This month, we thought we’d put a twist on the Valentine’s theme and ask some of our favourite Bristol residents about their relationship with our fair city.  Jenny Hayes reports…

Love is in the air this month. Like it or loathe it, you are going to be bombarded with it. Or rather the one distinct symbol of love that, to all commercial powers that be, sums it up just perfectly – a bright, red, heart. Every year, without fail, it appears in every guise possible – teddy bears clutching hearts, chocolates stuffed in heart-shaped boxes, helium hearts, paper hearts, bath bomb hearts – this list is endless. Usually, it gives me a certain smug satisfaction to believe I’m above such tacky trinkets, but this year I’m rethinking things a little. You see, I’m actually in need of a new heart because, over the course of my year here at The Bristol Magazine, I’ve quite lost my own to the city.

I know why it’s happened – I’m a sucker for complicated characters. I don’t like things to be straight-forward, give me topsy-turvy any day of the week. I like to scratch the surface and find there’s so much more beneath than first meets the eye. And for that reason Bristol, our beautiful city of dichotomies, is my perfect match.

With its tangle of roads and bike lanes, which traverse the tumbling inner city hills and lead out to the rolling countryside beyond, Bristol is a city that’s easy to get lost in. Especially if, like me, you’re too busy taking in the mish mash of architecture, listening to the buskers and trying to resist the tempting array of independent shops and foodie stalls to actually look where you’re going.

“Bristol has a wild independence that sees it defy the odds again and again.”

It isn’t just the physical landscape that’s challenging and unique. The people of Bristol are themselves interlaced within an intricate tapestry of cultures. This mix gave rise to the music and art that put the city on the modern map back in the 1980s, and remains the vital rhythm that keeps our cultural heart pumping out festivals and events that nowhere else in the UK would dare attempt to stage.

And, like any hero worth falling for, Bristol has a wild independence that sees it defy the odds again and again. As editor here at The Bristol Magazine, I’ve met people who’ve taken a subculture and transformed it into an artistic revolution, been to places reclaimed from the ruins of history and given life again, and marvelled at the way in which the city continues to flout convention and, in doing so, become one of the most desirable places to live in the UK. I mean, come on, who could resist such a rebel?

But I’ve had the luxury of banging on about how great Bristol is for 15 issues now, and I’m pretty sure you’re as tired of hearing my opinion as you will be of seeing those dreaded red hearts in the shops this month. So I’m going to pass you over to a few of the incredible people I’ve met over those months, and let them share with you their own reasons for falling in love with the city. 

KATE BRINDLEY: CEO Arnolfini

Bristol is a city with an independent spirit. It embraces diversity and is creative at its core. It’s a city of contrasts and contradictions and you feel you can always find surprises. I like the blend of historic and contemporary, traditional and radical. One of my favourite places is the Ballast Seed Garden. It’s a secret garden that you can only reach by boat – which is such a Bristol thing. It was created by artist Maria Thereza Alves in 2012, working with the University of Bristol Botanic Garden (another favourite and rather secret place), Arnolfini and Bristol City Council. Constructed from a disused grain barge, the garden is populated with a colourful collection of non-native plants, creating a living history of the city’s trade and maritime past. It’s so beautiful on a sunny day and it changes with the seasons – keep an eye out for special public tours in the summer.

EMILY BULL: Programme manager, The Station

I was brought up in the south west, in Somerset, and didn’t realise how much I loved this part of the country until I’d lived in Nottingham for four years and moved back. I naturally gravitated to Bristol, a city that held great memories for me. Seven years on and I’m still here and still in love with the city I live and work in. It’s a big city with a local community feel. It’s vibrant, cultural and diverse but friendly and welcoming. I’m reminded of this every morning as I pass the suspension bridge and floating harbour on my way to work. Nothing beats it on a sunny morning when the tide is in.

RAY BARNETT: Head of collections, Bristol Museum

I first became enamoured with Bristol as an undergraduate (as so many people do). Having decided at a young age that I wanted to work in the conservation movement I took a degree in zoology here. Bristol is a great city to live in as a student (even 30+ years ago) and I really loved the place for its lively atmosphere, beautiful surroundings and ease of reaching places such as the Somerset Levels and the Cotswolds. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery holds the most amazing collections behind the scenes, as well as on show, and it was a privilege to be given responsibility for caring for them, using them and making them available to all. They act as a fantastic record of how wildlife has changed over the last 200 years and allow us to contribute to understanding things like the local impact of climate change on our environment. Because of that, a special place for me is the Avon Gorge, Downs and Leigh Woods, which provides city dwellers the opportunity to see nature at very close hand, and not just any old nature but that of what is often quoted as the third most important botanical site in the country because of its rare endemic species.

