Bristol Creative Industries 2021: A year in review

22nd December 2021

As we approach a new year, Bristol Creative Industries editor Dan Martin looks back at 2021.

It has been another very challenging year for business. We started 2021 with the pandemic continuing to take hold and we sadly end it with COVID-19 still very much dominating the headlines.

As restrictions eased over the summer and we saw a welcome return to in-person meetings and events, we were hopeful of a return to business as usual in 2022. However, Omicron looks set to have put paid to that with new restrictions very much on the cards in the new year, if not sooner.

But if there’s one thing we know about creative industries businesses in our region, it’s your resilience and creativity!

We’ve seen so much innovation over the past 12 months and we are delighted to see increases across all our membership categories as businesses looked to the network to boost knowledge and form new collaborations.

Our total membership is up 50% over the year with business membership seeing a 26% increase. In addition, individual membership has risen 20% and our student membership has grown by 123%.

Chris Thurling, chair of Bristol Creative Industries, said: “Despite the immense challenges of the pandemic, the year at Bristol Creative Industries has included many positives.

“The situation has encouraged more businesses to see the value of connecting, networking and collaborating. It’s great to see an increase in our membership, our events remaining very popular and the growth of many member businesses. At times throughout the year, our jobs board has featured more jobs than ever before!

“The prognosis for the creative industries in the region is a healthy one. In many ways, lockdown has liberated the creative industries from the south east. Many have realised that to build a successful business, you don’t need to be in the centre of London.

“People still want to be near a strong ecosystem and Bristol and Bath have got the combination of factors needed to be competing as alternative locations for creatives.”

Diversity on the agenda

The year kicked off with a big announcement as we revealed the new BCI board of directors. They are Julz Davis, Marissa Lewis-Peart, Heather Wright, Gail Caig and Dr. Susan McMillan.

As we said in January: “The diversity of Bristol’s creative industries is something we are immensely proud of, but we also recognised the need for our board to better reflect that diversity. We need individuals who can bring different perspectives and experiences and help us widen our reach across the city. That will help us to future proof the organisation and better support our members.

“We are extremely grateful to the stellar line-up of individuals who have joined our board. With their incredible expertise, they will help us build stronger connections with creative businesses, government organisations and individuals in all corners of the city.”

Talent and diversity remained a strong theme throughout the year and a focus of our efforts to support our members.

It’s a subject we discussed with Heather Wright, the BCI board director who spent 22 years at Aardman, during an in-depth interview in July.

She said: “You get a better quality of idea when you have lots of different windows on the world in front of you. Everybody comes with a different window and a different viewpoint. The more ideas you have in the room from different places the better.

“That’s the problem with the Westminster bubble; they talk to people like themselves all the time. The only way to break out of the bubble is to go further and have a greater diversity of ideas. That comes from a greater diversity of people including ethnic diversity as well as age, people who are less able bodied etc. It’s all about having people with something different to bring which is not the usual employing people in your image which is often the worst thing you can do.”

In September, we launched The Talent Network which gives 17 to 21 year-olds the opportunity to network with creative employers in Bristol and Bath.

The first event allowed young people to find out what skills creative employers are looking for – now and in the future – and to ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask such as ‘how do I get a job in TV?’, ‘What skills should I focus on?’ and ‘How can I turn gaming into a career?’.

Chris Thurling, BCI chair, said: “A common challenge for our members is the struggle to hire a workforce with the right skills. There are, however, lots of young people with the skills needed but they don’t know the pathways in.

“BCI is there to do the things agencies can’t do on their own and by adding our unique capabilities, we can help tackle the challenge of connecting talent to businesses. We have already started with initiatives like the Talent Network but it is just the start of many things to come.”

Bristol Creative Industries events in 2021

We had a busy events programme this year including our monthly virtual members’ lunches where we love catching up with lots of you.

We’ve also had many workshops and keynote events. Big thanks to all the experts for sharing their expertise.


BCI board member Marissa Lewis-Peart led a student networking event and Kit Altin led an online workshop on writing the perfect creative brief.


David C. Baker, described by the New York Times as “the expert’s expert”, joined us from the US for a brilliant keynote event covering how creative businesses can write the perfect positioning statement. We’ve summarised his tips here.


Social media expert Drew Benvie told us all about the app that everyone was talking about, Clubhouse. Read a summary of his tips here.

Digital agency mentor Janusz Stabik began a series of three workshops explaining the strategy needed to run an efficient and effective agency. Read Janusz’s blog post on how to attract better quality agency clients in three easy steps and download his free strategic growth planner for digital agencies.

Lawyer Rebecca Steer from Steer & Co delivered a Brexit and Covid-19 legal update. Find the latest legal news and advice on Rebecca’s blog.

Katie Scotland began a series of four workshops to help attendees use their strengths to feel more confident, have more impact, build better relationships & create more inspiring ways of working with others.


Paul Feldwick worked at the legendary creative agency Boase Massimi Pollitt for over 30 years. His latest book, Why Does the Pedlar Sing?, examines what creativity really means in advertising. He joined us to share some of his insights. Read a summary here.


The team at Tonic Creative Business Partners shared perspectives on what makes great content.


Kit Altin returned for a workshop on how to be more persuasive, and Tom Evans, co-founder of strategy, design and communication agency BEHAVIOUR, shared advice on presenting creative work.


We held our first in-person event for many months as a group of BCI members joined us to discuss funding for creative businesses. Attendees said it would be useful if we could provide regular updates on the finance schemes that are available for creative companies in the south west and beyond. As a response, we published this post and we’re keeping it updated.


We ran a networking event with a difference as a group of members donned their walking boots to explore the beautiful Mendips. The feedback was very positive and we are planning to run another Walk & Talk event with Outside next spring.


Andy Nairn, who has been named the UK’s number one brand strategist for the past three years, joined us for a fascinating and entertaining event. In his new book, he explains how the history of marketing and advertising is full of brands that stumbled across great ideas by accident or turned misfortunes into huge successes. During the event, Andy highlighted examples and outlined the lessons for creative companies. We summarised his insights here.

Consultant Mette Davis-Garratt and Morag Ofili from Kiltered began a brilliant five-part series to help people make sense of what diversity and inclusion means for their business, why it matters, and how to turn the conversation into action.


With the aim of giving 17 to 21 year-olds the opportunity to network with creative employers in Bristol, we launched a new collaborative initiative called The Talent Network. We teamed up with education provider boomsatsuma for the first event and gave young people the chance to find out what skills creative employers are looking for and to ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask.

If you’re a creative industries employer and would like to get involved in The Talent Network, please contact [email protected].

Anne Thistleton, who has spent over 20 years as a marketing practitioner in the field of mind science, joined us from South Africa for an online event where she shared fascinating insights about how understanding the way the human mind works can help creatives build more effective campaigns. Here’s a summary of her brilliant advice.

Bristol Creative Industries members in 2021

One of the benefits of Bristol Creative Industries membership is publishing your own content on our website. We love reading your news!

Here are some members highlights from 2021:

BCI members have won plenty of awards this year including Unfold, Mr B & Friends and Launch.

Other reasons to celebrate included Atomic Smash becoming a WordPress VIP Silver Agency Partner, the opening of Gather Round’s second co-working space in Bristol and Gravitywell being named among the top app developers in Bristol.

Congratulations to you all!

We’ve seen some fabulous innovation by BCI members for great causes in 2021. Here are some examples:

We love behind the scenes peeks at our members’ businesses and this post is one of our favourites. It’s the story of how digital designer Mayumi Kurosawa has overcome incredible odds to get to where she is today – a much-loved member of the Proctor + Stevenson team.

Bristol is home to some of the best arts organisations in the UK and we were delighted to welcome two of them – art gallery Royal West of England Academy and concert hall St George’s Bristol – as members in 2021.

BCI members have also shared some brilliant business advice in 2021. Here are the 20 most popular posts.

You can read all the news, advice and updates from BCI members here.

The Bristol and Bath creative economy in 2021

TV and film production

Looking at wider happenings for the creative industries in Bristol and Bath, 2021 has been a huge year for film and TV production in the region.

In a very popular article, The Guardian said: “TV crews are falling over each other to film drama in ‘Bristolywood'”, with a 225% rise in production on pre-pandemic levels. There were four major drama productions under way in Bristol in 2019/20. That grew to 13 during the first quarter of 2020/21 and since January this year, 15 high-end TV dramas have been filmed in the city.

