Interview with Michele Curtis about the Staff Lounge portraits

Have you visited the new Staff Lounge in Royal Fort House? If so, you’ll have spotted the portraits by Bristol-based artist Michele Curtis in the Yellow Room.


About the portraits 

Two of the three portraits are part of the ‘Seven Saints of St Pauls’ series which features the founders of St Pauls carnival, who came to Bristol as part of the Windrush Generation and made significant political and social changes here.

The first portrait celebrates Carmen Beckford MBE, who moved to Bristol in 1965 and quickly became an important figurehead for improving race relations in the city. Carmen was Bristol’s first community development officer at Bristol City Council between 1978-86, where her role was to integrate communities and help to build young people’s self-esteem. To do this, she established the West Indian Dance team and when ‘St Pauls Festival’ was created in 1968, Carmen was in charge of entertainment.

The second of the ‘Seven Saints of St Pauls’ is Roy Hackett, a leading organiser of the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott, a successful campaign to overturn the bar to employment of Black and Asian bus drivers and conductors. With the support of local MP Tony Benn, the campaign paved the way for the Race Relations Act of 1965. Roy still lives in Bristol and continues to be a well-respected, loved and active member of our community.

The third portrait is Cheryl Morgan, a trans woman and active campaigner for the rights of LGBT+ people. Cheryl is hugely influential across the city as a Director of The Diversity Trust which runs trans awareness training throughout the South West; is co-chair of OutStories Bristol; and co-hosts the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima Radio.

Cheryl has worked with the University in a variety of ways. She has taught trans health issues to medical students; worked with the history and IT departments on an interactive map of Bristol’s LGBT history; and helped the Students’ Union with trans rights campaigns. 

About the artist 

The artist Michele Curtis was born and bred in Easton and was training as a graphic designer when her tutors suggested she nurture her talent for drawing and contribute to Black History Month. Michele decided to focus on ordinary people, in extraordinary circumstances in her ‘Seven Saints of St Pauls’.

Sometimes it’s hard to relate to a portrait, especially if it was done a long time ago. There can be a real disconnect, especially for young people Michele said.

I didn’t want to depict Martin Luther King or Malcolm X – names people are already very familiar with. I chose people whose stories need to be told. These are people who have done great things for the community that still affect the city today.”

Rebecca Scott, Chair of the University’s staff BAME network commented, “Black communities often lack positive representation. Through partnering with Michele Curtis for the Iconic Black Bristolians Exhibition, the University was able to support a showcase of black talent and contributions across the city.”  

After being displayed in the Black Bristolians Exhibition two of the ‘Seven Saints of St Pauls’ portraits were chosen for the new Staff Lounge in Royal Fort House.  The third portrait of Cheryl Morgan was commissioned separately to provide a broader representation of our University community.   

The pictures in the Staff Lounge will soon be accompanied by interpretation panels to highlight the context of the work.  

Chief Operating Officer, Robert Kerse on the opening of the Staff Lounge in Royal Fort House

Opening the reception rooms in Royal Fort House as a staff lounge is a way to say thank you to each member of staff for their contribution to making our university a world class institution. Our hope is that it will be a welcoming, new space at the heart of the campus, for you to enjoy and feel is your own. A space to relax, read a book, grab a coffee and have informal meetings with colleagues and visitors.

I wanted to provide an update now to let you know how the project is progressing and give you a feel for what to expect when it opens.

In the consultation meetings about the Staff Lounge, the staff who took part told us they wanted a modern, not stuffy, feel and this has been challenging in a Grade 1 listed building! Our aim has been to get the right balance between looking after the building and being sympathetic to the heritage, whilst making it a valuable space for staff. So, we’ve refreshed the existing decorative scheme and put in comfy furniture.

We hope that the Staff Lounge will be a quiet space without mobile phones and laptops and so it won’t be a place for New Ways of Working. It will be open to everyone, all day, so it isn’t for meetings either but can be booked for evening events.

To enable us to open the space to staff as soon as possible, we’ve carried out a rapid refresh and it isn’t yet perfect – so please bear with us on a couple of things;

  • As a Grade 1 listed building we’re having to make a Listed Building Application for a ramp and Ucard access at the front. So, when we open, access will be via the rear garden door where there is an existing ramp. The accessibility provision currently isn’t up to the standard we would like, and we are working hard to resolve this.
  • When we open on 30 October the catering won’t be the full service we plan to offer from mid-November onwards, but we promise there will be tea, coffee and light refreshments available.

I see this first phase in the Staff Lounge as an opportunity to find out more about what staff want in the space and your feedback will inform what we do next. So please share your ideas on Yammer, or in the feedback boxes in Royal Fort House and we’ll also have a formal review in four months’ time. Your feedback is hugely important to us because it will inform the Listed Building consent application we make for future changes.