MIG SHILLACE: Co-owner, The Louisiana

I love Bristol because it has a fantastic live music scene. It has lots of great venues – Thekla, The Fleece, The Louisiana, St George’s, Arnolfini, The Cube, among many others – which cater for all types of music and events throughout the year. Bristol is also a hotbed for some fantastic bands and songwriters with diverse musical backgrounds such as Thought Forms, Oliver Wilde, Stevie Parker, Rhain, Fenne Lily, Idles, Spectres, The Naturals, Sienna Chorus, and SJ Esau. I think it’s a fitting tribute to Bristol that BBC Radio 6 Music have chosen the city to host its festival this year.

VAROSHA LAMB: Owner, Clifton Fine Art

I love Bristol because it has its own character and is so vibrant. People here just get stuff done – if they want to do something they just make it happen. Bristol’s great for artists, and galleries, because there are so many of us here, the art is diverse but all that energy works – we all just feed off each other. There are also lots of opportunities for developing your work, collaborating and exhibiting. It’s a total cliché but I love that bridge, I see it every day and it still makes me a little bit emotional. It’s beautiful, imposing and looks different every day depending on the light and the river. It also sums up that Bristol spirit – there’s an enormous great gorge, let’s just build an impossible bridge over it – so they did.

BETH JONES: Marketing manager, Clifton Observatory

Bristol is brilliant – I haven’t found another UK city that’s as vibrant, eventful and diverse yet still cosy and with a sense of community. We have such great food, music and culture festivals, a fantastic range of independent businesses, and the kind of small-town vibe that means you can rarely take a trip into the centre without bumping into somebody you know. Bristol is a really exciting place for us because the Observatory is such a unique venue. The Camera Obscura is one of only two open to the public in England, and the panoramic views from the viewing platform and the Giant’s Cave make it a fantastic place to watch the balloons go by. There’s a real sense of community among local associations in the tourism industry here who are all happy to work in collaboration to help make the city the best that it can be.

GEORGE FERGUSON: Mayor of Bristol

I first came to Bristol to study architecture at Bristol University in 1965. Being of no previous fixed abode (my dad was in the military) Bristol became my home – and I challenge anyone born here to have a greater passion for this city, its wonderful variety and its people. As an architect it offered such great possibilities of working in a complex historic city and I love Bristol’s independent and entrepreneurial spirit, to which I hope I have contributed. Bristol has been such a great city to bring up a family, and I am driven by a desire to make it child friendly, in the belief that a city that is good for children is good for us all. We have so much potential to excel in so many fields and I know from travelling the world how Bristol is increasingly looked to as one of the world’s most ‘liveable’ cities – I believe it can, with its great open spaces, become one of the healthiest. It was never in my game plan to be elected mayor – but I grabbed the opportunity when it came because I know we have so much more potential than we sometimes realise – and I greatly enjoy working with others to create new initiatives and projects.

SUZANNE ROLT: Chief executive, St George’s

When I arrived in Bristol in the 1990s I knew next to nothing about it and assumed I’d stay for a few years and then move on. Twenty years later I can’t imagine ever leaving and it feels like home. It’s gone from being a low key city to one that now virtually tops every UK chart for being the best place to live and enjoy a healthy, positive lifestyle. I love that, culturally, it’s more than a match for any other city and is buzzing with artists who enjoy nothing more than putting their heads together with others to share and create ever more stand out and daring projects. When I’m not at concerts at St George’s, I’m trying to keep up with the constant flow of talks, plays and exhibitions everywhere else. And the festivals of course – it gets to the point where you’re scared to leave Bristol over a weekend because you risk missing a major food, arts or balloon festival!

CHLOÉ ELWOOD: Executive producer, Bristol Old Vic

I grew up in a Forces family so we moved around a lot, but my first memories are of our home in Stockwood. My mum’s family are Bristolians so the city has been a constant in my life – there’s now nowhere else I’d be so happy to bring my kids up. I moved back in my early twenties and took on three jobs simultaneously: I worked in the office at Bristol Grammar School in the mornings, catalogued books at Beware of the Leopard in St Nick’s Market in the afternoons and spent my evenings working front of house at Bristol Old Vic. It was a mad and glorious time. My grandmother’s family had a florist stall in St Nick’s, handed down through several generations, and when I worked there a handful of people still remembered Wring’s Flowers. Now I pop up there for lunch and think of all the women in my family who have walked those stones before me. I moved to London for work, but when the opportunity to return to Bristol Old Vic as executive producer came up, I didn’t sleep for a week – right now, this is the most exciting theatre in the world as we stand on the brink of our 250th anniversary.

LINA B. FRANK: Director and producer, Ausform

I love Bristol because of the inner confidence demonstrated by its inhabitants. I’m praying that with the knock-on effect of London gentrification this will not change too much. People who live in Bristol have an idea, shoot for the stars and see where they land. They are active, generous and incredibly creative and realise their dreams whether it be building a giant whale or becoming a ‘smart-city’. Everything great was made with enthusiasm. I work as a producer and cultural developer for contemporary circus, dance and theatre and this combination of generosity, pie in the sky thinking and DIY activeness is for me everything that I could want in order to make exciting things happen in our city.

