We sat down with Samir Savant, the Chief Executive of St. George’s Bristol, to talk to him about St. George’s past, present and future and their relationship with Business West as we both gear up to celebrate our 200th anniversaries this year.
Can you tell us a little about St. George’s Bristol?
St George's Bristol is a 200-year-old building and has a rich history. Originally consecrated as a church in 1823, it served as a place of worship until the 1970s and 80s when its congregations started dwindling. Recognizing the potential of the space, the Diocese of Bristol faced the challenge of finding a new purpose for the building. This prompted the involvement of numerous individuals who discovered that St George's possesses exceptional acoustics for music. Consequently, the charity now known as St George's was established. Since the mid-1970s to the 1980s, we have transformed into a renowned venue for live music and spoken word performances.
How has it changed over the years since it became a music venue and what are you thinking about for the future?
Over the years we have adapted to reflect the evolving tastes and preferences of society. With over 300 events per year, we offer a diverse range of live music and spoken word performances, including classical, contemporary, folk, jazz, and roots music. We have also embraced digital technologies, particularly during the pandemic, by filming and streaming performances to reach audiences unable to attend in person. These changes have influenced how audiences engage with us, with 90% of bookings now made online.
Looking ahead to the future of St George's, we are excited about the next two hundred years and anticipate further shifts in audience behaviour and artistic expressions. We recognize the growing integration of digital platforms and aim to leverage these tools to break down barriers and make music more accessible. While preserving the magic of the live experience and the unique connection between artists and audiences, we strive to reach communities that may not have traditionally considered St George's as a destination. Our focus is on ensuring inclusivity and exploring innovative ways to bring the joy of music to people's homes.
What’s it like being a member of Business West?
Being a member of Business West has been a valuable experience for us. We have found great value in the networking opportunities provided by Business West, allowing us to connect with professionals from diverse sectors. It has been inspiring to see how we can collaborate and form partnerships with individuals and organizations across different spheres of activity. Business West excels at bringing together people who share a common goal of working towards the best interests of Bristol. In my 18 months at St George's Bristol, having previously spent 30 years in London, I have come to appreciate the collaborative nature of Bristol as a city. People here genuinely strive to work together to achieve the best outcomes for the residents, students, and commuters of Bristol. Business West plays a pivotal role in fostering this collaboration, serving as a central hub for initiatives that benefit the city and its inhabitants.
In Bristol, the smaller community allows for meaningful connections and collaborations. Through Business West events, we have met interesting individuals from different industries and established fruitful partnerships. The relaxed and friendly atmosphere, along with engaging speakers and unique venues, make these events enjoyable and beneficial. The last Business West event I went to was at Bristol Beacon, and I sat next to a man who was involved with City of Bristol College, and they're just down the hill from us, they're at the bottom of Brandon Hill. But there's never been any connection between them and us, why would there be necessarily? But he said “I'd really like you to come in and speak to the young people” and I did that and now they're coming to some of our concerts.
What do you think of the way that business is going?
As we shift towards a knowledge-based economy, networking organizations play a crucial role in fostering collaboration and exchanging innovative ideas. The ability to bring people together to discuss product developments, customer initiatives, and best practices is vital for progress.
Amidst our diverse range of 300 events, one initiative that stands out is the Festival of Voice. Recognizing Bristol's vibrant choir community, we organised a grand event with a thousand singers from 30 choirs. Building on the success of last year, where we engaged seven international twin cities to contribute digital performances, we hosted a singing city day at St George's. This event not only celebrated the power of singing but also highlighted its mental well-being benefits.
The positive response and engagement from Bristol have inspired us to continue the Festival of Voice. We are committed to showcasing Bristol's exceptional choir culture and further promoting the importance of music in our community.
What would you say to somebody who is considering joining Business West?
I highly recommend joining Business West to anyone considering it. It offers great value for money and provides access to influential leaders from various businesses across the city. Attending Business West meetings guarantees networking opportunities with new people and engaging speakers who discuss insightful topics. For instance, we recently had the West of England Mayor, Dan Norris, as a speaker. By actively participating in their events and staying updated through emails, members can extract significant value from their membership.
Furthermore, being a good corporate citizen is essential for businesses in our society. We must consider the communities we serve, including our audiences, customers, and staff. Supporting younger generations and contributing positively to society benefits the advancement of our entire community. Business West plays a vital role in uniting diverse businesses and emphasizing our shared objective of making Bristol a fantastic city to live, study, and work in. Their networking events foster a collective drive towards this common goal.
Interestingly, both Business West and St. George's Bristol share a significant milestone this year, celebrating 200 years since their establishment. To commemorate this occasion, we will be hosting a Business West networking event at St. George's in June, where we look forward to welcoming all members. It is remarkable to reflect on how Bristol has evolved over two centuries, considering its commercial success and societal changes. However, we also acknowledge the historical divisions and the need to ensure inclusivity, where everyone can be part of Bristol's story and progress together.