UK spotlight: Bristol

6 Nov 2023 by Tamsin Cocks
Clifton village and suspension bridge in Bristol at sunrise (Credit nick xiao/istock)

Bristol has ambitious plans to become the country’s greenest city and its airport is on track to be net zero by 2030.

Having travelled to numerous surfer paradises over the years, it seemed a strange quirk of fate that my first attempt at catching waves would be on the outskirts of Bristol. Nevertheless, five miles inland, under a blanket of grey clouds and cold drizzle, I found myself wriggling into a wetsuit.

Ordinarily the lack of sea might present an obstacle to surfing – but this was not an ordinary venue. The Wave is a £30 million outdoor surfing lake that opened in November 2019. The centre features a 0.7-hectare lagoon divided into four areas, with two Bays (for beginners) and two Reefs (for advanced and intermediate surfers). Advanced Wavegarden Cove Technology creates 1,000 waves per hour in a variety of styles, reaching up to six-and-a-half feet. The beauty of the artificial facility is the consistency – surfers don’t have to wait idly for decent waves, and it doesn’t matter if you miss one as the next one is reliably right behind it.

Before heading to the break zone, I joined a group of fellow Kelly Slater-wannabes for ground training where our instructor Josh, sporting a Bondi-approved aesthetic, dubiously announced we’d all be standing before the end of the lesson.

My first attempt was not promising: my body didn’t leave my board at all, while my next attempt saw me wobble straight into the water. But eventually, everything came together. My “pop-up” landed, I crouched low and jubilantly rode a wave back to shore.

The venue has become a popular leisure attraction but is also a huge hit with corporate groups, with onsite meeting rooms and a restaurant/bar able to cater to a full day of team building and business events – brainstorming in the morning, chasing waves in the afternoon. Our visit was arranged through new hotel Mollie’s Bristol which has partnered with The Wave to host offsite events for corporate guests.

Tamsin Cocks trying out The Wave in Bristol

The heart of British aviation

It’s not the only exciting event space in the area. Four miles away, Aerospace Bristol offers a dream day out for aviation enthusiasts. It houses the British Aerospace Museum, which charts the progress of British aviation and its ties to Bristol.

Laid out in chronological order, it houses a fascinating collection of aviation, transport and space memorabilia, privately collected since the 1980s before opening as a museum in 2017 thanks to National Lottery Funding. It starts with Sir George White’s horse-drawn tram company, the unlikely seed of modern British aviation.

“Around the time of the Wright Brothers, when aeroplanes were a brand-new thing, Sir George White basically decided to start an aeroplane company in his tram sheds here in Bristol,” reveals Adam Jones, head of marketing and commercial operations.

That company was the Bristol Aeroplane Company, a pioneering force of the British aviation industry, which later merged into the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and would become BAE systems. “Everything that we see in Bristol today, from Airbus to Rolls Royce to the former Filton Airfield can all be traced back to that company,” says Jones.

The exhibition continues with replica WWI aircraft, such as the Bristol Fighter and Bristol Scout, before moving on to Sea Harriers, A320 cockpits, and cross sections of a BAe146. Visitors can step aboard the Bristol Britannia, which infamously “landed” in the mudflats of the Severn “Sully-style” and was dragged out by a tank, or embark on a four-minute Red Arrows virtual reality simulator. Bristol’s contribution to the space race is also evidenced, with replica satellites on display, a Skylark rocket, and info about the city’s role in creating the Hubble Space Telescope.

The star attraction however is undoubtedly Concorde Alpha Foxtrot – the last Concorde ever to be built and the last one to fly in 2003, with visitors able to board the aircraft, view the cockpit and travel down the narrow fuselage to peek out of tiny aerodynamic windows.

The magnificent bird travelled at twice the speed of sound (about 1,350mph) at 60,000 feet (twice the altitude of a normal plane), whisking passengers from London to New York in an average of 3.5 hours. Ideal for business travellers, passengers could take off from Heathrow at 10am and arrive stateside at 8.30am.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the supersonic passenger plane’s last flight, with an exhibition explaining the reasons for the aircraft’s grounding (which range from the huge fuel costs to 9/11 and the Paris crash) and an exploration of the future of supersonic travel.

Corporate events can hire out the hangar for all manner of conferences, banquets and exhibitions. It’s possible to invite up to 550 attendees to dine under the belly of the world’s most iconic aircraft while your corporate logo shines on its fuselage. Adjoining meeting rooms and breakout spaces offer added versatility.

Cross-section of the British Aerospace 146 (Credit Tamsin Cocks)

Event upgrade

Bristol will soon welcome another headline-grabbing event venue at Brabazon Hangars on the former Filton Airfield, where the Brabazon aircraft and British Concordes were constructed. The 10.5-hectare facility houses the three original hangars that will be transformed into the YTL Arena by 2026. It will be one of the largest event venues in the UK, and also one of the most sustainable in Europe, with the aim of being carbon neutral from day one.

