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Wellspring Healthy Living Centre

Location: Barton Hill, Bristol, UK

Artists: Marion Brandis (lead artist), Lucy Casson, Mat Chivers, Julian Coode, Walter Jack Studio, Anne Smyth, Springboard Design.

Poet: Ralph Hoyt


The £3.5 million Wellspring Healthy Living Centre in Barton Hill opened in late 2004. The project was funded and managed by Community at Heart with New Deal for Communities investment.

The project was driven from the start by the vision of a small group of residents, known as HP2, who oversaw the whole process. For four years, the group worked closely with the architects, Quattro Designs, artists, the construction company and Bristol North Primary Care Trust, to turn their vision into reality. Artists were commissioned to create art work as an integrated part of the building; the final cost for their commissions was £162,238 inc. VAT. Another £22,271 was spent on management, workshops, events, publicity, extra architects' fees and other costs. Ruth Hecht, Community at Heart's Arts Co-ordinator, was responsible for managing the public art project and liaison between the artists, residents, architects and health staff.

Before any building work started, a community celebration called 'Light up the Night' was held to mark the site chosen for the centre, which was attended by hundreds of local residents. Poet Ralph Hoyte then worked with local people to decide on the name for the centre.

The HP 2 group was involved in developing the artists' brief for the commissions, sat on the selection panels to shortlist and interview artists and subsequently oversaw the artists' work as it developed. Along with practical and functional requirements, the brief asked artists 'to help create a welcoming, stimulating and enjoyable place for people to be in - a space unique to Barton Hill with a 'wow' factor as you walk through the door.'

A lead artist, Marion Brandis, was appointed initially, to work with the architects and residents to identify opportunities for other artists' work and to get a sense of what themes, including colour and shape, could be used throughout the commissions. Subsequently Lucy Casson, Anne Smyth, Walter Jack Studio, Julian Coode, Mat Chivers and Springboard Design were commissioned to work on different elements of the entrance courtyard, reception area and signage.

The challenge for the artists was to work closely with residents in an area where many people could not see the value of spending money on artists in this context. As a result, there were several public events for residents to learn more about public art and opportunities to meet the artists and hear their ideas. A number of the artists ran workshops with local schools and community groups exploring themes and images which influenced the shaping the artists' final work. The work of residents also features permanently in the Centre building in the form of ceramic tiles embedded into the floor of the foyer and outside courtyard.

Dozens of local residents were involved, from managing the project to attending events, and taking part in workshops.

As a result of these opportunities for local people to engage with the artists in a variety of ways, local reaction to the building as a whole and to the artworks was extremely positive. Whilst a minority still felt that the art element of the project had cost too much, many were able to relate more closely to the work of the artists having met them, developed ideas with them or and worked alongside them in workshops. Others noted with pride their own work achieving a public showing for the first time.

This was an ambitious project and a challenge for all involved - the artists, architects, contractors and client. The outcomes are: a number of high quality pieces integrated into the design of the building; several residents thoroughly involved in the commissioning process; and many more residents participating in workshops and events. The project has undoubtedly achieved the 'wow' factor outlined in the artists' brief.

The final word goes to a resident: 'I've just signed on with the doctors here as it makes me feel better just walking through the door.'


Community at Heart was set up in July 2000 to deliver the Bristol New Deal for Communities programme in Barton Hill, Redfield, Lawrence Hill and the Dings. The project in Bristol is a 10 year Government funded regeneration programme, one of 39 such initiatives in England set up to improve the most neglected neighbourhoods in England.

Right at the start, Community at Heart established an Arts Programme to work with residents in the New Deal area. The objectives were:

  • To encourage a new generation of people to be inspired by the arts;
  • To improve the visibility of local artists;
  • To increase the opportunities of residents to be involved in the arts;
  • To improve the quality of the built environment;
  • To create an accessible infrastructure for creating and showing arts.

An Arts Co-ordinator, Ruth Hecht, was appointed in 2001 to develop the arts programme work. The programme included a range of innovative projects and events with residents, opportunities to participate and a public art programme centred on the Wellspring Healthy Living Centre.