Our university is our people and so it is right that our staff are at its heart, with access to the best space that hasn’t been fully utilised in recent years. The Staff Lounge in Royal Fort House is just the start of the positive changes in the heart of the campus and I hope that it becomes somewhere we can be proud of, a new space that’s away from the day to day pressures of university life and a place for us to rest and recharge.

Does using your body make you happy?

Join a workshop at the heart of the campus on World Mental Health day to explore how moving your body can affect your happiness. It’s World Mental Health Day on Wednesday 10 October and we’ve got lots of great events planned at the Indoor Sports Centre. As well as lots of free exercise classes, you can join in a workshop with a print artist Annie Nicholson, aka The Fandangoe Kid:

Annie, swathed in colourful, vibrant clothing, with a shock of blonde hair crowning a tall frame, has a story of loss so devastating it sounds almost too heavy to carry. It’s a story she has used to help others explore big topics like love, life and grief, through shared artistic experiences. 

In 2011, the artist lost her mother and sister in a car crash. “Nothing has been the same since,” she said. “For years I was completely derailed – it was sharing my thoughts in a public space that got me through.”

The artist says her public art is also designed to help remove the stigma that still exists around loss, mental health, and happiness.
“I’ve done a lot of movement and dance,” she said. “It’s not about telling people to spend ‘x’ amount of hours at the gym. “I want to explore how movement, any kind of movement or sport, can help you shed layers and work through something. I didn’t run before my family died, not even down the street. For me it’s what happens while you’re running.
“Running a marathon could be seen as a ritual – kind of like a meditation. Something as simple as having a dance every morning has helped me survive.”
The workshop can host 20 people and will begin with exploring the different concepts of narrative art, and how art can be used to express yourself. “I’d like to create a bit of a survival toolkit, and ask people to think about this, incorporating movement.”

The event is 10.00am – 12.00am in Studio 3 at the Indoor Sports Centre on Tyndall Avenue and is open to staff or students. The art we create will go on display throughout the campus. As places are limited, it’s important to book in advance.


We loved welcoming our students. Now let’s stay connected

We absolutely loved meeting you during Welcome Week, and talking to you about the Campus Heart, the University’s development programme to transform the spaces and services on Tyndall Avenue, creating opportunities for staff and students to come together to learn, get support and just relax.

We had a fantastic team of students who helped us on the stand opposite the new Indoor Sports Centre – and more than 300 students signed up already during Welcome Week to help us shape our plans.

Here are some of our favourite moments!

At the Welcome Fair, renowned print artist Annie Nicholson, aka The Fandangoe Kid, ran workshops at the SU tent to explore belonging at Bristol University. The art created during the workshop will be displayed on campus. Get involved to help shape your campus Welcome Week may be over, but we’d love you to get involved in shaping the campus and the next opportunity to take part is when Indoor Sports Centre officially re-opens on World Mental Health Day, Wednesday 10 October.

Take part in a free 90-minute exercise class (10.30-12.00pm) or print artist the Fandangoe Kid will be back to run a workshop to explore how movement can support positive mental wellbeing (10.00am – 12.00pm) – make sure to sign up for that.

As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any other, thoughts or comments, so sign up to get involved in the Campus Heart programme.


Celebrate the opening of the refurbished Indoor Sports Centre

Director of Sport, Exercise and Health, Matt Birch, celebrates the opening of the refurbished Indoor Sports Centre on World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2018.

For some time now, I’ve been aware that our Indoor Sports Centre on Tyndall Avenue has been in desperate need of refurbishment. Staff and students alike have told us they want a bigger and better gym, increased class capacity, improved changing facilities and faster access.

Two years ago, as part of the development of our new University Strategy, we decided to invest in our facilities and services on Tyndall Avenue to help create a new “heart” to our Clifton campus. Since then, we’ve invested £4.9m in upgrading the Indoor Sports Centre, improving it considerably and making it more appealing to a broader range of people. We’ve put in state-of-the art equipment, increased gym capacity by a third and our timetable now has over 100 classes every week. I am really proud to be at the forefront of the positive changes in Campus Heart and building our community of students and staff right in the centre of our university.

The newly refurbished Indoor Sports Centre officially opens on World Mental Health Day (WMHD), 10 October 2018 and this was an important choice for us. The theme for WMHD this year is young people and mental health in a changing world, which seems timely as our students return. We know that physical activity in any form is a great way for our staff and students to stay healthy as well as improving mental wellbeing. For first year students in particular, taking part in sport and physical exercise can be a great way to develop a social and friendship network and manage the transition from home to university life.

The strategic priority for the Sport, Exercise and Health division is to drive participation in physical activity, but what really drives me, and my team, is developing an inclusive sporting community that supports long term engagement. In fact, the design of our new sports centre is centred around inclusivity – there are big glass panes because we want to be visible, reach out and invite people in. Our message is ‘We Are Bristol’ and if you are interested in getting fitter and looking after your mental health, sign up to a new class, join a club or take out a membership and we’re sure that you’ll meet like-minded people and have fun.