Among the high profile shows calling Bristol their home are The Outlaws, the comedy thriller from local boy Stephen Merchant, and BBC legal drama Showtrial.

Bath has also been popular with production companies including being transformed into a winter wonderland in the middle of autumn for the new Willy Wonka movie with Timothée Chalamet.

Animation is a big deal in the region too, thanks to the likes of Bristol Creative Industries member Aardman, which has recently launched Robin Robin on Netflix.

Speaking of Netflix, the streaming giant organised a special event in Bath’s Assembly Rooms in November to celebrate the success of its productions made in the South West. The location for the event is featured in global hit Bridgerton.

As the film below shows, the UK economy has been boosted by over £132m over the last two years as a result of Netflix productions created in the South West of England.

In other broadcast events this year, Channel 4, which opened a creative base in Bristol in 2020, delivered its evening news programme from Bristol Beacon on 10 September. It was part of the Black to Front project, a day of programming featuring Black presenters, actors, writers and experts, contributors, and programme-makers. The one hour news broadcast featured a wide-ranging discussion on contested heritage, Black Lives Matter and Bristol mayor Marvin Rees on what has happened since the toppling of the Edward Colston statue.

Publishing its “blueprint for the future”, the BBC said it will expand its BBC Studios base in Bristol. BCI chair Chris Thurling said: “Spreading investment more evenly across the UK is the right thing to do, and I welcome the BBC’s explicit commitment to Bristol.”


The creative industries education sector continued to grow in 2021 with the breadth of courses on offer to the next generation demonstrated by this guide we published in October to further and higher education in Bristol and Bath.

BCI member bootsatsuma has done some great things this year including an innovative street poster exhibition showcasing the work of some of its brilliant students.

Access Creative College resurrected Bristol’s iconic Bierkeller as an events and education space. The venue previously welcomed some of the biggest names in music to its stage, including Nirvana, The Stone Roses and Arctic Monkeys.

Arts and culture

Despite what has been another hugely challenging year for the arts, you could still get your cultural fix in Bristol and Bath with artists and others adapting to the need for safe and outdoor events.

Street art festival Upfest was cancelled again but more than 75 murals were created on the walls of south Bristol for locals and visitors to explore during their own personal walking tours.

Bristol artist Luke Jerram, who has achieved international success, brought his stunning In Memoriam installation to the city’s College Green in October. It was created from over 100 flags, made from NHS hospital bed sheets as a memorial to losses during the COVID-19 pandemic and in tribute to the NHS, health and social care staff and volunteers who have given so much to so many.

Luke Jerram’s spectacular Museum of the Moon, a suspended model of the moon measuring seven metres in diameter, went on show in Bristol Cathedral in August and is displayed in Bath Abbey until Christmas Eve.

As the COP26 conference took place in October, an art piece was installed in Pulteney Weir in Bath to highlight the climate change emergency. Sinking House is a red 5.5m by 3.5m house semi-submerged in the water.

The brilliant Love Bristol campaign continued with the painting of socially distanced hearts which were perfect for sitting with your household or group of six to enjoy takeaways from nearby businesses in the spring sunshine.

The festive edition of the campaign is Christmas Adventures, a trail of illuminated lyrics from classic Christmas songs.

Royal West of England Academy launched a multi-million pound renovation project with pop-up exhibitions in other venues around the city so people can still enjoy the art.

Looking forward to 2022

We end the year with uncertainty. As a new variant of coronavirus takes hold, it’s possible we will see in the new year with more restrictions. It may not be a full lockdown but we’re likely to return to Zoom calls, takeaway eating and quieter streets.

There is much to look forward to though. We have been so impressed by the continued resilience and innovation of our region’s creative businesses in 2021 which stands us in good stead for the future.

BCI is here to support and we urge you to take part in our super important survey so we can shape our future support and advocate to the government what the region’s creative economy needs.

As we wish you all a fabulous Christmas and brilliant new year, we’ll close with the words of Alli, our membership manager, from her interview in September:

“We help members to learn, grow, and connect. It’s through connecting that people learn and grow. We are a community of people who have a common interest of working in or being interested in the creative industries in Bristol and the surrounding area. We’re the central hub that brings everyone together.”


About Bristol Creative Industries

Bristol Creative Industries is the membership network that supports the region's creative sector to learn, grow and connect, driven by the common belief that we can achieve more collectively than alone. 

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