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Restorative spaces: Bristol

In the third of this series, we look at the English city of contemporary art and great engineering feats: Bristol. Bristol may be known as a pioneer of many green initiatives, but how do they help improve the lives of the people in the city?  The answer is in its use of infrastructure and natural features. 

In 2008, the city pioneered a new Government scheme aiming to double the numbers of cyclists on the streets in the UK within three years[1]. Today, the South West capital boasts a network of cycle routes that connect the city centre to suburban areas, encouraging active Bristolian commuters and giving Bristol the title of England’s first ‘cycling city’.

The impact of the city’s investment is evident in TFT’s Bristol office where more than 50% of our Bristol team cycling or walking to work. This is one of the greatest ways to lower levels of sedentary behaviour, which is linked with physical and mental wellbeing, in particular lower cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality, cancer incidence and all-cause mortality[2].

But what about during the working day?

Being close to restorative space can make all the difference to your wellbeing and productivity at work, and Bristol has good access to many of these. Our office is located on the alluring Queen Square near to the canals and the river Avon, which is not only a green space but a social space too, as the surrounding office workers and residents can enjoy activities from reading in the park to playing volleyball, or exploring the many festivals and events set up on the square – like Harbour Fest, boules tournaments, Bristol Comedy Garden and many more.

Just around the corner from the Square is the vibrant harbourside, with cafes, bars, restaurants and waterfront views. Throughout the summer locals and tourists will dangle their legs over the harbourside walkways and enjoy the views of Bristol’s characteristic rainbow houses and ship masts.  

While green spaces offer venues for activity and relaxation, blue spaces – rivers, lakes, water features – have huge benefits for relieving stress and helping us focus too. It’s a great reason for businesses to consider making their home nearby waterways and allowing access for their occupants to get the most benefit from them.

With the city’s expected growth in population over the next 10 to 15 years, it is paramount that the private and public sector work together to focus even more on designing spaces for wellbeing. A great example is Finzels Reach, a developing area of Bristol’s CBD which saw last year the introduction of a hive of honeybees, supported by developer Cubex who are creating vibrant public spaces to live and work. They also built a Castle Bridge to connect Castle Park to Finzels Reach, allowing and encouraging access to the nearby park.

Bristol has demonstrated that ambitious initiatives can be well-embedded in the city’s structure and that people are healthier and happier when the environment around them is taken care of. Maybe that is why it is the happiest city in the UK![3]


[1] DfT press notice. Bristol appointed UK’s first cycling city £100m package for cycling in 12 towns and cities. 2008.

[2] Celis-Morales CA, Lyall DM, Welsh P, et al. Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2017;357:j1456. doi:10.1136/BMJ.J1456.

[3] Baker, H. Bristol named the happiest city in Britain. Bristol Live. 2019.