One observation I hear from staff is that you don’t want to exercise with your students; ‘Fair point’! But there are quieter times in the gym which can be accessed via an off-peak membership and there’s a range of daily fitness classes and several staff social groups, in a variety of sports, most lunchtimes. We are confident that whoever you are, whatever you’re into, there will be something here for you – and as an added incentive we’ve waived our joining fees on 10 October to coincide with our opening.

Another light we’ve hidden under a bushel is our Sports Medicine Clinic, with a team of highly qualified physiotherapists, osteopaths and masseurs offering a high-quality service for our community at very reasonable prices. So, if you need to see a physio, just book in a session and come and see us.

To celebrate our official opening on 10 October our doors will be wide open to everyone from 10am-12.00pm. Sign up to a free 90 minute mass participation exercise class in the Sports Hall from 10.30am – 12.00pm; or take part in a workshop with print artist Fandangoe Kid to explore how belonging and physical activity can support better mental health. Wellbeing advisors will be on hand with advice and information about where to get support. My team and I look forward to showing you around.

Director of Sport, Exercise and Health, Matt Birch


New term Campus Heart update

Deputy Registrar, Lynn Robinson, talks about what’s been happening in Campus Heart over the last few months, and how you can get involved.

I hope you’ve had a relaxing summer, with time to enjoy the sunshine and a well-deserved break. As we look forward to the new term I wanted to share an update on our plans to develop the Clifton campus; the Campus Heart programme. 

We’ve listened to what colleagues and students have told us they want at the University and the Campus Heart development is one of our responses. We are transforming the spaces in and around Tyndall Avenue, to create opportunities for everyone to learn, study and teach, get help and support, eat and drink, exercise or just relax. We also want these spaces to be welcoming to local residents and other members of the city. 

As you will have seen, the changes have already started and this September we open the doors to our re-modelled Indoor Sports Centre with much increased capacity for sport and exercise. The reception rooms in Royal Fort House will soon become a new space at the heart of the campus for staff to rest and meet colleagues and guests. The most ambitious part of our plans is the development, by 2022/23, of a world class library; a showcase for our Cultural Collections, more teaching and study spaces, new cafes and much more.  

Senate House plays a huge role in our aims for the Campus Heart. Having an administration building in such a central location didn’t feel quite right, particularly to many of our students, given that our Students’ Union is less central than in many universities. The creation of a student resource centre in Senate House is a key part of our strategy to improve the educational experience of our students and the developments will also provide new facilities for staff.  This has been facilitated by the move by hundreds of professional services staff to other locations across the city, which I know has not been easy, and I am very grateful for the way in which everyone has embraced this move. 

When we open the doors to Senate House next term we’ll be providing students with many of the spaces they’ve asked for, earlier than originally planned, whilst continuing the development of the remaining services. We’re piloting a start-up Student Information Service to signpost the ways to get help and support. There will be new study spaces and for the first time our PGR students will have a home of their own in a new PGR hub. In November, the Students’ Union will open a ‘Living room’, which responds to the ever-stronger wellbeing message from students about the lack of space on campus to relax and build a sense of community.  

The Fry building fire and the increasing pressure on teaching spaces means that we will also be providing over 500 high-quality additional teaching spaces in the building, so many staff and students will benefit from a timetable with less travel time. This will be complemented by two temporary 150 seat teaching spaces in Royal Fort Gardens which will be ready for next term. 

So, in the short term in Senate House we will have better teaching facilities and new services for students but there is still more to come.  

We are committed to our original vision for Senate House and we’ve recently received planning permission for a two-storey extension for a wonderful food hall, with new places to meet and relax for staff, students and our local community. Senate House will host additional study seats and it will become the home for Bristol Institute of Learning and Teaching (BILT), providing a place for colleagues to think about pedagogy and experiment with new ways of teaching. There will also be much needed new bookable meeting spaces. 

I want the heart of our university to be a beautiful and welcoming place that befits our standing as a university. Campus Heart is about the institution that we are, the strengths that we have and will enable us to present ourselves in the way that our university deserves.  

The Campus Heart call to action for our community is ‘Make this yours’. This invitation to get involved extends to our students, staff and local community.  Upcoming events include; walking tours of Senate House on 20 September to find out about what’s happening now, with an interactive vision of the future. Free gym classes are running from 17 -21 September so sign up and tell us what you think. Visit the Campus Heart ‘Make this yours’ stand on Tyndall Avenue during Welcome week and get involved. Please feedback on the changes in Royal Fort House when it opens this term.   

For a number of years I have wanted our campus heart to be a welcoming place for everyone and somewhere that feels distinctly “Bristol”. As changes happen we will keep you updated about opportunities to have your say but in the meantime, I’d be very interested in hearing your ideas.  Please share your thoughts by email or join the conversation on yammer.  

I look forward to working with you to create our Campus Heart.

Deputy Registrar, Lynn Robinson