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Sparks fly at the second Spark Forum


Hannah Sturman is Business Development and Partnerships Manager at Triodos, one of the world’s leading sustainable banks. She attended the second Spark Forum at Burges Salmon on 19 March, an event organised by Bristol Green Capital Partnership.

The Spark Forum may be seen as a ‘networking event’, but this really doesn’t do it justice – it’s so much more than that. Its aim is simple – put a bunch of people in a room, some with great ideas or projects to make Bristol a more sustainable city and add in those who have access to resources and knowledge. Then step back and see what sparks ignite.

The programme for the evening was packed full. Over the course of a couple of hours we heard from the keynote speaker Jasper Thompson, founder of Help Bristol’s Homeless, some ‘old flames’ (those who pitched at the inaugural Spark Forum) and from six new pitches, before squeezing in time to offer support to the pitches, network with other attendees and hear feedback from those that pitched. Thankfully, we were able to slow the pace over drinks and canapés into the evening.

I enjoyed all the elements of the event for different reasons.

Firstly, it was great to get feedback from the ‘old flames’ and hear how pitching at the Spark Forum had led to real impact for their ideas and projects. For example, Jenny Foster from the Global Goals Centre secured pro bono support with business planning off the back of her pitch, as well as identifying a collaborator for a possible joint funding bid. Alex Patience of Livegraft reported making around 20 useful contacts, of which 5 he is in regular contact with. This included new business leads with city institutions such as We the Curious and Cabot Circus. Tom Walmsley of Bristol Schools Nature Reserve also reported making many useful contacts, and recruited several new volunteers thanks to his pitch.

It was also fun listening to the six new pitches. Refreshingly for me, these weren’t all whizzy new tech pitches – don’t get me wrong, they have a huge role to play – but it was great to hear ideas that came from the heart of Bristol communities. These were: a proposal from the Bristol Clean Air Alliance for a ‘car-free day’ to mark Clean Air Day on 20 June; dairy-free Tigermylk made from tiger nuts delivered to doorsteps in glass bottles; a proposal from Oxford Architects to plant 2030 trees on Bristol roads, funded by corporate sponsorship as part of the city’s carbon neutral ambitions; the city-wide adoption of C.H.E.E.S.E surveys – thermal imaging surveys of homes and other buildings to provide evidence of their carbon and energy performance; building a Precious Plastics workshop at Children’s Scrapstore – self-build machines for recycling plastics; and a project to teach disadvantaged women to make products from recycled textiles at the North Bristol Community Project.

Whilst I enjoyed being part of a green ‘Dragon’s Den’ and offering support and ideas where I could, my biggest takeaway from Spark Forum was a bit more personal.

I’ve been aware of the work Jasper and Help Bristol’s Homeless have been doing in the city for some time and it was great to hear about his personal journey – from a little spark of an idea to starting on site. The organisation is building innovative container homes for Bristol’s homeless, including renewable energy sources, all whilst supporting them to secure a permanent home.

What I loved about Jasper was how he spoke with hope and positivity – something we try to do at Triodos as we work to change the world through the positive use of money.

In the current political and economic climate, it can be so easy to feel that the problem is too big, to look to others to fix things for us or to become apathetic. Jasper, and indeed all the pitchers, have taken global issues and found a very personal way to make a positive difference within their communities, whilst treading lightly on our ecosystems.

I left feeling hopeful and proud to be part of a movement that is working to build a more positive future for all.

  • Learn more about The Spark Forum;
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