At more than 19,000 sqm the middle hangar alone could fit London’s The O2 inside, and is set to become the venue’s main event space, while the east hangar will be turned into a convention centre. The west hangar, meanwhile, will become a place to eat, work and play with leisure and workspace facilities.

Alan Haile, former airport manager at Filton Airfield says: “The hangars now have the opportunity to burst into the 21st century and become a premier entertainment complex in the UK. I can’t wait to see what acts and events will be brought to the Arena and the benefits the Arena will bring to the Bristol area.”

The end of this month will also see the reopening of music and event venue Bristol Beacon, following a five-year, £48 million transformation project, while early next year the city’s We The Curious science centre will reopen with an event space offering Planetarium shows and hands-on science exhibits. Last summer also saw the opening of Wake the Tiger, the world’s first “amazement park” that blurs the lines between art gallery, theme park and film set with 30 different immersive experiences.

Green capital of the UK

While the city is energetically upgrading its business and lifestyle infrastructure, it does so consciously, with the intention of becoming the greenest city in the UK. It already has some major accolades under its belt, including becoming the first Cycling City in the UK, the second Gold Sustainable Food City, and the 2015 European Green Capital.

This ambition is shared across the public and private sector, with restaurants, transport and event facilities all taking their eco credentials seriously. Bristol airport, for example, is on track to become the most sustainable airport in the UK, with an ambition to reach net zero by 2030 – way ahead of the government’s 2050 mandate. Measures include the electrification of ground vehicles to striving for zero landfill recycling. The airport also allows its facilities to be used for sustainable experiments – earlier this year, easyJet partnered with the airport to trial turnarounds without the use of fossil fuels.

In September, the airport announced its role in Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA), a new alliance formed by ten local companies that are leaders in aviation and sustainability, including Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Ørsted, GKN Aerospace and easyJet. The consortium is committed to finding solutions for greener air travel by promoting the use of hydrogen as an alternative green fuel source to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Bristol airport CEO Dave Lees says: “It’s not a replacement of SAF, we’re going to need SAF, hydrogen and electric on this pathway to net zero, so it’s about having options. We anticipate the first hydrogen-powered medium-haul aircraft – such as A320s or Boeing 737s – will come in the mid 2030s. It sounds a long way off, but that requires investment in research, development, infrastructure and design today, to make sure that we’re ready in a decade’s time. What we don’t want is a similar situation to what we have with road-based transport, whereby electric cars are coming onto the market but there isn’t the infrastructure to cater to them.”

Bristol has also had a major boost from huge green energy projects on its doorstep. Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, located an hour south of the city, is one of the largest projects in the whole of Europe, and has created thousands of jobs in the area. It was also recently announced that one of the UK’s largest electric battery production facilities is to be built at the nearby Gravity Site in the market town of Bridgwater.

As the nearest airport to these major developments, Bristol is busily upgrading its facilities and expanding its route network to accommodate the influx of business traffic. It has been granted a cap extension from ten to 12 million passengers, and steadily welcomed more full-service carriers such as KLM, Lufthansa, SWISS and Aegean while looking to build more connections with the Middle East and US. In September, the airport revealed a new £60 million public interchange to improve connections for travellers that will be complete by 2025, with ongoing investments in passenger facilities and security to be unveiled.

While the city has been celebrating its 650th anniversary this year, it’s clear that it’s not dwelling on the past, but actively investing in the next 650 years. “You just have to look at the number of cranes in the city to see it’s a really thriving destination,” says Lees. “It’s a really exciting city and a great location to live and work”.

Moxy Bristol (credit Christopher Baker)


Clayton Hotel

Dalata Hotel Group opened the new four-star Clayton Hotel in April last year, after a £50 million investment to convert the former Everard’s Printing Works (a decision which saved over 2,000 CO2 emissions). The property is located near the commercial centre and within walking distance of Bristol Temple Meads rail station. It features 255 modern rooms, a restaurant and bar, gym and extensive meeting facilities. claytonhotelbristolcity.com

Moxy Bristol

Marriott’s funky Moxy brand opened in May 2022, with a focus on social spaces and modern lifestyle. The 214 rooms are pet friendly and feature 42-inch Chromecast-enabled TVs, foldable work surfaces to maximise space, a peg wall to hang up items and comfortable beds. The onsite Moxy Bar offers an all-day dining menu, and there’s an onsite gym open 24/7. marriott.com

Hort’s Townhouse

Operating as a restaurant and pub since the 1920s, this Grade-II listed building reopened in April after an extensive refurbishment that saw the addition of 19 boutique rooms. Ranging in size and style, each room offers Hypnos Beds, Bramley Toiletries, Smart TVs, minibars and snack drawers, Nespresso machines and complimentary wifi, alongside quirky individual designs. hortstownhousebristol.co.uk

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Business Traveller November 2023 cover
Business Traveller November 2023 cover
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