A Sad Farewell to Unit 15

23/04886/F | Demolition of existing structures and redevelopment of the site for two buildings comprising light industrial use (Class E(g)(iii)); flexible retail/light industrial use (Class E(a) / Class E(g)(iii)); flexible commercial use (Class E(b-g)); flexible industrial use (Class E(g)(iii) / Class B8 / Sui Generis); student accommodation use with ancillary community space (Sui Generis); public realm works and landscaping; cycle parking; ancillary plant and servicing; and other associated works. (Major App) | Premier Business Park Sussex Street Bristol BS2 0RA

We are disappointed that this development on an industrial estate in the St Philip’s area of Bristol may see us lose one of Bristol’s key cultural institutions from the city. For the last 10 years it has been the home of The Invisible Circus based at Unit 15, a space for groundbreaking shows and a world-renowned space for other circus performers to develop their skills and shows.

The Cultural Graveyard in the Chapel of Unrest At Welcome to the Future

Its final show, Welcome to the Future in October 2023, celebrated its glorious past and its uncertain future and was featured in the Guardian. Our comment on the planning application from our Board of Trustees is as follows:

The Invisible Circus (IC) formed in 1996 bringing circus arts to communities across Europe and have been based in Bristol since the year 2000. Renowned for vibrant spectacles and community performance collaborations, IC has transformed disused buildings into public art spaces both independently and alongside Artspace Lifespace (The Audi Garage, The Island, The Pro Cathedral, Ashton Court Mansion and more recently Sparks the former Marks and Spencer building in Broadmead). 

IC has supported a huge number of artists with space, support and performance opportunities both locally and nationally and has become an important part of the cultural landscape of Bristol and the South West.

In 2013 IC moved into Unit 15, Premier Business Park near Temple Meads taking on the lease of a building in order to provide more security for artists instead of moving from meanwhile project to meanwhile project. Both established and emerging companies regularly use Unit 15 which has become recognised nationally and internationally as an invaluable resource for the sector. Whilst in this venue, IC have created numerous performances and employment opportunities supporting the creative economy within the city and wider region. 

Dominus Real Estate has stated that the Regeneration proposals are in support of the new Bristol University campus. The development will bring welcome economic benefit to the dings, adding an estimated 77 FTE jobs post completion and it is estimated the students could spend an additional £4.5m in the local area every year. 

We are concerned that the proliferation of student accommodation risks hollowing out Bristols creative core risks as studentification and co-living or ‘boujie bedsit’ developments planned within and on the outskirts of the city swallow up existing cultural spaces.  

We welcome the changes to the proposal following meetings with the Invisible Circus and the community including outward-facing light-industrial maker-spaces targeted to the local creative sector in the proposals. 

When we asked the Circus Studio Members at The Island how they would be affected by Unit 15 closing, some of the responses included: 

“No more swinging trapeze classes, loss of other classes and the venue for performances.  It just reduces the whole culture of Bristol, it reduces the variety of circus artists, classes, performances etc in Bristol.  Bristol as the Circus City will be affected.  I feel the loss most for friends and colleagues who have made the Invisibles their lives, community and livelihood to the great benefit of Bristol and beyond.  Bristol is losing its character in losing this space.  Can another be found?”

“There will be no space to rehearse or develop speciality aerial acts with greater height and or counterweight options”.

“I use the unit when I need to train aerial at full height and when I want a slidey floor for dance. Also the space is better for making photos and videos as it has plain black backgrounds.”

“I’m devastated for anyone who uses large equipment such as cloud swing. It’s one of the only spaces outside of london that can facilitate swinging technique and teeterboard or large equipment and that is accessible for training. It’s also an epic residency space and performance space so fingers crossed another space emerges!”

“Can’t train swinging doubles trapeze anymore or train with the SW swinging crew. No circus jam. Can’t use/hire for acro conventions”

Bristol City Centre Development Plan highlighs the value of people, community and culture for future regeneration.With the loss of Unit 15, Bristol loses the ability to develop specialist aerial acts and the city now risks losing a vital piece of cultural infrastructure and risks Bristol’s reputation as a circus city. 

On behalf of Artspace Lifespace Board of Trustees

To comment on the proposals visit: