Friday, 17 May 2019

Community Business Weekend part two | Bristol Ferry Boats

Those of us who are Bristolians of a certain age remember the Harbourside before it was trendy (and still use the word trendy). When I was a kid, the area was a working dock and certainly not somewhere you’d head to for a cheeky post-work Aperol Spritz. The area has changed so much and is now our home - I’m happy every day that I look out over the water and see boats chugging by.

Bristol Ferry Boats are a regular sight for us as they pass close by to where we live. The bright yellow, red and indigo blue branding is instantly recognisable, as are the fleet of five boats each with a different style and personality. Sometimes we hear parties on board, the thump of the bass, squeaks of Cyndi Lauper and the passengers singing along to banger after banger.

When I spotted that Bristol Ferry Boats were taking part in Community Business Weekend, I jumped at the chance to have a chat with Kim Fielding, Outreach Co-ordinator to find out more. As well as the Ferry Boats serving as bridges or buses spanning Bristol’s waterways, Kim’s philosophy is to embed new and exciting activities within the existing ferry timetable, which brings new visitors to the service and adds value to existing visitors.

‘We’re always looking for new ways to serve the community’, she says. ‘We try to have a real can-do attitude and want to facilitate wherever we can to provide a real resource for Bristol.’ As well as taking part in Community Business Weekend, Kim has programmed activities for Mental Health Awareness Week in the form of the storytelling workshop, Little Pirates have Big Feelings, and a series of street food sellers on the fleet over the Bristol Food Connections fortnight.

Making these things happen is core to Bristol Ferry Boats’ business, which is a community owned business investing all profits back into its service. Although clocking up 275,000 journeys sounds like a lot, business can be time- and season-dependent. That’s why the extra activities help so much. But they’re much more than a marketing exercise. ‘The last two years, we sold out our Black History Month events. And the Docks Heritage Weekend is always a brilliant event’, Kim says. ‘We put on an event called Voices of Bristol Dockers – a soundtrack of recorded memories from the dockers themselves performed by puppets. It was an intergenerational show, attracting the older people who remember the docks as they were but also kids who watched the puppet show.’

The ferries themselves have become icons for the city and are beloved by Bristolians. ‘People specifically book Matilda who, at 100 years old, is our oldest boat. Her wooden interior is beautiful. Brigantia is our newest, biggest boat while Emily is a quirky little narrowboat. They each have their individual personalities.’ As does the 20-strong crew and 20 skippers who man the vessels.

Sitting aboard with Kim on a sunny afternoon was the highlight of my week. She looks so at home, explaining how being on the water away from the hustle and bustle of the city is great for your mental health. It’s certainly a relaxing, calm environment and I feel my batteries recharging while I look out over the ripples.

Join Kim and the team for this year’s Community Business Weekend events:
Little Pirates have Big Feelings takes place on Friday 17 May from 3.40pm and is a storytelling and workshop for children.

Find out more about the Bristol Ferry Boats in this short film:

Want to find a Community Business Weekend event near you? 
Head to

About Community Business Weekend:
Community Business Weekend is supported by Power to Change, the independent charitable trust set up to support community businesses to create better places across England. For support and funding for your community business, visit

This is a collaborative post but – as always – I’m writing my own words.
Thanks so much for reading.

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