I write in a historic week for Bristol’s concert hall: it is one in which we celebrate its 153rd birthday and, in an announcement I will make this week, will mean that the Hall will move forward into the next chapter of its story with a new name.
The history of the Hall is one that runs parallel to the history of our city. Ravaged by fire in 1898 and reopened in 1900, then after surviving the air raids in World War II, it was hit by a second fire started by a carelessly discarded cigarette.
Over the years, it has showcased the changing sounds of culture – from grand choirs and orchestras to swing, from rock ‘n’ roll to punk, from reggae to folk music. From the greats to the up-and-comers, it has provided a platform for thousands of musicians and artists and created special memories for everyone who has ever visited and experienced live music here.
It is a landmark venue and historic meeting place for the city that has embraced challenge and change with one thing in mind: to showcase all music.
And, that is what the Bristol Music Trust team has been doing since our charity was founded in 2011.
We have entertained over 300,000 people a year with formative musical moments. We have created a citywide music curriculum, with 91 per cent of Bristol’s schools now making music through our education programmes. We have raised over £48m in funding towards the transformation of the venue and been humbled by the support of over 9,000 new donors.
And, during the pandemic, we’ve created and launched our virtual music academy, with over 200 young people signing up to receive online music tuition.
It is important to remember the past, but it is also the time to look forward. One day, this building will reopen and audiences will be able to gather again and share in the unity and joy of live music.
And now, we are about to begin a new chapter in the building’s – and Bristol’s – history with a new name that we hope will make everyone feel welcome. I want everyone to enjoy and celebrate this moment with us.
Society has changed and it is not right that a venue with no material connection to Edward Colston continues to stand as a memorial to a slave trader.
Over the last three years we have listened to over 4,000 people across the communities of Bristol, to make sure the new name comes from the hearts and voices of our city. I feel so privileged that Bristol Music Trust has been able to play a part in changing the way that Bristol remembers and acknowledges the past.
I hope that people will watch the announcement and see it as a pivotal moment – for our building, for our city and for all of our communities. A moment of hope and light. A reminder of the power of music to break down barriers and cross boundaries. The start of a future that will be shaped collectively and collaboratively.
We need a name that is representative of the city, a beacon of its values of hope, diversity and inclusion. I hope today that you will share in this, another historic day in the history of our city’s concert hall.
Louise Mitchell is chief executive of Bristol Music Trust
Read more: Have your say on the Colston Hall’s new name