An inflatable banana and giant Fairtrade mug hang amid the cheerful bunting over the metal stairwell in the Create Centre – a place unlike any other.
One of three distinct red brick, Grade II-listed buildings that have defined the skyline of this corner of Bristol for more than 100 years, it was originally used as a tobacco bond warehouse until the 1960s, before a collective of environmental organisations had the idea for its transformation.
Now home to some 30 businesses and organisations who put sustainability, community or education at the heart of what they do, the council-owned property that has helped facilitate the city’s pioneering green credentials is also at the centre of an area set to see huge changes.
Read more: The future of the Cumberland Basin
If mayor Marvin Rees’ vision to redevelop the Cumberland Basin – or Western Harbour as he now prefers to call it – comes to fruition, the next transformation for the historic building could be into new homes.
But on a recent Tuesday morning, it’s business as usual in the vibrant space. Bikes are parked in every available nook and cranny, leaving visitors with no doubt about the preferred mode of transport.
Inside the sun-soaked communal ground floor, a small team of people are clustered around a wooden table under a felt tree, deep in a business meeting.
“It’s a good place for organisations to network with other like-minded ones,” observes Michelle Scoplin, a senior Create officer who, with her team of three, runs the building.
Now at full capacity, she says that Create (it stands for Community Recycling Environmental Action Training & Education) received a huge boost during in 2015 when Bristol held the European Green Capital title.
“The launch was held in Create and that put us back on the map,” says Michelle. “Once that came into play, the whole centre was buzzing. It was an amazing year for us.”
Run as a self-sufficient building, the centre boasts exhibition and gallery space and an eco-home protype, designed to inspire visitors with ideas they could use to make their houses more environmentally sound and test out new technology.
In keeping with the sustainable ethos, the sofas are from Freecycle, urinals are water-free and toilets flushed with rain water. The building has won multiple awards for sustainability and green tourism.
Organisations and office space occupy the first four floors of, while the rest are used by Bristol Museums, Central Library and Bristol Archives. The top floor is used for storage – and yet more bikes.
Undoubtedly the most inventive use of space is by Life Skills, an organisation that has occupied the fourth floor of Create for almost two decades.
A life-size street scene takes up one area and a quick stroll will take you past a beach, railway station, home settings, a dark, graffiti-coated alley and more. Complete with dramatic sound and visual effects, the elaborate set is used to help school children, the elderly, disabled people and other groups with essential life survival skills.
“The space has worked amazingly here for 19 years,” says general manager Andy Townsend. “So much so that we knocked it all down in September 2016 and rebuilt it all. We had become so popular that we couldn’t meet demand. Now we can get about 14,000 visitors a year so that’s set us up for years to come.”
“Our work is in sustainable tourism and it fits that kind of ethos,” says Graeme Jackson, head of partnerships for the Travel Foundation. “I would say that 90 per cent of staff cycle to work so having somewhere to lock bikes up securely is a big thing.”
Back on the ground floor, Sophie Fox is busy preparing for lunchtime in the Create Cafe. She was selected by Create tenants to run the enterprise eight years ago and takes a pro-active approach to encouraging her staff to lower their carbon footprint.
From a business perspective, she says that there is an issue with members of the public not being aware that the Create centre and cafe are open to everyone, adding that the completion of the metrobus route right outside has helped with footfall.
“We are always looking at a sustainability agenda,” says Sophie, who this month is set to open Flip, her own vegan deli and cafe on nearby North Street. “We plan our menu so we have minimum waste. I used to run a cookery school and it’s all about teaching the next generation how to cook and make healthy, sustainable choices.”