and hubs had not reopened after COVID and that attendance at activities and events was very low and nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. The group started to discuss the idea of working together to find a way to reactivate the community, to promote the things that were already happening and to consult with the local community about what else they would like to take part in.

They group decided to develop the idea of a community event and to work together to apply for funding to deliver it. I supported this by creating the first draft of the Barton Hill Service Providers Network Collaboration Agreement so that group members could agree how this collaboration would work and set boundaries before we submitted the funding application. Group members fed back and changes were made before everyone was happy with the agreement. 

The group identified Quartet Community Foundation as the most suitable funder for the event and Studio Meraki agreed to be the lead organisation on the funding application which I helped write.

The funding application was successful and BHSPN, led by Studio Meraki, was awarded £5,000 to deliver the #BigUpBartonHill Family Fun Day in Barton Hill Urban Park on Saturday 25 June 2022.

Members of BHSPN worked together to deliver the event, with the teams from Studio Meraki and In Bristol Studio taking on the event management role. Learn more about the network by downloading the Barton Hill Service Providers Network Collaboration Agreement [PDF].

#BigUpBartonHill Family Fun Day 

Nearly all of the BHSPN core members sent volunteers and team members along on the day to hand out information about upcoming activities, events and group meetings and to deliver a range of taster sessions including badge making and printing workshops, a Capoeira demonstration and other activities for children and adults. 

There was also live music from a local jazz band to kick things off and a tea room with crafts for older people. We invited the local PCSOs who spoke with people about local issues and street safety, Avon Fire Services who came with a fire engine and let kids explore it whilst they spoke to residents about fire safety in the tower blocks, and Bristol Clean Air Campaign and Dr Bike attended to speak with people about environmentally friendly travel options and to do free bicycle services. Plus the Barton Hill local history group and Historic England were in attendance talking to people about local history and how the area has developed over the centuries.

There was a great turn out with lots of local families coming out to enjoy the fine weather and to take part in all the free activities and taster sessions.

Katie Griffith, Community Engagement Officer with the Wellspring Settlement and an active member of BHSPN, reported after the event that:

“It was so great to see such a mix of people out enjoying the event and taking part in the activities in the newly laid out Urban Park. There was a lot of interest in the #BigUpBartonHill Fun Day becoming a regular event.”

Louise Betts, Youth & Community Officer for Travelling Light Theatre Company and a regular member of BHSN said:

“We received great feedback from our team who worked at the event, they saw lots of families that we have worked with before so it was a great opportunity to reconnect with them and to meet new families too.”

Community Consultation

We produced a flyer to promote the event that was inserted into Up Your Street, the local community newsletter that was delivered to 3,000 homes in Barton Hill. The flyer contained a QR code that linked to a digital community survey and the survey questions were also printed on the back of the flyer.

People were encouraged to complete the survey to tell us what other activities they are interested in at the event, with the online version open until the end of August 2022.

We also used some of the funding to commission Bristol based Play:Disrupt to work with us on the community consultation. They encouraged people at the event to take part in a creative mapping and consultation exercise, telling us what they like and value about the area and what other activities and events they’d like to take part in in the future.  

Play:Disrupt and Studio Meraki are working on a report of the findings of the community consultation which will be shared with BHSPN. The report will be ready by the end of August 2022 and will be on the agenda of the meeting in September.

BHSPN: The Future

BHSPN members met in July for their regular meeting and discussed the event, what worked and what didn’t, and created a document to refer to next year if the network is able to secure funding to run the event again. They agreed to take a break in August but the September meeting will be a chance to review the #BigUpBartonHill Community Consultation Report and to discuss how to move forward with the results. 

One option is a large-scale collaborative funding application based on the results of the report. Another is that organisations in the network will use this evidence in their own funding applications.

There is also an ongoing discussion about running the event annually and creating a ‘how to’ guide next year, so that the event could be handed over to other people to run in the future to avoid one lead organisation becoming overwhelmed.  

The group agreed that the network is well established and has a core group of people that attend regularly and have developed good working relationships, so I have stepped back from my supporting role and they will take over sending out reminders for future meetings and making and circulating meeting notes. 

Amy Goodwin, St Luke’s Lunch Club Project Manager and one of the founding members of the BHSPN summarises the benefits of being part of the network and this more collaborative approach:

“It’s really useful to meet regularly with other people working in the community. There's so much great work happening in Barton Hill, these meetings have facilitated a more collaborative approach to share what we are all doing, when we are doing it and support one another with any challenges. Resulting in more partnership working, sharing resources and having more clout to troubleshoot. With more joined up thinking, the network has real benefits for the community too - ensuring there is a variety of activities reaching a wider representation of the community."