The aims of the public art programme at the Wellspring Healthy Living Centre were:

  • To animate the exterior and interior spaces of the HLC to create a welcoming, stimulating and enjoyable place for people to be in;
  • To create a sense of ownership by future users and staff of the HLC, particularly those who are hard to involve through traditional community consultation methods such as young people and people from Black and minority ethnic groups;
  • To build local skills and expertise in developing and managing Public Art projects.

The Commissions

Ceramic Floor and Mosaics by Marion Brandis

Porcelain floor pieces are set into the Blanc de Bierges of the courtyard and reception area, incorporating the work of dozens of local people. The 'maze' in the waiting area includes symbols drawn by children from Hannah More School.

Reg by Lucy Casson

A humorous and welcoming figure sited in the reception area, made from Jesmonite (plaster) patterned with Portland stone dust and terrazzo coloured pieces. The sculpture is named after Reg Gregory, a local resident committed to the vision and development of Wellspring.

Source by Mat Chivers

Water constantly trickles over the rounded contours of this sculpture, hand carved from Kilkenny limestone and located in the courtyard entrance to the centre. The rising spiral shape symbolises fruitfulness and creative energy, the water offers inspiration and positivity.

Gates by Julian Coode

The design for the three pairs of gates into the courtyard evolved from consideration of their form and shadows when open and closed, and their relationship to the courtyard, the building, and the work of the other artists, balanced with practical issues of security, vandalism, maintenance and durability.

Staircase, Reception Desk and Balustrading by Walter Jack Studio

The designs for these key elements of the reception area respond to the brief's requirement for warmth, light and wood. The staircase, with a steel infrastructure and birch cladding, is a sinuous sculptural link between the ground and first floors.

Glass Entrance by Anne Smyth

Workshops with local residents produced the central theme of fruit and vegetables expressing health, ripeness and energy, and their work was directly reflected in the artist's designs for this wall of coloured and etched glass.

Signage by Springboard Design

'.the idea for the external sign for Wellspring came from the image of a bubbling spring, a source of life ...'. Signs have been designed to help people with poor literacy and for those for whom English is not their first language.

Key Issues

  • Involvement of local residents

    A relatively small group of about 14 people was closely involved with the project and the commissions from the outset to completion, and had a detailed knowledge of how artists were selected, the issues their work raised in terms of installation, health and safety and progress on the project. Dozens of other residents were involved through public events, artists' workshops and kept in touch by word of mouth. However, many residents felt that there were not enough opportunities for involvement by local people.

  • Long timescale

    The extended length of time between the appointment of the artists, the workshops they led with local residents and the installation of the completed work strained the interest of local residents and their commitment to the finished commissions.

  • Relationships in the design team

    The crucial relationship between the artists and the project team was not fully clarified and articulated to all parties - particularly the roles and responsibilities of the architect and main contractor in relation to the artists. This led to tensions, particularly when it came to the installation of some of the more complicated pieces.

  • Impact of problems

    The staircase proved to be more complex than expected, and there were problems first in relation to the engineering of the staircase, then in respect of its linkage with the balcony, and finally getting the whole structure signed off by Building Control. As a result the staircase was ready for use some weeks after the rest of the building opened to the public.

  • Workshops

    While workshops with local residents were planned for all seven of the commissioned artists, not all took place successfully. For those artists committed to involving local people and who had previous experience of leading participatory events, their workshops were enjoyed and gave a great deal both to residents and the artists. However in cases where artists were relatively inexperienced and had not given thought to the practical issues associated with their technique, workshops did not take place. In some cases schools did not take up on workshops offered to them.


Tammie Waite, PR and Communications Manager, Community at Heart, Salisbury Street, Barton Hill, Bristol

Tel: 0117 903 9971 e-mail: [email protected]

Bristol New Deal for Communities programme: www.ndcbristol.co.uk

Artists' websites:

Marion Brandis: www.marionbrandis.co.uk

Mat Chivers: www.matchivers.co.uk

© Copyright Joanna Morland 2005