Local Food Economy

Sparks Bristol turns one! 

By Ramona Andrews

Sparks, Bristol’s unique sustainable department store, education and arts hub celebrates its first birthday on 13 May 2024 and you’re invited to their party on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 May!

Jenny Foster, Co-founder of Sparks said,“We’re so excited to be celebrating our first birthday! We love that Sparks has become a place of welcome for so many people in the city, as well as other towns and cities visiting to see how they can use our model to bring climate and social benefit into their own high streets. Here’s to the next year!”

Bristol Food Network has been involved with Sparks since its inception and there is a large interactive poster in the food area asking visitors questions across all the Bristol Good Food 2030 themes.

For example, for the Eating Better theme, visitors are invited to respond to the question“What does eating good food mean to you?” and for Food Justice, “How can we make Bristol’s food system more fair?” Visitors can also view the goals set for Bristol’s food system for 2030 as part of this display.

Last year, Sparks Bristol embarked on a mission to fill the empty Broadmead M&S building with ethical and sustainable retail supporting local traders and artists, transforming a huge empty space at the centre of the city’s high street which had been vacant since 2022. Local Charities Artspace Lifespace and Global Goals Centre partnered to pilot an ambitious ‘department store with a difference.’ 

“Working in this supportive environment enables us to flourish, it makes a world of a difference to everyone in Bristol Refugee Artist Collective” Sayambrita Mukherjee, BRAC artist.

Artspace Lifespace brought their experience of taking on underused buildings and developing rooms as artist studios, galleries and workshops. Global Goals Centre creates engaging experiences to inspire learning and action on climate and equality in our everyday lives. Together they envisioned Sparks Bristol as a welcoming space for educating and supporting people to improve climate and social impacts in everyday life, through sustainable shopping, energy and travel advice, education and creative and practical skills workshops.

One year since opening, Sparks Bristol has welcomed over 490,000 visitors, supported 172 local independent ethical traders and inspired 2,529 children and young people through educational workshops. 

“We have makers who have, through the sale of their products in store, been able to rely on the income as their full-time job allowing them to work more creatively and focus on their business” said Sam McKay, owner of The Ethical Gift Shop.

Now’s the time for Sparks to make future plans for an even greater impact on our city, as well as celebrate the achievements of their first year at the Sparks First Anniversary party on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 May!

As with everything at Sparks, the anniversary plans have sustainability at their heart. As World Fairtrade Day falls on the anniversary weekend, join a Nicaraguan Fairtrade farmer at Spark’s Fair and Fabulous Afternoon Tea, with food and drinks tastings from local, ethical food suppliers, to learn why producing good food is so important for our health and the health of the planet. Find out more and book (pay what you can).

A giant interactive birthday cake made from recycled materials will be in store, with plenty of free activities; drop-in clothing mending workshops, family-friendly life drawing classes (fully clothed!), zine-making using recycled materials in “waste is a lack of creativity” workshops. If you’d like to find out more about the project and see behind the scenes at Sparks you can join a building tour. 

There are plenty of free activities for kids and adults such as badge and flag making from recycled materials, storytelling, circus skills, a soft play set, eco face painting, make-up, and bags of sustainable glitter. The first-floor Department of Imagination will also be open with an exhibition and pop-up art sale from Artspace Lifespace artist studio holders. 

On Saturday 11 May, free music events are taking place on the first floor. From midday, Ian Gilson will be hosting a karaoke and open mic session and from 4pm DJs Josephine Gyasi and Booty Basser Ngaio, whose second single from their EP drops on 2 May, will be raising the roof.

The Department of Fashion has had fun putting together a St Michael collection that pays homage to the iconic clothing line that was sold in M&S from 1927 until 2000. Each piece will be dated and described for you to see how fashion has changed through the years, both in terms of style and the materials used.

“With Sparks we wanted to showcase what the high street could look like if independent makers, creatives, community and sustainability were at the heart of placemaking.” said Kathryn Chiswell Jones of Artspace Lifespace, co-founder of Sparks. “We absolutely couldn’t have made Sparks happen without our partners and the huge swell of support we have had from across the city, and our first anniversary celebrations are a way to say thank you and invite our supporters and the city to come and see what they helped create”. 

Sparks has many creative ideas to help Bristol towards its goal of becoming net zero by 2030 and it relies on public and private donations. If you would like to be part of this groundbreaking project, please head to sparksbristol.co.uk/donate.

If you come to the party be sure to bring a present! Aid Box Community is collecting to support refugees in Bristol. Clothes, toiletries, sanitary items, small electrical items & other essentials will all be gratefully received.

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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