> Verve Paintworks

More than a space: it is a scheme

Paintworks began as a genuine attempt to regenerate a mixed-use district and to perfect a model for doing so that others might replicate elsewhere. A project of Verve Properties, Paintworks has avoided slick marketing and fashion-conscious styling in favor of creating something simpler and open to everyone. From its affordable housing to its beautiful venues, Paintworks is more than a space: it is a scheme.

Over the years, Ashley Nicholson and Tim Pain have repurposed pretty much every kind of redundant building into pretty much every kind of use. About 20 years ago, they decided to try and bring everything they had learnt into one single project: Paintworks. The space came together a bit like a giant Sims game with extreme ambitions—such as proving communities can be built and that mixed-use can work. Too many developments make no effort to provide anything other than soulless business parks or gated dormitories.

The original intention was to build something like it in London, but when an opportunity came up in Bristol, Ashley and Tim bought it and Paintworks was born. Having already trialed so many of the ideas for the space, Ashley sketched Paintworks’ masterplan on a napkin on the train on the way home. Now built-out, the space reflects those original ideas and Ashley’s napkin sketches.

As Paintworks grows, there will soon be 2,000 people working and living on a site that was the highest crime spot in Avon when Ashley and Tim bought the building in 2002.

Many of the largest employers on-site at Paintworks started as start-up deskspace operations and have stayed as they have grown organically. While most property companies look to sign up big corporations on long leases, Verve—Paintworks’ parent company—prefers curating a mix of uses made up of smaller independent companies on flexible terms that suit their business.

Similarly, they have tried hard to get a mix of residential types and tenures, including affordable housing, to create as much as possible a mix of society. The best form of urban sustainability is to encourage people to live and work in the same place, negating the need to travel. Few businesses and people try out this model, but Paintworks has shown it is possible.

Nothing Verve has done is particularly clever or original in terms of new ideas. Virtually everything has been learnt or copied, but as an entity, it has proven successful and is now a model that is used to inform other regeneration projects. Several university architectural courses adopt Verve’s Paintworks space into their coursework, and Verve are regularly invited to speak to UK and European local authorities embarking on regeneration projects.

Verve hope others will copy those elements that have worked at Paintworks and adopt them elsewhere. They hope, too, that others can build and improve on what they have done, so that at least in terms of urban regeneration, the world can be a better place.


0117 971 4320
Verve Events, The Airstream, Main Courtyard,
Bath Road, Bristol BS4 3EH

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