Meet the woman breathing new life into the old Marks and Sparks in Bristol

Project leader Jenny Foster inside Sparks, which opens in the old M&S store this weekendProject leader Jenny Foster inside Sparks, which opens in the old M&S store this weekend
Project leader Jenny Foster inside Sparks, which opens in the old M&S store this weekend
As well as a cafe and gift shop, the space will have a ‘reuse shop’ providing recycled goods and bike repair workshop

Over a cacophony of hammers and drills, Jenny Foster is trying to tell me how certain areas of Sparks in the old Broadmead M&S will be dedicated quiet zones.

“We will even have a pod near the entrance for people with sensory issues or dementia so they can have a quiet place,” she shouts over the noise, gesturing towards an unfinished wooden structure.

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“This main entrance on the Broadmead side will also have a forest-like design with the soothing sounds of bird song.”

With just a few hours to go until the doors of Sparks finally open on Saturday, there is certainly a lot to do and the teams have been working until late in the evening most days to make sure it’s ready in time.

Project leader Jenny of Bristol-based education charity Global Goals Centre has teamed up with Artspace Lifespace to turn this former M&S store into a sustainability, education and arts hub called Sparks.

The M&S store closed after 70 years and Sparks has a two-year lease, although there is a break clause at Christmas.

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That means Sparks has just over six months to make a success of what is a unique project for Bristol and one that is very much a pilot for other cities.

“We want to create a vibrant, positive venue where local people and visitors can shop, recycle stuff and explore what a greener, fairer and creative future could look like,” says Jenny.

“It has been hard work, quite stressful at times, but very rewarding and it’s just exciting to be breathing new life into the old M&S building on a ‘meanwhile use’ basis until the site is redeveloped.

“If this is successful, it could pave the way for similar projects in Bristol and other cities. I mean, the huge Debenhams around the corner is still empty for example.”

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Not that Jenny has plans to replicate what she and her volunteers are doing at the old M&S at the empty Debenhams.

“No, this project is quite enough at the moment,” she laughs, showing me around the ground floor of the building which used to house the food hall and women’s clothes department.

As well as a cafe area and ethical gift shop, the space will have a ‘reuse shop’ providing recycled goods, bike repair workshop and education projects for schools. There will be installations, stalls and workshops to demonstrate how to take easy (and often money-saving) actions on climate, equality and wellbeing.

There is upcycled furniture for sale, vintage clothes and an area for Baby Bank Network, which collects donations of pre-loved baby equipment, clothing, toys and other essentials to pass on to families experiencing poverty or crisis in Bristol.

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Jenny says she can’t wait for the doors to open on Saturday lunchtime and see the first people walk through the doors.

“I’m looking forward to just floating around and seeing what people like, watching their faces and listening to what they are saying about it. I also hope it brings more people into Broadmead - it works both ways really.”

And when it comes to the grand opening on Saturday, Jenny will also be sharing the duties with the volunteers who have helped make it all happen.

“This has been a real collaborative project with so many local people helping out. Instead of just one person cutting the ribbon at 12pm on Saturday, there will be lots of us with scissors because it has been such a huge team effort.”

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