SUE DEAN: Owner, Lime Tree Gallery

I’ve always loved Bristol, since I first visited in the early 1980s, when my sister was a student here, and we went to the Dugout, the coolest club ever! We probably have the best site of any major English city, with the gorge, the hills and the harbour coming right into the centre. It is a big city, so there is plenty to do, but it retains its humanity. Bristol has always had its own, very original, arts and music culture, and a rather laid-back feel. So when we decided we wanted to get back to city life, after a decade in the country, it was an obvious candidate. Happily, when we took a serious look at the art market, we realised that there was an opening for our style of painterly gallery.

MATTHEW WHITTLE: Co-artistic director, The Wardrobe Theatre

There are lots of reasons I love Bristol – its beautiful landscape and architecture, its passionate independent heartbeat, its sense of humour, but most of all I love the spirit of the people here and their insatiable desire to create, keep trying new things and their drive to keep put on amazing events just for the sheer fun of it.

STEVE HAYLES: Founder, Upfest

Two things have catalysed my love for Bristol since I arrived here 15 years ago, its culture and the family it’s given me. I landed in Bristol after city hopping around the UK when I left the Isle of Wight at 18. I was greeted by a city that had a perfect balance – a multicultural, vibrant, independent community surrounded by green spaces. What more does a city need to offer? The city’s not only found me my personal family, it also gave me the opportunity to build an arts family through its passion for culture which pulsates across the city. I established Upfest in 2008, and little did I know at that stage what it would become and ultimately what it would give. I now work each year with over 300 passionate artists, 100 dedicated volunteers and a team that keeps me organised. I feel very lucky to think of these great people as part of my Bristol family. So folks, this is why ‘I love Bristol’ and it will always be home.

ANNA STARKEY: Creative director, At-Bristol Science Centre

I love Bristol because it is a bit like the sort of slightly bonkers and rather wonderful creation that I might design for fun on Sim City. Oh, I think I’ll just stick a 170-something year old steamship on the water here, next to a world leading animation studio and somewhere that sells nice bacon sarnies. Is that likely? Never mind, I want a contemporary art gallery on the waterside too – and then let’s put a big silver ball with a planetarium in it here, and a stupidly steep hill over there, and even steeper one here, and then let’s have as much graffiti as we can fit in this bit, coz it looks ace, and then I think I’m going to pop a nice park in here, and a gorge over there, with a cracking bridge…. and so on. All this makes for an incredibly exciting city to be working in, particularly for what I’m doing in At-Bristol, which is trying to enable a new hyperconnected culture of people to be really curious about the world around them.

PHIL CASTANG: Head of Bristol Plays Music, Colston Hall

I grew up in Camden Town, London. There was always a buzz, a gig or something new and interesting going on. I moved to Bath in 2002 to raise my kids and found there was nothing really going on there – very little in terms of arts and culture. The first time I visited Bristol I knew everything was going to be ok. I found the energy and the creativity I missed from London. Bristol is in a state of perpetual cultural motion, always evolving and challenging my views. It’s such an inspiring place to work. Bristolians seem to have a genuine sense of civic pride and community engagement. I love Stokes Croft, and the artists around Jamaica Street and Hamilton House. The music scene is vibrant with brilliant venues of all sizes like The Fleece, St George’s and of course Colston Hall where I work.

LOTTIE DONOVAN: Head of development, Watershed

I lived and worked abroad, travelled and explored in my late teens and twenties, and always loved meeting new people, learning new languages and engaging with different cultures. I landed here in 2008 and over time found that Bristol holds memories of all of those experiences for me – some hidden, and others open for all to see. Bristol’s true beauty for me however, lies in the people living in, visiting and contributing to the city, and the freedom, trust and respect we lend each other, enabling us all to continue to explore… just a little bit closer to home. Watershed epitomises this sense of community for me, with a space that moulds itself to the story being told, and a place that seems to hold something true for whoever chooses to engage. In addition, the Pervasive Media Studio, here at Watershed, adds that element of surprise and wonder, through a whole world of extraordinary creativity waiting to be explored.

MANDY LEIVERS: Biodiversity education officer, Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project

What’s not to love about Bristol? It’s such a green and vibrant city full of lovely people. There’s always so much going on with a plethora of events and festivals. Then of course we have a huge range of eateries (maybe not so good for my waistline but very yummy). My favourite place has to be the Avon Gorge and Downs. I’m not just saying that because I work here but because, even after 14 years in the post, the gorgeous landscape and scenery still take my breath away. After a day of teaching school children about our resident peregrine falcons, or taking a group of adults on a tour to see our goat herd and the gorge’s rare plants, it feels like there is nowhere else on Earth I’d rather be.