Bristol’s Spike Island is a charitable organisation and international centre for the development of contemporary art and design.

It’s a multifaceted organisation, a hub with three major appendages: Spike Design, co-working space for creative businesses; Spike Film and Video, providing exhibition, production and post-production services to the arts and heritage sectors; and Spike Café, where creative types hang out with the local community.

“Expect some fantastic art and all kinds of sensory delight, fascination and surprise”


The key feature behind all three of these enterprises is audience and community engagement. Spike Design supports mainly small creative businesses and freelancers, pooling creative skills and talent and encouraging critical feedback to help them improve.

It welcomes design in its broadest terms, not just art projects. Current tenants include Flynn Product Design, Engineered Bicycles, XO Home electricians and SHOP, ensuring that art and design is tuned into the real world.

Spike Café, which is open seven days a week to all ages, hosts community workshops and plans ‘creative escapades’.

(c) Yiannis Katsaris, Spike Island Artspace LtdNovelty seats included? A Spike Design workspace

Jane MacFarlane, the Design Coordinator of Spike Design, says: “I am a jack of all trades, and manage to juggle all aspects that arise within the creative community based here in Spike Design. This involves organising events and talks; managing all the tenancies, invoicing and administrative tasks; refereeing a Stiga table hockey game—you name it, I do it!

(c) Yiannis Katsaris, Spike Island Artspace Ltd

Jane of all trades: If you need something at Spike Design, Jane can sort it!

“I am also the Social Coordinator – Spike Designers’ networking events are legendary!”

Community history

Spike Island has been around in one form or another since the ’70s, and has its roots in the community too.

“In 1976, the artist studio project Artspace was established just behind our current building,” Jane explains. “During the 1980s, residential developments began to encroach into the industrial area, and they were brought alive by cultural projects such as Artspace.

“A developer purchased the original Artspace building, which prompted a campaign to support the funding of a new permanent home. Artspace managed a successful campaign and raised an initial £400,000 in order to secure tenancy on the 9,000 square metre former Brooke Bond factory.”

(c) Yiannis Katsaris, Spike Island Artspace LtdTeam effort: Spike Design’s workspaces allow for collaboration

With additional funding from the National Lottery and Regional Development Agency, the building continued to be developed to its present state.

Still popular today

Almost forty years later, Spike Island is still a huge success. As Jane enthuses: “Spike Design is full, and we have a waiting list of folk who wish to be part of this amazing community. It’s a real testament to the inhabitants past and present who have consistently made this the happiest, most friendly group of creatives in the whole universe!”

While their waiting list may be overflowing, there are still plenty of ways to get involved.

“From Friday 1 to Monday 4 May, we’re hosting our annual, free Open Studios Weekend, attracting over 5,000 visitors. Artists will be throwing open their studio doors for visitors to explore, allowing access to work-in-progress and a chance to engage with artists in their working environment.

“Cally Spooner’s new exhibition will be open in the main gallery. Performances, talks, mini exhibitions and film-screenings will take place around the rest of the building and there will be opportunities to make your own art.

(c) Yiannis Katsaris, Spike Island Artspace LtdNo rest for the wicked: Spike Design takes their work very seriously

“Spike Print Studio, Spike Associates and Spike Design will all host events, activities and introductory tours. There will be food and drink. Expect some fantastic art and all kinds of sensory delight, fascination and surprise.”

“A real ‘can do’ attitude exists in Bristol – fuelled with a healthy dose of star-gazing and tenacity”


We asked if Jane thinks being Bristol-based has anything to do with Spike’s success. “Being of Bristolian descent, of course I think that this little bit of the West Country is far superior to anywhere else in the whole wide world,” Jane says. “A real ‘can do’ attitude exists in this city—fuelled with a healthy dose of star-gazing and tenacity.”

Many thanks to Jane for taking the time to speak with us. If you’d like to get directly involved with Spike Island, they have a volunteer programme. You can also follow them on Twitter.

Image credits: Yiannis Katsaris, Spike Island Artspace Ltd.