I have been CEO of St George’s Bristol since last September and have loved it so far. Everyone here is so collaborative, I want to thank Bristol for making me feel so welcome!
St George’s started life as a church in 1823, and we celebrate our 200th anniversary next year. In the 1990s we became an independent charity and vibrant venue for music and spoken word. Our famous acoustics attract artists of all genres from across the globe, and this August we hosted the first ever BBC Prom to be held in Bristol.
Only 40% of our income comes from ticket sales, so we are reliant on venue hire, hospitality and our donors for the rest. In a typical year we present 300 events reaching audiences of more than 100,000, and hundreds more through our work in local communities.
I wanted to write more about these lesser-known projects with specific charities and community groups, as we are rightly proud of this side of our work. Through our Learning and Participation programme, we engage with hundreds of young people and families through our Mini-Beats and Wild Words events, and our partnerships with Bristol Beacon and Preludes.
Through the support of the Cavatina Trust, we give out dozens of free tickets for specific concerts to young people aged 8 – 25. We also work with young people of Somali heritage in Easton, supporting them to connect with their culture through music and drama in weekly workshops led by a Somali youth leader.
A focus for us is Cosmos, our children’s singing project with young people we would not otherwise reach in Knowle West. This is a voluntary after-school choir which is non-auditioned and has been running for over 12 years. The commitment and talent of the children is incredible, and we are pleased to facilitate performance opportunities for them. Last Christmas they sang at Bristol Zoo, in previous years they have sung on the SS Great Britain, and we arrange travel so that their parents/carers can come along too.
As someone who grew up singing, I know how important being in a choir can be, and the sense of belonging to a friendship group with a common aim at a formative age.
Our work also extends beyond music and beyond the city of Bristol. We are proud to work with a range of charity partners doing vital work across the city, including Women’s Work Lab, Prodigal Arts, Bristol Pride and Stepping Up Bristol. We offer free and discounted spaces for their events, training, and meetings as well as work placements and career guidance.
We do all of this because we genuinely believe that music matters and that listening to or taking part in music genuinely changes us for the better. The Cosmos choir is a great example of how singing can give young people skills and confidence, and there are nationwide examples of how regular, active music-making can transform educational outcomes.
Music is also vital for our health and well-being. Research conducted globally over decades has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, and memory. We are working with the NHS and charities working with older people to bring live or streamed music into hospitals and care settings to help promote good mental and physical health.
For our 200th anniversary next year we will throw open the doors of St George’s to everyone and present a varied series of concerts and events, many of which will be free, welcoming all communities to our beautiful space. If you have never been to St George’s before, please visit us soon, even if it is just to spend time in our gardens, a haven of peace away from the bustle of Park Street, or to enjoy a coffee in our lovely new extension, you will be very welcome.